Kyrie Irving And The Brooklyn Nets Want To Build A Winner At A Human Pace

NEW YORK — After a summer full of unprecedented player movement, Kyrie Irving says he’s where he wants to be: home.

Irving was actually born in Australia and grew up in New Jersey, but his return to the tri-state area was the narrative that dominated the early NBA offseason when he and Kevin Durant signed with the Nets in free agency. It’s also one that will carry Brooklyn during its first season with Irving in black and white.

Fans greeted him with a “Kyrie’s home” chant at his lone preseason game at Barclays Center on Friday, a night where pro-Hong Kong protesters overshadowed his debut on a new court where the Nets logo appeared to glow under brand new arena lights. Irving spoke about the Nets trip to China, where the team played a pair of exhibition games against the Lakers that were thrown into a state of limbo following a pro-Hong Kong tweet sent by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Back stateside, though, the big question on the court was just how long it would take Irving to get acquainted with a Nets lineup he didn’t play in for most of the preseason. A facial fracture forced him off the court for a period of time, and a 19-point performance in 25 minutes in a preseason loss to the Raptors served as the lone significant piece of exhibition work with Brooklyn. It wasn’t a lot of time, but Irving assured reporters on Friday that there’s plenty of time to come.

“We have time to build,” Irving said. “We take every practice, every game as an opportunity to really just get reps with one another.”

It’s a simple enough answer, but sometimes the truth is just that obvious. Irving looked much like the scorer he’s been his whole career, spinning in the lane to hit pull-up jumpers and dazzling a half-empty Barclays Center with improbable flourishes at the rim. That’s the Irving the Nets wanted when they pursued him in free agency, but fitting that guard into a retooled Nets team isn’t a simple plug and play.

That was evident on Friday night as well. Early in the first quarter Irving tried to feed Joe Harris down the lane, but something was off. Either Harris broke too late or Irving didn’t time things right, but the bounce pass went out of bounds, leaving Irving gesturing and frustrated running back on defense. Later on, Irving, trying to push the pace a bit, sailed another pass that led a teammate out of bounds for another turnover. It’s preseason, so it’s far from a time to assess body language and chemistry and all that, but it was a good example of the rust, unfamiliarity, and timing yet to form in Brooklyn. Working it all out against live bodies not getting paid by the Nets, though, seems like an important part of the process.

“It’s hard to put a finite amount of days or games on it,” Harris said afterward. “I think everybody’s still learning, trying to figure out each other’s tendencies and there’s a chemistry that’s formed over time. Who knows, it might be game five. Game six. It could be game one.”

If you ask Irving how to create team chemistry, however, you’ll get a predictably Kyrie answer.

“Other than just being human? Having things to do and having a job and really love what you’re doing?” Irving said on Friday. “You can’t accelerate it or anything. When you try to think of ways to jump from Point A to Point B as quickly as you can it’s not always the best recipe, especially when you want to build a great team culture here.”

There’s certainly something to that. While Jarrett Allen was surrounded by reporters asking about Irving getting his first extended time with the Nets, DeAndre Jordan was pitching his own questions to Harris about the local brewery on his shirt. Harris told him it’s a short walk from Barclays Center and advocated for the beer and the atmosphere. Not everyone on a team needs to become best friends, but sometimes proximity and shared meaning are all part of the process as much as finding the right timing on a pass in the lane.

“You just have to keep being patient,” Irving said. “You don’t want to accelerate it too quickly. We don’t get to know anybody too quickly. It just takes time.”

It’s not entirely clear where the 31-year-old Jordan — signed after finishing out his contract with the Knicks — fits into the Nets rotation just yet, nor if he’ll follow Harris’ advice on a postgame beverage spot, but Irving stressed there’s no reason to rush things in Brooklyn.

“Time is on our side,” Irving said. And he wasn’t just talking about the length of an 82-game season, he’s talking about years. Despite the sense that basically everyone in the league wanted to hit the reset button this summer, now that Irving is in Brooklyn, he doesn’t sound like he wants to hire movers anytime soon. He cited his own four-year deal, Caris LeVert’s extension, and the fact that a slew of Nets are under contract until 2022 as a reason he isn’t trying to force things this time.

Then there’s the looming return of Durant, who will spend this season tweeting more than playing, but significantly tilts the balance of power in the NBA landscape in Brooklyn’s favor once his Achilles heals.

“It’s really incorporating the guys to stay in this culture for a long time,” Irving said. “This is home for me regardless. So when you get a chance to put on a Brooklyn uniform and have guys to play with for the next four-plus years, it’s just really great for me.”

Things can change, of course. Irving famously told a crowd of Celtics fans at TD Garden that he was staying for the long haul just over a year ago. Now he’s calling Brooklyn home. But preaching patience is the right approach for sure, and it also resets the timeline a bit for when fans should worry if things don’t work out perfectly right away. We won’t really know what the Nets put together this summer until Durant is back on the court, but the vibe in Brooklyn right now is that everyone involved is willing to wait it out.