The world on Friday was given its first glimpse of the friendship between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both spoke during Nets Media Day in Brooklyn and well, they were spreading very different messages.
Durant took sole responsibility for his return to the court for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, during which he sustained a torn right Achilles’ tendon.
Speaking before KD, Irving basically waved off that notion and pointed fingers elsewhere.
Whether this was a coordinated plot or two friends expressing diametrically different opinions, it’s enough to suggest there will be drama among the Nets – just as it was last season when the two men were on different teams, Durant with the Warriors and Irving with the Celtics.
Addressing a mass audience for the first time since May, Durant was informed of Irving’s comments and still reiterated his previous statements related to his final weeks with the Warriors, specifically decisions made regarding his return for Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Raptors in Toronto, when he sustained a torn right Achilles early in the second quarter.
“When I went down, it felt like everybody wanted to put their arms of protection around me, from people I didn’t know, to my best friend, Kyrie,” he said. “I feel like everybody was real protective of me around this time. And I feel like they will continue to be that way, especially involving my health.
“But I make my own decisions.”
Durant’s new teammate had gone the other way. Asked about Durant’s possible availability this season in Brooklyn – one he is expected to miss while rehabbing – Kyrie insinuated KD isn’t telling the whole truth about his time with the Warriors and his return in The Finals.
“We all know K wasn’t ready to play in that environment,” Irving said. “We all know that, whether people want to admit it or not. He was out 31 days and we put him on a national stage in The Finals to end up selling a product that came before the person, Kevin.
“And now I’m here to protect that. I’m going to be a protector of that all throughout the year and not allow anyone to infiltrate that circle. ‘Hey, K, do you. Get right. We’ll be fine.’ We have expectations for our team. We obviously know he’s an integral part. But we’ll wait for that. I’m, very patient. I’m going to be over-patient with Kevin because I don’t want anything like that to happen to anyone again, especially on that type of stage, with him having to answer questions about whether or not he’s coming back.
“I’m here to dispel that. You’ll never hear me say ‘He’s coming back here.’ ‘I think he’s coming.’ I want him to be 101 percent healthy.”
Irving, in essence, contended that KD was a commodity being exploited by larger forces and that his return was dictated by others.
How juicy. But it’s Kyrie, who has a reputation for developing his own theories that sometimes deviate from conventional wisdom and even fact. Was he blaming the NBA? The Warriors? Coach Steve Kerr and his staff? The players? The front office? Dr. Rick Celebrini, the team’s medical/training chief?
If any of these components were Irving’s target, he missed.
All updates on Durant in the wake of his initial injury, described as a right calf strain, were met with vague responses from all parties employed by the Warriors. Kerr consistently said he had no idea when, or if, KD would return. The media relations staff issued weekly updates but never once projected a timetable.
It wasn’t until the afternoon of June 10, hours before tipoff of Game 5, that it was confirmed KD would make his return.
Durant, in an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes last month, backhanded the idea of the Warriors pressuring him to return.
“Hell no,” he said. “How can you blame them? Hell no,” he said. “I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and Rick working out every day.
Durant said he targeted Game 5, adding that there are risks to playing basketball and nobody was responsible for the injury.
“We just need to move on from that (expletive),” he said.
Irving surely was aware of these comments but clearly has not moved on.
The world eventually will know if the comments Friday exposed a fissure in the Durant-Irving friendship. Or if Irving went off-script. Or if both men actually planned this dissonance, Kyrie embracing the role of the heavy and shielding his friend from more of the scrutiny he detests.