Kyrie Irving broke his 50-day silence Saturday, though it wasn’t at all what fans hoped to hear.
Amid weeks of speculation about what was keeping him sidelined so much longer than expected, Irving’s explanation was simple. It really was a shoulder impingement. There was bursitis in there, too. The Nets have said as much all along.
The degree of injury, though, was a whole other thing. It could cost him the rest of the season.
“I’m going up to shoot jump shots and I can’t really lift my shoulder,” Irving said during a candid 13-minute question-and- answer session at Barclays Center before the Nets faced the Raptors.
The condition likely will require arthroscopic surgery in the offseason but can be managed with cortisone shots. If that doesn’t work, Irving said, he’ll have the surgery, which probably would end his season.
Irving, who originally was deemed day-to-day but has not played since Nov. 14, said he last received a cortisone shot Dec. 24 and has seen some improvement. There is, however, no timetable for a return.
Overuse of cortisone is not recommended because it can cause tissue damage, along with other ill effects. Irving said he tried to go without anti-inflammatories, so it’s a question of how effective the injection proves to be. If it lasts for a month, there’s a chance he can play. If it wears off in a week or two, the prognosis is less favorable.
“It just sucks, man,” Irving said. “It really is disheartening when you know you’re working your tail off to be at a certain level and your shooting shoulder just starts to give out on you a little bit. You’re looking at it like ‘let me ice this thing, let me just get back out there,’ and you keep feeling something in your shoulder, and you’re trying to explain it to the medical staff. You’re trying to explain it to all these experts out there.”
Irving said he felt the pain in his shoulder on Nov. 4 in a game against the Pelicans. The Nets had a five-game road trip ahead of them, and Irving felt the responsibility to be available. Four games later, against the Nuggets, he had to call it quits.
“It was definitely difficult to find out what I had going on with my shoulder — the timing of it, what we needed,” Irving said. “We go on a road trip, I think we go 2-3, so that was on my mind and I tried to play through it on the road trip and then probably playing during that time made it worse.”
"I'm frustrated for him," coach Kenny Atkinson said. "I know he's trying everything in his power to get back and help us . . . It's just a difficult situation for him right now. I wish we could help him more. The body's gotta heal, it's got to get better."
After injuries cost Irving most of training camp and the start of the season, he said he was eager to get back into the swing of things. He shot almost every day before the regular season, after practice and sometimes late into the night after games, he said. The repeated motion, he believes, put a strain on his shoulder.
He’s seen shoulder specialists in Phoenix and “I’m doing all these exercises,” he said. “Still, nothing is happening to get me back on the court, so it’s definitely frustrating.”
There’s also the question of why wait. The Nets are sputtering in light of all their injuries, and the team wasn’t ever expected to be whole until next season, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. Having the surgery now would allow Irving plenty of time to recuperate for next season.
“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” he said. “But I felt that the next step in the progression is to get the cortisone and see how it responds and then move on from that point . . . I just thought about the present moment and what we have. The overall goal is to remain healthy and get better with these guys and then we move forward after this season.”
Realistically, he knows that this season, for the Nets, is about doing the best they can. A championship is little more than a dream. Next season is another story.
“I’m nothing but proud of the guys for holding the fort down and I kept telling them when I was injured, keep this boat afloat for as long as we can,” he said. “When I’m back, then we make a push for the playoffs and we see where we go from there, but we’ve got to be realistic with what’s going on here.
“Guys aren’t healthy. Me and KD obviously came here to play together and lead these guys to a championship run the next few years. And right now, we’re just not in a position to do so, but we’re going to do the best we can for this season.”