Kyrie Irving’s road to a return from his suspension isn’t over.
“He still has work to do,” Nets owner Joe Tsai told The New York The Post on Sunday (all times AEDT).
Irving was handed an indefinite suspension, which the Nets said would be at least five games, for promoting an anti-Semitic movie. The All-Star guard reached that five-game threshold Sunday, when the Nets played the Clippers. He also will sit out Monday against the Lakers — and for as long as it takes for him to complete a set of remedial tasks mandated by the Nets.
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“He has to show people that he’s sorry,” Tsai told The New York Post during the Nets’ 110-95 win over the Clippers at Crypto.com Arena. “What’s important — and what people miss — is he only apologised after he was suspended.”
On October 28, Irving posted multiple social media links to an anti-Semitic film, and stubbornly doubled down by refusing apologise. It wasn’t until Tsai and the Nets stepped in on Nov. 4 and suspended Irving that the mercurial point guard finally posted an apology on Instagram.
Now, Irving must meet the guidelines set by the Nets in order to return from the suspension. How long that will take is largely up to Irving.
“I do not know. I do know not available (Monday), I have been told that. So I can give you that,” Jacque Vaughn said before he coached his second game since the Nets removed the interim label from his title and made him their head coach.
Vaughn said he has no firm idea about when Irving might return.
“I don’t,” Vaughn said. “The good thing is Joe put out that statement (Saturday) that shows where the collaboration or alignment is right now. I have no idea or timetable at all.”
According to Tsai — who was at the game with his family — that timetable will be as long it takes for Irving to show both remorse for his actions and growth.
“Clara and I met with Kyrie and his family yesterday. We spent quality time to understand each other and it’s clear to me that Kyrie does not have any beliefs of hate towards Jewish people or any group,” Tsai tweeted on Saturday.
“The Nets and Kyrie, together with the NBA and NBPA, are working constructively toward a process of forgiveness, healing and education.”
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Even Kevin Durant, who arrived with Irving as a free-agent package deal in 2019, has no clue when his teammate will be back.
“Nah. It’s been out of our control,” Durant said. “As players we try to lock in on the game and practices and we just try to lock in. … It’s over a lot of our heads right now. We just have to control what we can. His spirits is high. Looking forward to playing the game. You know Ky. He’s a gamer. He loves to play. So hopefully all this stuff is over with and we can move past it and get him back on the floor.”
Added Nic Claxton: “I have no idea. I just know he’s not playing (Monday), which is unfortunate. But whenever he gets back, we’ll get him back in the swing of things.”
Despite the fairly positive outcomes and Irving’s sit-downs, with Tsai and with NBA commissioner Adam Silver earlier this past week, he will have missed six games through Monday. The Nets’ subsequent game is Wednesday in Sacramento and they will conclude their West Coast swing Friday at Portland.
The Nets, who will return home to host the Grizzlies on Nov. 21 at Barclays Center, are 4-1 without Irving, and have played withering defence in his absence.
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The Nets rolled to a dominant 42-point victory at Washington on Nov. 5, in the first game of Irving’s suspension, and also throttled the rival Knicks by 27 this past Thursday.
The key is “putting guys on their heels,” Vaughn said.
“Prime example is Edmond (Sumner) picking up and making some one uncomfortable,” the coach said. “If it was boxing, it’d be giving someone that first punch. That’s been our mentality — not to sit back and wait, but go out and try to dictate ourselves.”
The question is: Can they play that way when and if Irving returns, despite his defensive shortcomings?
“For this group, we have to be that way,” Vaughn said. “A big part of that is you see the different line-ups. We play small at times. We’ve had Kevin, we’ve had Yuta (Watanabe), we’ve had Markieff (Morris) at centre at times. So in order to do that you have to be scrappy and understand it won’t look pretty all the time. But the results are what matter.”
So far, the results have been good. Nevertheless, someone who has won with Irving before, Clippers coach Ty Lue, backed his former player.
“For me, he made my job a lot easier I’ll tell you that,” said Lue, who won the 2016 title in Cleveland with Irving and LeBron James.
“Just put the basketball in his hands he can make any play as a basketball player. And I’ve always said offensively, he has no weaknesses. He can score the basketball, he can pass it, finish both hands, can post, mid-range, 3-point, off the dribble, he can do it all. So just a special talent … it made my job a lot easier for sure.”