The Brooklyn Nets have announced that star point guard Kyrie Irving will miss the next three games with a shoulder impingement, however this is not new news. Cavalier fans should be familiar by now with Irving’s injury woes throughout his career. Beyond that, this particular shoulder injury has ailed him for over a week now. He was last seen on the hardwood on November 14th in a 101-93 loss in Denver and if he misses the next three games as scheduled he will have missed seven in total.
What is really newsworthy here though is who those next three games he will miss entail. The Nets are hitting the road right now and are headed on a three game trip that will take them first to New York (okay, so in that case maybe they aren’t hitting the road quite yet), and then to Cleveland and Boston next week.
For those of you who might have been hit on the head or just don’t pay close attention, Cleveland and Boston are the last two cities that Irving played for. Not only did he play in them and depart, but neither departure was exactly… amicable.
After three straight finals runs with the Cavs Irving requested a trade, likely tanking any legitimate chance at a second NBA title in the LeBron era, and being the first domino to fall in what ended up making the King himself pack his bag and head for the sunnier pastures of Los Angeles.
Starting with the 2017-2018 season, Irving then spent the next two campaigns in Boston after an abysmally executed trade sent him to the Celtics. Irving’s problem has never been his play on the floor, and he continued to be one of the prime scoring guards in the league for Boston in 2017-2018, averaging 24.4 points per game on a career high True Shooting Percentage. Fortunes turned though as an injury late in the year caused him to miss the playoffs. Young stars like forward Jason Tatum and guard Jaylen Brown thrived without Irving on the floor and really came into their own, making it all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. When Irving returned in 2018-2019 it proved too difficult for the team to mesh both personalities and play styles between Tatum and Brown’s emergence, Gordon Hayward’s return from injury and Irving’s desire to remain top commander of both the ball and attention. Irving departed unceremoniously in free agency, but not before an ugly playoff performance that saw him shoot the worst percentages of his playoff career and put up negative values for Offensive Win Shares.
For both the friction he caused and the false promise of his skill in the playoffs, many Boston fans were happy to see Irving go. They were likely only happy to see him return next week in a Brooklyn uniform so that they can boo the pants off of him. Boston is an opinionated city. They are going to let you know where you stand, and Irving very well might be basketball public enemy #1 right now. Needless to say, Irving seems to have drummed up some ill will on his way out of both of his previous situations.
Further, this would have been Irving’s first return to the TD Garden. He has also only played in Cleveland one time in four opportunities since leaving the Cavaliers, and that was the very first game of the 2017-2018 season, his very first as a Celtic and first as a non-Cavalier. He has not played in this town since. Even with the Celtics in the playoff chase last year he skipped both late season opportunities to play against the Cavs in February and March. Both times he ended up playing the game both before and afterward indicating no injury kept him out of the lineup. Maybe we ought to be paying closer attention to when some of these guys take their “Load Management” days off.
What am I trying to say? Shoulder injury or not, Irving might be ducking these games in Cleveland and Boston. I’m not the only one saying it either. The Athletic’s Joe Vardon reports that two sources tell him Irving flat out will not travel to either city. Further, ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins has stated he thinks Irving was never planning on playing in either city for these upcoming games.
I’m not willing to go to a full conspiracy theory like Perkins and say Irving is currently sitting out to make missing these two games believable. Even in this era of player empowerment I don’t think a team is going to be receptive to a player on a contending team disappearing for that long as an… emotional precaution (think about that box score note… “DNP- Emotional Precaution”). However, it is an awfully convenient coincidence for him to take his time recovering his shoulder and then maybe come back when the Nets return to Brooklyn after their game in Boston.
You would think then that Irving is trying to dodge the same kind of venom in Cleveland that he is likely to receive in Boston. What is strange though is that in that one return he actually received a fairly mixed reception. And of course he did. You must remember after all that he was the man that hit the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Finals. Really, even with the his messy departure there is good reason to revere him in Cleveland.
It seems to be Irving’s own attitude though that gets in the way now. He truly is a perplexing individual, and frankly I think its all ego. Its almost like those old memories are beneath him. This is the man who decided he didn’t want to live the basketball version of the good life. He didn’t want to play second fiddle to LeBron and be able to gobble up the victories and Finals runs that came with that experience. He wanted to go out on his own and prove himself. Honestly, I really think there is something to respect there but at some point he is working against his own best interest. Sure, he wanted to win. I have no doubt about that, but he also wanted to be the man at the same time. Nothing less would suffice. Here we are two years later, and Irving is now in Brooklyn, with Kevin Durant in tow. Maybe Irving has convinced himself Durant will never be the top 3 player he was in Oklahoma City and Golden State and that he is still primed to be the man in Brooklyn for years to come. Or perhaps Irving realized he could really use the help after all. Its all too hard to tell.
What I can tell is that its likely that same ego that is telling him to not bother to return to Cleveland or Boston. Its funny. I’m not even sure he harbors any malice for the fans or the city of Cleveland in particular. I literally think that for him the victory of the 2016 Finals wasn’t good enough because LeBron was the team leader and best player. Even though Irving made the Finals-clinching shot. Even though he scored 41 points in Game 6. Some how, some way, in that mind of his that was still a hollow victory. LeBron was running the show and he wasn’t. It doesn’t count, and not only does it not count, but he doesn’t want to re-live it.
The Boston stuff? That’s a LITTLE more understandable. Naturally, I think we would all rather he soak in the boo birds and then go out and silence them with his play. That would likely be the impressive way to perform, but if the Nets are okay with it then its totally his prerogative to avoid them. You know, to take the easy way out.
What a contradiction, and really such a shame. Irving truly harbors a ton of talent. He’s even put it to great use in his career already. I just hope some day he’s able to get over his own ego and find a new perspective. Maybe one day he will enjoy it. Maybe one day he will even play against the Cavs in Cleveland again.