Last season, Irving was the ninth player in NBA history to record a 50-40-90 shooting season. He joined Nash (four times), Larry Bird (twice), Malcolm Brogdon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, and Mark Price as the only players to achieve those statistics. It was the fifth time a player averaged 25 or more points shooting those percentages.
However, it’s the baggage that comes with Irving off the court that gives teams a strong pause when debating a trade to acquire him.
“For the most part, every front office and coaching staff is scared to death of him and doesn’t want to touch him,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Honestly, it might’ve been four teams before this (his refusal to get vaccinated). He’s a guy that front offices don’t trust. Coaches don’t want to deal with him. Players like him.”
Over the past few seasons, Irving passed on playing in the NBA bubble, abruptly left the Nets for personal reasons, and refused to get the vaccine. Doing so rendered him unavailable in Brooklyn’s home games this season before the team decided he wouldn’t play or practice until he was eligible to be a full participant and get vaccinated.
For most teams, the locker room internally is a major factor in personnel decision-making. It’s clear in the eyes of many executives around the league Irving’s actions don’t reflect well on him.
“He had his own way about things,” as one of Irving’s former assistant coaches for several seasons told HoopsHype. “If he didn’t agree with the philosophy, he was going to do his own thing. In coaching, you always hope the player will at least try the coach’s way. Most coaches will see they’re trying to execute, and if it’s not working, they change it. Kyrie is like, if this isn’t going to work, I’m not going to do it.”
Several other coaches who’ve been around Irving for various seasons described him as “different” and “moody” at times. On good days, Irving would engage teammates by verbally encouraging younger players or struggling veterans in practices, and dazzle on the court when the lights shined bright. On bad days, Irving wouldn’t talk to anyone, and he’d go off the script from some defensive schemes and offensive play calls, which left some coaches scratching their heads. The issue, according to those coaches, was they didn’t know which version was entering the gym daily.
If the Nets ultimately decide to trade Irving, they won’t get back anything close to equal value for one of the league’s most talented players when he’s on the court based on conversations with the executives polled.
“He’s a max player, who people would not give up assets you’d traditionally give up,” as one NBA executive surmised. “There’s so much risk associated with him that I think most teams wouldn’t pay in a trade what you’d expect someone to pay given his skill level when he’s at his best.”