That’s the big question for Brooklyn this season with Kevin Durant injured. This is Irving’s team, for better or worse.
Brooklyn dispatched its performance team to Santa Monica for an annual two-day minicamp with the players, which involved, among other things, gathering biometric data through wearables. Irving, who has spent the past nine years working with his own performance specialist, Robin Pound, balked.
When the Nets gently urged him to participate, he didn’t mince words: “I’m not doing it.” It created an awkward moment, team sources say, for incumbent players who had benefited from the performance staff and ingrained that input into their routine.
Irving’s infamous mood swings, confirmed by his ex-teammates, which followed him from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn, are the unspoken concern that makes Nets officials queasy. When Irving lapses into these funks, he often shuts down, unwilling to communicate with the coaching staff, front office and sometimes, even his teammates. Nets team sources say one such episode occurred during Brooklyn’s trip to China, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it.
The Nets are willing to look past moments like the photo shoot at the Pearl TV Tower in China, when Irving refused to remove his hat and instructed them to photoshop it out.
Irving is totally reasonable to resist a wearable. Players should have major questions about how teams will use that collected data. Will it be properly secured? Will teams share it? Will it be held against players in contract negotiations? Will players have access to the data? Will players have ability to analyze the data in a way teams can at scale?
In MacMullan’s piece, Nets general manager Sean Marks said the data will never be used against players. But file that under: What else is he supposed to say? Whether or not the data would be used against players, Marks would likely give the same answer.
To his credit, Marks didn’t hold Irving’s resistance against him. Marks said it was incumbent on the organization to earn Irving’s trust, and that takes time.
As far as Irving’s petulance, that’s not ideal. But that’s also part of the package of acquiring Irving. If the Nets want his incredible scoring, they must also deal with everything that comes with Irving as a person. It’s difficult to build a championship-caliber team if limiting the pool of acceptable players to only those who never act like divas.
Yet, Irving’s behavior in China raises questions about his mental health. When he stopped talking to Cavaliers teammates, that was attributed to him wanting to leave Cleveland. When he acted out with the Celtics, that was attributed to wanting to leave Boston.
But Irving wants to be in Brooklyn. He just chose the Nets and raves how much he enjoys playing near home.
If the Nets can’t determine why he fell into a funk, maybe there are internal issues that need addressing.
I don’t want to psychoanalyze Irving from afar. It’s just that I’m not sure these “episodes” are being put into a proper context. Hopefully, Irving and people close to him help him find the happiness that sometimes seems to elude him.