The Dallas Morning News

Irving arrives with checkered past

- Twitter: @townbrad

rarely come to fruition, at least for long.

History shows that Irving paired with James to win the 2016 NBA title with Cleveland, with Irving sinking the winning 3-pointer in Game 7. And that the Cavs might have won the 2015 title had Irving not fractured his left kneecap in the Finals.

Cleveland also made it to the 2017 Finals, but since then Irving’s career path has been the basketball version of a war zone, a minefield of off-court controvers­ies, injuries, trade demands and large swaths of missed games.

Irving comes to Dallas amid arguably the prime of his career, with an All-star Game appearance in two weeks and his 31st birthday in March — but also having played in only 143 of a potential 278 games during his four checkered seasons as a Net.

Which version of himself will Irving bring to the Mavericks’ locker room? The one who co-starred with James in Cleveland, or the one who ultimately asked for a trade so that he could become the face of a franchise?

Boston Celtics

That certainly didn’t happen with his next team, Boston, which hoped that pairing Irving with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would forge that franchise’s next Big Three, in the spirit of Bird-mchale-parish in the 1980s and early 1990s and Pierce-garnett-allen in the 2000s.

Instead, Irving’s first Celtics season was derailed by two lateseason knee procedures. In his second and last season, Boston won 49 games and was eliminated by Milwaukee in the second round (with Irving shooting 25 of 83 in the final four games), but he had made it clear well before then that he didn’t envision remaining a Celtic.

On Jan. 12 of that season, Irving screamed at Gordon Hayward for passing to rookie Tatum for the final shot. Two weeks later he reneged on an early season vow to re-sign with Boston.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s best for my career,” he said then. “I spent the last eight years trying to do what everyone else wanted me to do — managers, other personnel — and I don’t owe anybody s---.”

Brooklyn Nets

Rumors were rampant by that season’s All-star break that Irving and Kevin Durant intended to team up in Brooklyn, and indeed, Irving that offseason signed a four-year, $136 million deal with the Nets.

Irving scored 50 points in his first game as a Net, on Oct. 23, 2019, but that season proved to be a wash for Irving and the franchise. With Durant already sidelined with an Achilles rupture, Irving injured his right shoulder and ultimately had surgery, ending his year after 20 games.

Irving sparkled during his second regular season in Brooklyn, averaging 26.9 points while shooting 50.6% from the field, 40.2% from 3-point range and 92.2% on free throws. That made him only the ninth player to join the 50-40-90 club and only the fourth to do so with a 25-point scoring average.

But in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Milwaukee, Irving sprained his right ankle, causing him to miss Game 5 of a series the Nets ultimately lost in seven games.

Injuries are part of basketball and largely out of players’ control. What happened during Irving’s final 11⁄2 seasons in Brooklyn partly was self-inflicted but also a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Irving certainly was within his personal rights to decline to take the COVID-19 vaccine, the reality is that he was playing for a franchise in a city, New York, that mandated vaccines for any employee whose job required them to work in a public facility.

The Nets initially announced that if Irving couldn’t play home games, it was in the team’s best interest that he also not play road games. That mandate stood until a slew of injuries caused the franchise to change its mind.

Ultimately he only played in 29 regular-season games, 23 on the road and six at home after New York’s vaccine ordinance was lifted. The splintered Nets won only 44 games and were swept by Irving’s former team, Boston, in the first round of the playoffs.

The trade of James Harden to Philadelph­ia in effect made Durant and Irving the faces of the franchise, but dysfunctio­n cast a cloud over much of last summer when Durant asked for a trade. There was speculatio­n that Irving, too, would attempt to bolt, but ultimately he opted into the final one year and $37 million of his contract.

Just eight games into the season, though, Irving was suspended by the team without pay for at least five games for failing to “unequivoca­lly say he has no antisemiti­c beliefs,” further declaring him “unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.”

The controvers­y arose when Irving posted on his Twitter account a link to antisemiti­c work (Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America) without comment.

He ultimately apologized and returned. The Nets played well when Durant and Irving were together, going 20-10, but their season suffered another setback when Durant sprained his knee on Jan. 8.

Unable to work out a contract extension, Irving last Friday informed the Nets that he wanted to be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline.

On Sunday, the Nets granted his wish. He’s Dallas’ star — and/or problem — now.

On paper, Doncic-irving is a dream backcourt, an unstoppabl­e pairing, potentiall­y one of the most lethal in NBA history.

With Irving, though, it’s never been that simple. Or predictabl­e.

 ?? 2021 File Photo /Tom Fox ?? Kyrie Irving (left) and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic won’t be having any more oncourt showdowns now that Irving is headed to Dallas from the Brooklyn Nets.
2021 File Photo /Tom Fox Kyrie Irving (left) and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic won’t be having any more oncourt showdowns now that Irving is headed to Dallas from the Brooklyn Nets.

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