If Kyrie Irving’s comments proved anything this past week, it’s that the Brooklyn Nets perceived ‘normal’ has drastically changed.
A locker room’s dynamic significantly changes when a polarizing figure is welcomed into the fray. Anything he says is going to be perceived in a variety of ways; he’s going to continually make headlines, by accident or on purpose, and his fans will relentlessly defend his namesake when under criticism.
The Nets are not playing good basketball right now. After their recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers 117-111 Monday afternoon, their record stands at 18-24. Furthermore, over their last 14 games, they’ve won just three contests. However, that’s not what is dominating the headlines coming out of the organization right now.
It started when he made public his desire for additional pieces to build around the nucleus the Nets currently have—with some surprise admissions: Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince and Joe Harris. Given the events that transpired in Irving’s final season with the Boston Celtics, mainstream media outlets had a field day with this one.
Stephen A. Smith voiced his disappointment with Kyrie Irving: “How the hell are you going to make a statement like this? How!? You’re 18-22.”
Colin Cowherd signaled that Irving, himself, was the problem with the Nets. “Kyrie Irving is a flake. He’s an artist; he’s gifted; he’s special, but you can’t build your franchise around him.”
Looking at the NBA standings, and I’m so glad the new look look Nets are killin’ it with Kyrie 😆 pic.twitter.com/647ynN3alo
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) January 17, 2020
One more for good measure: Charles Barkley broke Irving’s remarks down in a less-than-flattering manner, “That ain’t your job to criticize your team.”
Charles reacts to Kyrie Irving's comments after the Nets loss last night 👀 pic.twitter.com/qWHE82RDrv
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 17, 2020
These are just three instances, but they represent the media gravity Irving brings with every passing soundbite. The Nets were widely-perceived as a lovable underdog last season; the narrative has changed.
If the Nets were 27-13 at the time of the comments, not 18-22, it’s likely no one bats an eye. Hell, if anything, the consensus probably is in agreement that the team could use a complementary piece or grizzled veteran to aid a playoff push. But that wasn’t the case, and though it isn’t uncommon for a superstar to make such comments, different rules abide for Irving.
This was under the microscope it was because he’s Kyrie Irving—destroyer of locker rooms and killer of culture—and because he was fresh off an injury that sidelined him for 26 games.
Since then, he acknowledged the remark and tried to assure reporters that his intent was not to create division in the locker room. Oh, and speaking of the locker room, if you’re not in it… “stay the f— out.”
Kyrie Irving with STRONG words at practice:
"It's not like I'm an ass—- yelling at everybody in the freaking locker room all the time … If it's harsh as a leader or it's too much for anybody, you're not in our locker room—stay the f— out." pic.twitter.com/peVcXQgsun
— SNY (@SNYtv) January 17, 2020
Afterward, he gave insight on what dictates a successful season and what the goal is [this season]: the playoffs.
Kyrie Irving on the importance of making the playoffs for the Brooklyn Nets: That’s a successful season. That’s still a goal is to make the playoffs. It’s not like we’re going to pack it in. When I say see where we end up, it’s in that 6, 7, 8 spot.
Full video below. pic.twitter.com/bt403CeT06
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) January 19, 2020
But in the grand scheme of things—I’m talking about all the comments made in the span of four days—that statement was overshadowed. Why? Nowhere near controversial enough.
As we know, Irving is unfiltered, he shoots from the hip, he’s not going to alter his personality or censor himself for anyone’s sake. Those characteristics are an aggregator’s wet dream, no need to be subtle, and he knows whatever he says will be critiqued. “It’s inevitable,” Irving told reporters.
“When I was out for those seven weeks and not saying anything and still people are still saying things about me. It’s inevitable. They crucified Martin Luther King for speaking about peace and social integration.“
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) January 20, 2020
During the several weeks, Irving was sidelined with a shoulder injury, he didn’t address the media until days before his return. Meaning that soundbites as the ones mentioned weren’t the talk of the town. Now that’s changed.
And as long as the Nets are losing, and he’s missing games, the fire will only continue to grow.
Oh, and there was that whole comparison he made to Julius Erving due to namesake. Yeah, it was weird, but that’s nothing to blow out of proportion. Who doesn’t like a good dad joke?
On the Erving/Irving article:
Kyrie made a weird dad joke, that's it. The one that you try and force an awkward smile at to combat how uncomfortable you feel at the moment. We've all made them. When you come across a street name with your last name, you make them.
— Nolan Jensen (@N_Jensen1995) January 20, 2020
It may annoy some, constantly having their star player under intense mainstream scrutiny, but this is the new normal. Ultimately, when you have a player of Irving’s capabilities, you take the positives with the “negatives.”
If the Nets are playing basketball next June, things could reach Angelina Jolie wearing a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck weird, and no one would care.
Winning solves everything. Until then, get used to the new “normal.”