Kyrie Irving took off his jersey and motioned to a section behind the scorer’s table.
He tossed the jersey and instructed some fans to make sure it got to it’s intended target. That would be Drederick Irving, Kyrie’s proud father, who eventually made his way courtside to share an embrace with his son.
Kyrie had just put up 23 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in a win at Madison Square Garden. Drederick also heard the Garden fans chanting for his son.
“We want Ky-rie! We want Ky-rie!”
No, they weren’t asking Brad Stevens to put him in the game. They were telling the Celtics they were down with O.P.P.
And the move the Knicks made the day before to clear the salary cap space to start dreaming of a potential Kyrie-KD tandem screamed back, “Yeah you know me.”
Irving gave life to the chant earlier in the day when he said, “Ask me July 1st” when pressed about his free agency plans. In October, he told a crowd of fans in Boston that he intended to re-sign with the Celtics. But while that was his intention, that doesn’t mean minds can’t be changed when a better situation presents itself.
And being, as he called it “home” in the New York metropolitan area, near his dad, who was born in the Bronx, might be enough to change his mind, especially if another star can come with him.
“I’m going to make the decision that’s best for my family,” he said after the game. “And that’s how it’s gonna go.”
So the Knicks can start preparing their presentations to Kyrie and Kevin Durant, who both are basketball purists who see Rucker Park as the mecca just as much as they see the Garden as the game’s biggest stage. This won’t be about Madison Avenue or being a savior of a desperate franchise with a rabid fan base as much as it will be about doing something special right in the epicenter of the sport and what it would mean for legacy.
“Loving the game of basketball, that’s where it’s always going to be,” Irving explained. “I didn’t do this for the media. I didn’t do this for money. I didn’t do this for fans. I did this because I love the game. I work extremely hard at my craft and I want to be one of the greatest ever. That’s where my focus is.”
But he made it clear that, right now, he can’t think about any of this until he finishes the job in Boston. He called all the media questions and speculation about his future “nothing but a distraction” and “a bunch of nonsense right now.”
Kyrie was annoyed when asked if he heard the chants from the Garden crowd.
“Are you reaching for it right now?” he asked the reporter. “Everybody heard it. Everybody heard. Come on, man.”
We really should believe him when he says he’s not focused on free agency right now. How can he be? How can he possibly know what he’s going to do when he doesn’t know all the details about his options? Kyrie, nor KD, can really know what to expect from the Knicks until they sit down with Steve Mills, Scott Perry and David Fizdale and see what the entire plan will be. Neither of them can make any decision until the other confirms they’d be all-in on the move. The Heat didn’t have any idea that LeBron James would join Dwyane Wade, it was just a dream scenario that needed a lot of maneuvering — and the commitment from Chris Bosh — to make it work. It was something they discussed, for sure, but it didn’t become real until that summer. Until everyone committed.
But the Knicks took care of the most critical step in making this a reality: they have the cap space. No one will be asked to take less to make contracts work. They won’t have to hope a team will help them move players. The heavy lifting is done, now they have to prepare to present to these two free-thinking basketball purists that this could be their Woodstock.
Remember what Durant said when he was here back in October and had to deal with the same hype and media coverage about his future. “I just really like playing basketball,” he said. Durant then went on to tell us what he loved most about playing at the Garden.
“It’s like a playground with walls,” he said. “You walk outside and you’re right on the street. It feels like you’re playing at Rucker Park, just indoors. And that energy . . . it’s just pure, pure love for the game at the Garden.”
The pitch can’t be about money or opportunity. It can’t be about being a savior. It has to be about basketball and being part of something pure that can thrive off that energy KD described and Kyrie’s father taught him.
– The Knicks did not have the players they acquired in the trade with Dallas available yet because all of the physicals still had to be completed. The starting five consisted of two-way player Kadeem Allen, Daymean Dotson, Kevin Knox, Noah Vonleh and Luke Kornet. They stayed competitive until the Celtics pulled away in the fourth quarter. Dotson led the Knicks with 22 points and Knox added 21 points.
– Fizdale did thank the players the Knicks traded away — Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke — and added, “It’s never easy for a coach in these moments because you get attached to guys.” His one lament about Porzingis? “I never got to coach him.”
– Fizdale sounded excited to get to work with Dennis Smith Jr. “I think you saw the other night, there’s some serious talent there,” he said of Smith Jr., who had a triple-double against the Knicks on Wednesday. And for now it appears the plan is to have Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan play. Fizdale is hoping both veterans, especially Jordan, can be a valuable mentor for Mitchell Robinson. Both players, Fizdale said, will play “so they can start helping our guys understand defense.”
– The Knicks (10-41) have lost 12 straight games and 25 of their last 27. The loss was also their 13th straight at the Garden, which is the longest home losing streak in franchise history. The last home win came on Dec. 1, two months ago. The Knicks host the Memphis Grizzlies (20-33) in a 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Memphis has lost 9 of their last 10 and three straight and reports are they’re shopping their two cornerstone players, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, to accelerate a rebuild.