The Brooklyn Nets knew they would be without Kevin Durant on Thursday.
Kyrie Irving’s absence came as a surprise.
The Nets suited up for their nationally televised win over the Philadelphia 76ers without either of their superstars. Durant is in quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure. As for Irving? Here’s what head coach Steve Nash said pregame.
Nash: ‘I don’t know’
Steve Nash doesn’t know why Kyrie Irving is out tonight, but he is hoping everything is OK. pic.twitter.com/m0bytoDBne
— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) January 8, 2021
“I don’t know,” Nash said when asked why Irving was absent. “I just found out. I just sent him a message in the last half hour. I haven’t heard back yet. Obviously thinking about him and hope all is well. It’s a private matter.”
That was in the hour leading up to tip-off. Irving was officially listed as out for personal reasons.
Irving to miss more games?
There’s speculation that Irving decided to take a mental health day in the aftermath of the tumult of the last two days around the U.S. Capitol invasion and the Jacob Blake decision. There’s also a report from The Athletic’s Joe Vardon that Irving “is OK, but didn’t know when he would return.”
The Nets announced after the game that Irving isn’t flying with the team for Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Whatever the reason and however long Irving is out, he didn’t bother to consult his head coach ahead of time or respond when Nash checked in.
Irving’s challenged Nash’s authority before
It’s a situation that’s not going to quell concerns that Irving doesn’t respect Nash in his role. Irving had this to say in the preseason about the rookie head coach he used to play against.
“I don't really see us having a head coach,” Irving said in October while suggesting a collaborative approach to coaching decisions. “KD could be a head coach, I could be a head coach.”
Irving walked back those comments in December in the days leading up to the season.
“I think I’ve got to take back my comments in terms of the head coach back a few months ago,” Irving said. “But it’s just like, man, we have such a great synergy. Everyone feels like we’re coaching one another to be better, so I’m grateful for that.”
After the season tipped off with a win over the Golden State Warriors, Irving led a locker-room speech delivering the game ball to Nash.
On one hand, it comes off as a nice gesture. On another, it looks like a passive-aggressive way to assert who’s actually in charge of the Nets locker room. Handing out game balls generally falls under the coach’s purview.
The Nets experiment with Durant, Irving and Nash is one of the most compelling storylines of this NBA season. It promises to remain a must-watch.
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