LOS ANGELES — After his first practice with the Dallas Mavericks, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he felt “really wanted” by his new team, a stark contrast to feeling “very disrespected” at times during his turbulent 3½-season tenure with the Brooklyn Nets.
“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said after Tuesday’s practice at USC’s Galen Hall. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent — I work extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic, though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story and just continue preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas, just focus on what I control.”
The Nets granted Irving’s request to be traded by agreeing to a deal on Sunday that sent him to the Mavericks along with forward Markieff Morris in exchange for guard Spencer Dinwiddie, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two second- rounders.
The blockbuster trade satisfied Dallas’ desire to pair Luka Doncic with another superstar, at least for now, as Irving is in the final season of his contract. It also ended Irving’s drama-filled stint in Brooklyn that fell far short of the championship expectations created when he signed as a package deal with Kevin Durant in the summer of 2019.
Irving averaged 27.1 points and 5.8 assists in 143 games for the Nets, but the focus was far more often on off-court issues than on the eight-time All-Star’s offensive brilliance. He took two leaves of absences during the 2020-21 season, missed much of the 2021-22 season after declining to comply with New York City’s COVID-19 workplace vaccine mandate and was suspended by the Nets in November as part of the fallout for posting a link on Twitter to a film featuring antisemitic tropes.
Irving twice requested trades from Brooklyn, one before this season that he rescinded and the second last week that led to him becoming a Maverick. His last trade request occurred in the wake of fizzled contract extension negotiations.
“I’m not the person to really speak on names and go to someone behind their back and try to leak stuff to the media,” Irving said. “That’s never been me. Now I’ve been an audience member, watching people say things about me that ultimately just fall off my shoulder. I’m really in a place that I’m grateful that I got to grow into over the last year and a half, two years. Spending time away from the basketball court gave me time to really appreciate life in a new way, and I just know I need healthy boundaries, especially in this entertainment business. There’s a lot of disrespect that goes on with people’s families, with their names, and I’m just not worth it, so it’s nothing personal against any of those guys, against the front office.
“It’s just what I’m willing to accept, and I took a chance. Luckily and fortunately, the Dallas Mavericks picked me up.”
Irving cited a lack of “transparency and honesty from people in the front office” as a reason he did not feel comfortable continuing his career with the Nets. Brooklyn won only one playoff series during Irving’s tenure and granted midseason trade requests from All-Star guards in each of the past two years, sending James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers last season.
“I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s water under the bridge now,” said Irving, who mentioned his relationships with Dallas coach Jason Kidd and general manager Nico Harrison as factors in his comfort level with the Mavs. “I wish them well. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, took care of my teammates, was incredibly selfless in my approach to leading, and I just want to do all the right things for myself – – not to appease anybody that had something negative to say about me or judge me. This basketball game — just, it’s fun, and I want to keep it that way.”
Irving acknowledged he had deleted an Instagram post published in November in which he apologized to the Jewish community. He said he often deletes posts from his Instagram account and intended no disrespect by doing so in this instance.
“I stand by who I am and why I apologized,” Irving said. “And I did it because I care about my family and I have Jewish members of my family that care for me deeply. Did the media know that beforehand when they call me that word, antisemitic? No. Did they know anything about my family? No. Everything was assumed. Everything was put out before I had anything to say. And I reacted, instead of responding emotionally, maturely. I didn’t need to be defensive or go at anybody. So I stand by my apology, and I stand by my people everywhere, all walks of life, all races, all religions.”
Irving, 30, and Doncic, 23, are expected to instantly form one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos once Doncic is cleared to return from a right heel contusion. Irving will make his Mavs debut Wednesday night against the LA Clippers; Doncic will miss his third consecutive game but will travel to LA to watch the game from the bench.
“This isn’t two 23-year-olds trying to see who’s the alpha,” Kidd said. “We understand this is Luka’s team, and it will be Luka’s team. … But now we’ve improved the roster where someone else can handle the ball.”
Irving, who said he had texted with Doncic since the trade but had yet to have a conversation with his co-star, has thrived alongside MVP candidates before. He played a central role in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2015-16 championship run and three consecutive NBA Finals appearances while teaming with LeBron James, who expressed disappointment that his Los Angeles Lakers weren’t able to acquire Irving last week. Irving starred alongside Jayson Tatum with the Boston Celtics, Durant with the Nets and a variety of superstars with Team USA.
With a smile, Irving noted that playing with Doncic would be his first time teaming up with “one of those bad Europeans,” marveling at how Doncic dominates while playing at a pace not seen since perhaps Larry Bird. Irving, who like Doncic is an elite isolation and pick-and-roll creator, is confident that they will figure out how they best fit together.
“It’s still a wait and see, but I think me as a hooper, me as a basketball player, am I worried about us coexisting and finding cohesion? No,” Irving said. “So as much as I can alleviate for him, as much as I can lead alongside him, willing to do, but there’s no pressure here. Nothing’s forced with me and him. I just want to play basketball and enjoy his talent and enjoy my teammates’ talent and work towards a championship.”
Irving joined the Mavericks with no assurances from either side that he will return to Dallas next season. He can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there are no intentions to discuss a contract extension during the season, when Irving would be limited to a two-year deal because he was recently traded.
“No rush,” Irving said. “Just staying patient, and I’m going to let those pieces lay where they are.
“Again, I’m going to keep saying it: I’ve got to stay poised and just control what I can control — my effort on the court, my attitude. Those are things that I bring every single day and just want to focus on that. The business aspect of this is ruthless. So I don’t want to be distracted. I just want to be all-in.”