No player shouldered more of the blame for the Nets’ dismal and disappointing performance last season than Kyrie Irving.
Irving played in only 29 games because of his vaccination status. The Nets could never fully get their team going because one of their top players was a part-timer for most of the season.
Irving ended up opting into the final year of his contract with the Nets because they and other teams were wary of handing a long-term deal to a player who at times didn’t appear to be making his team the top priority.
Will this year be different? His teammates think so. The Irving who has shown up at training camp is ready to flip that script big-time, according to center Nic Claxton.
“He’s bringing a totally different energy this year,” Claxton said after practice on Monday. “He’s definitely been locked in. He’s ready to make an impact and I feel like he’s ready to change the narrative on him, on himself. That’s big for us having him full-time and not having to worry about the COVID stuff.
“Honestly, he’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. That might not be the public perception of him, but he wants to clear the air.”
Irving averaged 27.4 points and 5.8 assists per game and shot 41.8% from three-point range last season. With the determination Irving has shown in training camp, Claxton believes that the sky is the limit.
“I think he can be the MVP, he can be the Finals MVP, he can do whatever he wants to do,” he said. “[If] he puts his mind to it, he can do it.”
Kevin Durant said having Irving around full-time is a game-changer.
“I mean his presence is the key to what we’re trying to do,” Durant said. “Ky is amazing talking to everybody, communicating, being one of the heads of the snake on both ends of the floor for us. And we need that talk from everybody, the veteran guys, we need to continue to be in constant communication so we can figure things out on the court.
“Having a guy like Ky — who’s won a championship, who’s been in those locker rooms and those series — is only going to help us.”
Irving has reached out to the younger players, especially Ben Simmons, and talked to them about the need to block out the noise and just concentrate on their games.
Now, as the Nets head into their season opener Wednesday against New Orleans at Barclays Center, the team is looking for him to continue to lead both on and off the floor.
“Kyrie’s been unbelievable,” coach Steve Nash said. “His performances on I think both ends of the floor have been exceptional. Not just in games, but in practices.
“I think his leadership and mentorship to the young guys has been great. He’s just been outstanding top to bottom this whole preseason.”