It’s true. We sportswriters don’t usually apologize unprovoked for our misguided opinions. We hope our takes such as, oh, the Red Sox should do everything they can to acquire Giancarlo Stanton, fade into the hot-take ether.
And usually they do, right until someone digs up your dumb old tweet (or years of tweets) about it on Twitter and the mockery becomes hurtful. Stanton seemed like a good idea at the time, OK? At least I didn’t think they should re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury or something truly moronic.
Some takes, however, prove so egregious that there is no other path but the one that leads to apology. So consider this my necessary mea culpa:
I apologize for being so wrong about when it would go bad for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets.
I’m really kicking myself over this one. I had the basics correct in a column I wrote in this space back in July after he crossed over Boston one more time and bolted for Brooklyn in free agency.
The piece, titled “Dear Nets fans: Here’s what you’re getting in Kyrie Irving,’’ helpfully spelled out for Nets fans (on the presumption that such creatures exist) how he would begin burning his bridges from the inside, just as he did with the Cavaliers and Celtics.
I wrote that he would be exceptional at first — “watching (him) on a daily basis is a genuine treat’’ — which was true during his first injury-shortened season with the Celtics and has been true in Brooklyn, for whom he is averaging a phenomenal 28.5 points, 7.2 assists, and 5.4 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game when healthy.
I offered a gentle warning that the good times wouldn’t last, one Celtics fans refused to heed when he was dealt from the Cavaliers in August 2017 amid warnings that he was moody and could find dissatisfaction even in what seemed to be the good times. “[His attitude] will start to change. Subtly, weirdly, almost imperceptibly at first. But it will change, and not in a good way. It’s never in a good way.’’
That wasn’t wrong either, but it leads into where I was, so regrettably. What I botched, big-time, was the timeline.
I warned Nets coach Kenny Atkinson that he had two years’ notice before Irving went from entertaining enigma to a locker-room pariah who undermined everything for reasons he never would explain.
“The honeymoon period in Boston lasted most of his first season,’’ I wrote. “I suspect it will in Brooklyn, too.’’
Turns out the measurement on speculating when Irving would begin his moody malcontent routine should not have been in years, or even months. It was exactly five days after his Nets’ debut — a 127-126 loss to the Timberwolves on October 23 in which Irving scored 50 points — that the venerable Jackie MacMullan’s dive into remaking of the franchise for ESPN.com included this striking paragraph.
“Yet Irving’s infamous mood swings, confirmed by his ex-teammates, which followed him from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn, are the unspoken concern that makes Nets officials queasy. When Irving lapses into these funks, he often shuts down, unwilling to communicate with the coaching staff, front office and, sometimes, even his teammates. Nets team sources say one such episode occurred during Brooklyn’s trip to China, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it. There’s hope that [injured forward Kevin] Durant will be able to coax his friend into a better frame of mind.’’
While the Nets offered their requisite denials about the effects of Irving’s moods on the team — something the Celtics did right up until he was gone, and the Cavs probably did as well — it was all too familiar to be false. The most amusing and succinct headline I saw about this was on Heavy.com: “Kyrie Irving Attitude Problem? ‘Who Cares?’ Says Source Close To Nets Star.’’ It’s good to have like-minded friends.
Even those who might have been skeptical at the time that Irving’s antics were already fully activated have come around since. On November 21, Stephen A. Smith — someone who knows a thing or two about turning bad takes into profit — said in his practiced solemn voice on his ESPN show “First Take,’’ “I am not hearing good things about Kyrie in Brooklyn.’’ Twenty days earlier, he had laughed off the notion that Irving was already becoming a problem. He probably sold a lot of beef jerky in between his original take and his epiphany.
Nets players, most notably Jarrett Allen, have defended Irving. Hey, some guys are just good teammates who want everything to be copacetic. Marcus Smart still defends Irving even though he flat-out quit on the Celtics in the playoffs. We know what we see: the barking at teammates, the can-you-believe-I-have-to-play-with-these-scrubs? looks, the exhilarating skill and exhausting mannerisms so familiar from a plot we’ve seen twice before.
Irving is supposed to be back in Boston Wednesday night for the first time since he skipped the scene. He is not, of course, instead dealing with a shoulder injury that will keep him out for a seventh straight game.
I’d like to get behind the theory, purveyed by true Celtic Kendrick Perkins on WEEI’s Dale and Keefe program last week that Irving is dodging the Celtics. “Think about this: two weeks before he has to return to Boston, he’s injured,’’ said Conspiracy Theory Perk. “Right? Sounds like a set-up plan to me.’’
But I believe Irving’s shoulder is hurting and he has a legit reason to miss this game and avoid the booing of a lifetime. The man has been firing up a lot of shots.
That doesn’t mean the Celtics shouldn’t show a “highlight’’ reel during a break in the action solely of Irving demanding to switch onto Giannis Antetokounmpo during his final game as a Celtic, then offering no discernible resistance. Defensively, he was the Bizarro Marcus Smart, uncompetitive and outhustled.
The Nets are only getting a glimpse of the full Kyrie Irving experience now, but the glimpse of the dark side has come sooner than anyone expected.
We can excuse them for not understanding now, for thinking it will get better. They owe no apologies for having hope.
His tantalizing talent makes you believe. We didn’t listen to Cleveland, Brooklyn didn’t listen to us, and his next team won’t listen, either. Just know that there will be another team. And he’ll sucker them for a honeymoon shorter than they’d ever expect, too.