Nets fans who recall Kyrie Irving’s right shoulder limiting him to just 20 games last season naturally began to worry when he missed Saturday’s game due to what the team called “injury recovery” for the same shoulder. But coach Steve Nash insisted it was more precaution than relapse, and the Nets were just being careful.
Nash said Irving’s absence should be much shorter than that of Kevin Durant, who is out at least through the All-Star break with a hamstring strain. Irving is expected to return during the road trip that will close the first half of the season, either Monday in San Antonio or Wednesday in Houston.
“I don’t think it’s serious; I think it’s maintenance,” Nash said before the Nets hosted the Mavericks on Saturday night. “He knows his body, he’s discussed it with us. He has history with that shoulder, and he’s taking the necessary precautions to make sure he can keep up the maintenance on that shoulder.
“But I don’t think it’s anything more than that. So I’d expect him to play in the next game. And if not, I don’t think this is a thing that’ll linger into the All-Star break.”
The NBA has fined teams for resting players during national TV games, and Saturday’s tilt against Luke Doncic and the Mavericks aired on ABC. Nash wasn’t interested in getting any slaps on the wrist from the league office or general manager Sean Marks, so he’ll call it injury recovery, relapse avoidance, whatever; anything but load management.
“You’re not going to get me [on that],” Nash said with a laugh. “Let me just repeat it: He has a history with the shoulder, and he’s going to maintain the strength and the nature of that joint by rehabbing and protecting it.”
Nets fans can be forgiven if they want Irving packed in bubble wrap until the All-Star break. He has a long injury history, and his Brooklyn debut last season was more of the same.
Irving lasted just 11 games before going down with that right shoulder injury after a Nov. 14 loss in Denver. He missed the next 26 games before taking a cortisone shot and returning for a Jan. 12 win over the Hawks. But that return was short-lived. He played nine of the next 11 games, went back on the shelf following a Feb. 1 loss in Washington and had season-ending surgery.
So far this season, Irving has been fairly healthy other than a finger injury. Most of the time he missed was due to taking a personal leave and the ensuing COVID-19 contact tracing quarantine. But since returning, Irving has been stellar.
Irving has a league-high 121.8 offensive rating, and his leadership has surpassed many, especially after it was questioned following contentious exits from Cleveland and Boston.
“There were a lot of people speaking for me or speaking on my behalf who really didn’t know who I was,” Irving said. “I didn’t offer that access to a lot of people, because it’s just a trust. It’s leaks here, somebody saying this here in Cleveland and in Boston.”
Irving was voted in as a starter for the March 7 All-Star Game. His value to the Nets, however, hasn’t just been the 27.4 points he’s averaging, but the headspace he’s in.
“Ky’s been great,” Nash said. “Obviously we know the skill and shot-making … but his mood and his attitude has been so good, it’s rubbed off on his teammates.
“It’s a big part of why this team is coming together. And when I see Ky smiling, it gives me a lot of confidence and it’s a beautiful thing for our ballclub. He’s playing great, he’s having incredible impact on the group, and it’s certainly fun to watch every night.”
DeAndre Jordan — who got together with Irving and Kevin Durant to sign with the Nets in June 2019 — agreed the guard has impacted the locker room in a positive manner.
“I wasn’t in Boston or Cleveland, so I can’t speak on those situations, but I know here Ky was dealing with some things that were bigger than basketball at the beginning of the season, and we all understand and respect his space as a human being. But when he is here, he’s one of our leaders,” Jordan said. “He keeps guys uplifted and he’s very encouraging out there.”
Jeff Green told The Post he didn’t prejudge Irving on his Cavaliers or Celtics experiences.
“Being on the outside before this year, I never judged him once. He is who he is, and I love who he is. He’s a guy who thinks outside the box,” Green said. “People just need to allow him to be who he is and not judge him based off his opinion.”