It was after 4 in the morning on the first day of free agency when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant chose to become family.
Admittedly unaware of the road blocks that could prevent their union with the Brooklyn Nets, Irving, Durant and DeAndre Jordan decided they would join the franchise in lockstep regardless of what sacrifices would be necessary.
“It was one of those things, kind of happened organically,” Durant said Friday at Nets media day.
Irving recounted the ups and downs of eight seasons in the NBA and believes the road traveled brought him home to New York and the Brooklyn Nets.
“I’m incredibly grateful to be here. It’s been a journey, I’ve taken numerous steps in different perspectives - failed and succeeded,” Irving said Friday at Nets media day. “First and foremost, I wanted to reach out to Brooklyn to let them know my interest is very high. And I had some pieces that I wanted to bring with me as well. This is the perfect place to do it.
“I wanted to get to know the front office in a way that we had longevity and time to gel. ... Really make this feel like home.”
On his list of priorities in the offseason, Irving said he first had to acknowledge the steps it took to get to free agency. After starting his NBA career in Cleveland and being traded to the Boston Celtics, Irving wanted to understand where he’s been, but not let history force his decision. Irving said he feels as if he failed - but learned - as a leader with the Celtics. He said he reached out to general manager Danny Ainge to let him know he cares about him as a human. Irving defined his failure in Boston as trying to be great as an individual, not as a team.
“Nine months ago (before free agency) I was sitting in front of a Boston crowd saying I wanted to come back,” Irving said, adding that he was side-swiped off the court by the death of his grandfather. “Personal lives, seems like it’s not important, but it’s important to talk about the human being struggling as well. It was important to be honest about who I am, be honest with myself.
“Someone that close to me dying - I’ve never dealt with anything like that. ... I barely got a chance to talk to my grandfather before he died because of basketball.”
Irving said his unique relationships across the league - with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie and two newcomers he helped recruit, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan - were a huge factor. Irving believed in late June that Durant would join him in Brooklyn, but added “We had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t know the rules. ... It happened in the spur of the moment on that day.”
“It’s 4:16 in the morning, morning of free agency, us just talking about our futures - the opportunity ahead of us and the investment we had in one another and the investment we had in Brooklyn,” Irving said of how the stars finally figured out their destiny. “They made us feel like All-Stars. ... Most important for me, the family atmosphere. They reached out to my family right away. It’s very inclusive. ... We’re here to build. First and foremost is our family.”
Durant said they looked around that morning and asked: “Are we ready to do it? Everybody was like, yeah.”
Jordan couldn’t pass on the option to play with two players he considered close friends.
“Anytime you have the opportunity to make your own choice, that’s huge. When you have the opportunity to join guys you consider brothers and family — have the opportunity to win a championship — we’ve talked about this for a long time. The universe kind of put us in position to take advantage of it,” Jordan said.
Irving is ready to deflect any pressure that falls to Durant, who ruptured his Achilles in the NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors, to get back on the court. The Nets don’t plan to play Durant in 2019-2020.
“While he was injured, I made sure he knows he has our support 100 percent. There isn’t going to be any pressure from any of us at any time to come back, and I’ll make sure of it,” Irving said, adding that he felt the Warriors put “selling a product” ahead of Durant’s wellbeing. “He wasn’t ready. Whether anyone wants to admit it. He was out 31 days.”
Durant, who has averaged 27 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 12 seasons, said he makes his own decisions and doesn’t put blame for his Achilles injury on anyone else. He also indicated reports he wouldn’t play in 2019-2020 are accurate.
“Every day I wake up I fight against the standard I set for myself,” Durant said.
-Field Level Media