Jacque Vaughn keeping Nets’ composure after Kyrie Irving trade request: ‘We’re not gonna make this weird’
NEW YORK — One day after requesting a trade from Brooklyn, Nets star Kyrie Irving — listed as out with right calf soreness for Saturday’s matchup against the Washington Wizards — skipped the team’s pregame walkthrough.
Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn said hours ahead of tipoff he was unsure whether or not Irving would sit on the bench to support his teammates on Saturday.
Asked if he thinks Irving is letting the team down by requesting a trade at this point of the season, Vaughn said: “I think you have responsibility as a basketball player like I do as a coach. I show up, I do my job every single day. That’s what I signed up for. And that’s my expectations for one through 17.”
Reserve guard Edmond Sumner started in place of the star guard on Saturday.
Irving requested a trade after he and the Nets failed to come to an agreement on a long-term fully-guaranteed contract extension. The Nets reportedly offered Irving a contract with stipulations based on his availability baked into the final year of his deal. According to the same report from Bleacher Report, the Nets also baked an NBA championship stipulation into Irving’s contract offer.
His camp balked and requested a trade just six days ahead of the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline. The informed the Nets he has no desire to return to the Nets in free agency this summer.
Irving’s potential suitors reportedly include the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat. The New York Daily News first reported the mutual interest between Irving and the Lakers when Kevin Durant requested a trade over the summer.
Vaughn said he spoke to his players throughout the day on Friday in an effort to keep their minds on the task at hand: rebounding with a victory over the Wizards after Wednesday’s 43-point loss to the Boston Celtics.
“Yesterday I touched base with every single player. That was a day for me to get what you need, and mine was to [speak] with every single player,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate on stuff that’s out there that’s been reported. My job is hopefully to stay consistent. Hopefully, I’ve been that way with you guys and with our group. And I touched base with our guys every single one of them yesterday.”
“I said to them, ‘We’re not gonna make this weird. We’re here to play, we’re here to do a job. Show up and do your job,’ ” he continued. “I said, ‘You’ve done the first step of this thing is we’re here, we’re showing up. Let’s do the work to get a win tonight.’ And that’s what I’m going to continue to try to focus them on. That’s what I’m focused on, and I look forward to try and get a win.”
Asked if he’s preparing for life without Irving, who has averaged 30.3 points in the 10 games he’s played since Durant sprained his MCL on Jan. 8, Vaughn said his focus is solely on the Wizards game.
“I’m not gonna complicate this thing at all. You know me, I’m simple man,” he said. “I’m not gonna look forward. I hope that sun comes up tomorrow, but I’m gonna take advantage of today at 6:00 and do my job to the best of my ability.”
Irving is in the final year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, free to sign with any team. The Nets can offer him a four-year contract worth $198M, but have been reluctant to do so given Irving’s history of missing games and causing controversy off the court.
Irving served an eight-game suspension earlier this season for “conduct detrimental to the team” after posting the link to a film widely considered anti-semitic on his social media feeds. Last season, his decision not to get vaccinated cost him the first 35 games of the Nets’ season and rendered him ineligible to play at Barclays Center until March 23. And in 2021, he sat two weeks’ worth of games after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the nation’s capital.
Irving has also missed a number of games since signing in Brooklyn due to injury.
Irving was named an All-Star starter this season. He is averaging 27 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. He has played in 10 of the 11 games the Nets have played without Durant and has played at least 38 minutes in all but one of those games — the blowout loss to the Celtics, in which he played 31 of a possible 36 minutes before the Nets emptied the bench at the end of the third quarter.
The latest Irving saga comes as the team began to find a groove with Durant sidelined due to injury. Saturday marked Brooklyn’s fourth straight game without both Ben Simmons (left knee soreness) and TJ Warren (left shin contusion).
Vaughn said he hopes Irving’s request doesn’t deflate the team.
“I hope it lifts the group up in that they can pull together and show some resolve together. I’m gonna continue to say it, the words I’m gonna continue to use with this group: continue to show up, show up and do the work,” he said. “And you can live with what happens after that, whatever results, show up and continue to do the work. That’s gonna be the message to the group. I’m gonna try to lead the charge and keep them focused, and I have full energy and belief that this group will continue to thrive.”