It has been nearly two years since Kyrie Irving and buddy Kevin Durant made their surprise decision to bypass the Knicks in free agency and take a detour across the Brooklyn Bridge to join the Nets. They have endured much since then in terms of injuries and criticism for their move to form a "superteam," but now they are where they wanted to be, entering the 2021 playoffs as NBA title favorites.
Asked to reflect on the journey after Tuesday’s practice, New Jersey native Irving thanked family, friends and community for support and noted the difficulty everyone faces in a world beset by COVID-19 and political and social unrest. But then he focused on the pact he made with Durant.
"We made a decision two years ago to stick with it and build something here," Irving said. "No one really saw the vision that we had. We probably won’t get the credit until 10 years down the line, 20 years. That’s just the way history goes.
"But the intent here was we didn’t want to feel the same effects of being in organizations or being with different guys throughout this league that we felt we couldn’t build something outside of the game with. It’s just important to have that synergy. [In the] circumstances we were in, we were trying to be ourselves but the environment just didn’t stick, didn’t fit.
"When we came together, we just wanted to be happy. Happiness goes a long way in life, especially playing this game…It’s that synergy you need and that trust. So I’m excited to be here, and I don’t take any day for granted. It took a while to believe in this vision, and we’re finally here – back to the playoffs."
Irving and Durant have been joined by James Harden to form the Big 3, but they played only eight games together all season. Could that be an X factor that works against them?
"It seems like a factor if everyone keeps bringing it up in their observance of us," Irving said. "I don’t really care…You guys know how great we are as individuals. We’re all-world players. We’ve just got to go out there and just find a flow and stick to it. Just have some fun and do what we do."
Irving’s 10th NBA season may have been his best ever as he averaged 26.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists and became the ninth player in history to join the 50/40/90 club by shooting 50.6% overall, 40.2% from three-point range and 92.2% from the foul line. Irving said he didn’t realize going into the regular-season finale on Sunday that he could join that exclusive club, but he was proud to make history.
"I’ve just tried to put my mind and my body in a better place to be efficient and just go out there and let my game speak for itself," Irving said. "I put a lot of hard work in during the summer where people aren’t watching, so to accomplish that without really knowing it, the gratitude is a lot higher for me."
Irving insisted he didn’t care whether the Celtics team he left to join the Nets or the Wizards with a potential guard matchup against Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook won Tuesday night’s play-in game for the seventh seed to determine the Nets’ first-round opponent. The only thing that matters is that Irving and the Nets are exactly where they hoped to be.
"Now that we’re here and we’ve got the guys that we have in this locker room and we’ve been through quite a journey, we just want to enjoy the ride," Irving said. "That’s really all I can say. I just want to enjoy it as if it’s my last."