NEW YORK — As Kyrie Irving’s departure became finalized just prior to Monday night’s 124-116 loss to the LA Clippers, the Brooklyn Nets tried to process all of the emotions the group was feeling in the wake of watching the All-Star guard head to the Dallas Mavericks.
“My interactions with Kai have always been positive,” coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game, when asked to sum up Irving’s 3½ years with the Nets. “I enjoyed coaching him. I want him to succeed. I’ll keep it that simple. We’ve had some ups and downs I guess along the way. I’ve also seen the young man score 60 points. I’ve also seen him bring his kids into the locker room.
“I’ve also seen him grow as an individual and be a better teammate than when I first met him. So for me, I’m going to always look at the good in people and want the good in people. And I want him to succeed. He’s no longer with us, but I appreciate his time. But I’m looking forward to coaching Spencer [Dinwiddie] spirit [Dorian Finney-Smith] for sure.”
The Nets completed the deal Monday that brought Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith a future first-round pick and two second-round picks to Brooklyn in exchange for Irving and veteran big man Markieff Morris. Vaughn said he never asked Irving, who requested a trade on Friday, why he wanted to leave the Nets.
“My conversation with Kai was based around, really in all honesty, him growing up,” Vaughn said. “Me seeing him with our time when we first met. How I tried to be consistent for him, be an example for him. Whether it was talking about my kids to him, bringing my kids to Family Day so he could see that, the importance of being a father.
“Being consistent as you possibly can with your teammates, forming relationships that are meaningful and true that will go beyond. I’m hoping to see him years from now and he remembers how I treated him on a daily basis … I tried to be a consistent motivator for him and let him see how important it is to form lasting relationships.”
Irving’s absence was felt hardest by several young players who said that he served as a mentor to them. Nets big man Nic Claxton said Irving was one of the best teammates he’s ever had. Nets guard Cam Thomas, who scored a career-high 47 points in Monday’s loss, said Irving was like a big brother to him.
“That’s my guy,” Thomas said of Irving. “We talk about a lot. We talk about Kobe. Just life in general, man. Life in general. That’s probably the main thing I miss from Kai, me having that big brother on the team, somebody to laugh with, joke with, make fun too. Just my big brother.”
Thomas undoubtedly made Irving proud with his recent performances. Thomas, who scored 41 points in Saturday’s win over the Washington Wizards, became the second-youngest player in NBA history with consecutive 40-point games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The only one who did it at a younger age is Los Angeles Lakers star and former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James. James had two different streaks in 2006.
“That’s great company,” Thomas said of being in the club with James. “I’m glad I have my name mentioned with that guy, even though I’m a Kobe guy.”
As the Nets try to figure out their new path without Irving, they do so with star forward Kevin Durant’s long-term future with the organization still uncertain. Durant, who is still rehabbing an MCL sprain in his right knee, spent some time sitting on the Nets’ bench on Monday. He declined to speak to reporters after the game.
Vaughn said there would be an update on Durant’s rehab on Tuesday. Durant has been out since injuring the knee in a win over the Miami Heat on Jan. 8.
“It’s been a whirlwind that I’ve become all too familiar with being here for four years,” Claxton said before the game, when asked to sum up the emotions the group is feeling after the Irving deal. “But you can’t control it and you just got to keep rolling with it. And come out here and we still got a job to do every single night.”