LOS ANGELES — About five minutes before the rest of his new Mavericks teammates arrived in the gym, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving walked up to the second level of University of Southern California’s basketball arena and through two sets of double doors.
Time for his first practice as a Maverick.
The four days — and especially the 48 hours — preceding the hour-long workout in Los Angeles featured several major changes and twists in Irving’s life.
From pacified member of the Brooklyn Nets to again-disgruntled star asking out. From trade-deadline uncertainty to Mavericks blockbuster by Sunday afternoon. From working out in a New Jersey high school gym to boarding a plane headed for one night in Dallas to touching down in Los Angeles, where many expected him to wind up all along.
One day before making his debut Wednesday against the Clippers, Irving discussed how he handled the first in-season trade of his mercurial career and how he hopes to settle with Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
“I’m tired,” he interjected with a smile when a reporter started to ask about the chaos of his trade. “I’ve very tired. What you guys saw out there [in practice] was just [I] got off the plane, coming into USC and yeah. It’s been a beautiful 48 hours, but really tiring.”
During his first interview with the Mavericks, Irving also detailed the “disrespect” he said he felt from the Nets, which he said prompted him to request a trade from Brooklyn.
But he wasn’t sure if and when change would happen.
So while he elected to not play for the Nets leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, Irving worked out at West Orange High School’s gym near his New Jersey hometown. In the middle of “playing up and down with a few guys, trying to stay in shape” on Sunday, Irving said he received a call to inform him of the trade.
“It was definitely exciting because I didn’t have to force anything. I didn’t have to overthink it. I just flowed into it. They wanted me. I wanted to be here, and this is just kind of where we stand at this present moment.”
Leading up to this moment?
Irving said he first looked at his wife, Marlene Wilkerson — “she was like, ‘what’s going on?’” — and they discussed the future and what they wanted to achieve. He then talked on the phone with general manager Nico Harrison, coach Jason Kidd and other members of the Mavericks’ staff, and started packing some of his belongings.
He flew with trade counterpart Markieff Morris to Dallas Love Field Airport on Monday on owner Mark Cuban’s private plane and met several members of the Mavericks’ front office — including Cuban, Harrison, assistant general manager Michael Finley and senior director of pro personnel Matt Riccardi — at the team’s Design District practice facility.
After undergoing a physical and staying the night in Dallas, Irving and Morris joined the Mavericks’ leadership contingent on a Tuesday morning flight to Los Angeles.
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Irving said.
At practice, Kidd started to acclimate Irving for Wednesday’s game. Though Kidd and several assistants had experience coaching Morris during the Lakers’ 2020 championship season, none had coached Irving before Tuesday.
While they gave Irving a short list of offensive sets and defensive terminology — which Kidd said runs similar to Brooklyn’s strategy — they also asked about Irving’s preferences and worked to script plans to get him to his sweet spots early in Wednesday’s game.
Though Doncic won’t play Wednesday, his third consecutive absence with a right heel contusion, Kidd said the Mavericks’ schemes will remain intact against the Clippers with Irving as the solo backcourt star.
“If they do hit him [with double teams], we have a player that’s been hit all season, so the guys understand where we have to be,” Kidd said. “That’s going to be an easy thing for him to translate. When he gets double-teamed, he will know where these guys will be. That’s the advantage of having Luka. The double teams — no matter if it’s tomorrow or Friday and Saturday — these guys know where to be.”
Rinse and repeat the instructional blitz during the Mavericks’ pregame shootaround Wednesday — with an extra twist.
Doncic, who has not traveled to start this road trip, will rejoin the team Wednesday before the game, marking his first interaction with Irving as teammates. Though the two exchanged text messages after the trade, Irving looked forward to making “eye-to-eye contact” and “embracing” in-person.
Call it the latest step in a transition full of them.
“It’s still a wait and see,” Irving said when asked how he envisions fitting with Doncic. “Am I worried about us coexisting or finding cohesion? No. I’ve played with some of the best of all time, greatest of all time. I’ve been on some of the greatest teams, in the Olympics and the world championships.
“This is going to be my first time seeing, like, one of those bad Europeans come over and really dominate up close and have the opportunity to do it at a pace that I don’t really think has ever been seen before, other than like Larry Bird or somebody else that just plays at their own pace, scores a bunch of points and is constantly in that MVP conversation every year just because he commands that much attention.
“As much as I can alleviate for him, as much as I can lead alongside him, I’m willing to do. But there’s no pressure here. Nothing’s forced. With me and him, I just want to play basketball and enjoy his talent and enjoy my teammates’ talent and, you know, work towards a championship.”
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