NBA Fastbreak: Kyrie Irving still learning how to be a leader in Brooklyn

Nets guard Kyrie Irving lofts a shot over Lakers forward Anthony Davis during a game on Jan. 23, 2020, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Nets guard Kyrie Irving lofts a shot over Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the second half Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

The crowd in Brooklyn erupted, with Kyrie Irving doing his best to keep his former teammate LeBron James from scoring. It was a buzz-worthy moment, a reminder of the electricity between the two players.

“We do have history,” Irving said with a smile after the game Thursday. “And I think that the magnitude of our relationship extends way beyond the floor, and I’m just appreciative. I’ve learned so much from that guy and to see what he’s doing at this age, this many years in the league, he’s consistent — that’s a great player right there.”

The Lakers went on an Irving history tour over the last two weeks, beating Cleveland in Los Angeles before heading to Boston and Brooklyn.

Irving forced his way out of Cleveland before landing with Boston, where he took a lot of blame for the Celtics’ cultural problems a season ago. Less than a full season into his time with the Nets, Irving was shelved because of a mysterious shoulder injury before making a surprise return.

Not as surprising? His leadership style got him into a little trouble. After a loss to Philadelphia, Irving said it’s obvious that the Nets need to add one or two more key players to be an elite team.

“It’s glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need, in order for us to be at that next level,” he said, adding the Nets would need to deal with it in the summer.

Irving then listed several of the Nets’ players as integral to their future — notably leaving out shooting guard Joe Harris and center Jarrett Allen. The remarks required Irving to clarify what he meant and led to him having conversations with teammates, coaches and management.

It was a hiccup, and poor timing since he’d just returned from an injury and is shaking off rust. After losing to the Lakers, Irving acknowledged that there’s room for him to grow as a leader.


“Just stay patient, and don’t get ahead of myself talking too soon,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. And just really stay confident, keep the guys engaged, make sure everyone’s sticking to the game plan, and we’ll just continue to get better.”

Zion shining

The biggest thing to happen in the NBA this week was No. 1 pick Zion Williamson’s long-awaited debut, and through two games he’s lived up to the hype.

After an electric stretch in the fourth quarter of his debut, when he scored 17 points in a three-minute span, Williamson had another strong performance in his second game, including a jaw-dropping blocked shot that ended with the ball halfway to Baton Rouge.

A look at why LeBron James playing like Magic Johnson is a good thing for the Lakers.

The challenge for the organization is obvious. With a tight minutes limit around 20 per game, the Pelicans are reaping only part of their rewards right now — in a seven-point loss to Denver on Friday , they were a whopping plus-16 with Williamson on the court.

People want to see him on the court — more than 2.3 million watched his debut on ESPN, with his NBA-created social content getting more than 25 million views in 24 hours. It’ll be on the Pelicans and coach Alvin Gentry to take their lumps while they hold him back.


Dwight Powell’s ruptured Achilles tendon is a tough blow for the Dallas Mavericks, a team that relied on his interior toughness and energy. Instead of shrugging their shoulders and waiting, Dallas acted quickly by trading for former first-round big man Willie Cauley-Stein. … The Chicago Bulls’ bad luck continued this week as they lost another key player — this time Lauri Markkanen to a stress reaction in his right pelvis. He’ll be out four to six weeks. … The Milwaukee Bucks stayed red hot this week, becoming the first team in the NBA to win 40 games after beating Charlotte in the NBA’s first regular-season game in Paris. … Another team to watch in the East: the Toronto Raptors. With all players healthy, Toronto has pushed into a tie for second in the conference, which could impact teams that have eyes on acquiring veterans like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry before the trade deadline Feb. 6.

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