It was no secret that Irving, who signed with the Nets over the summer, had a rocky parting with the Boston Celtics. At the beginning of last season, the All-Star point guard told Boston fans that he was planning to re-sign with the franchise. He meant it at the time, he explained on Friday. But things changed. His grandfather died in late October and basketball became less important to Irving.
"Basketball and the joy I had from it was sucked away from me," Irving said at media day. "There was a facial expression that I carried around with me throughout the year. Didn't allow anyone to get close to me in that instance, and it really bothered me. I didn't take the necessary steps to get counseling or get therapy to deal with somebody that close to me dying. I've never dealt with anything like that."
Things began to spiral, the locker room became fractured and Irving was unpredictable. The Milwaukee Bucks bounced the Celtics in the second round of the 2019 playoffs; by that time, Irving seemed to have already distanced himself from his teammates.
"I responded in ways that are uncharacteristic," he said.
That distant and moody Irving was not the same guy who showed up to the dais for his news conference on Friday. Instead, he seemed reflective.
"A lot of the battles I thought I could battle through in the [Boston] team environment, I just wasn't ready for," Irving said. "And I failed those guys, in the sense that I didn't give them everything I could have during that season. ... In terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing everyone together, I failed."
He is ready, he said, to snuff out the memory of turbulent days in Boston. He learned from that, he said, and now is ready to move on. He has come to Brooklyn, he said, with a "fresh mindset" -- a mindset geared toward "honesty."
By Irving's account, he spoke with Brooklyn's front office early on in free agency and expressed his "interest was very high." Irving said he told Nets representatives that he was aiming to bring other All-Star talent with him. That came to fruition, as Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan both ended up signing with the Nets.
"It was really easy to see what these guys brought to the table," Durant, who is expected to miss the season because of an Achilles tendon injury, said of his decision to join Brooklyn. "It was pretty easy to figure out what kind of organization this place is."
Durant went on to say that Irving is his best friend. The two of them expect to have a natural chemistry on the court. But Irving said firmly that he will never be pushing Durant to rush his rehab.
"We all know K was not ready to play," Irving said of Durant's return for the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals. "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. Now, I'm here to protect that. And I'm going to be the protector of that all throughout the year and not allowing anyone to infiltrate that circle."