By Lenn Robbins
Kyrie Irving has played a lot of roles in his NBA career;
Clutch shooter: It was his 25-foot 3 with 53 seconds left that brought Cleveland its first-ever NBA title.
Ridiculous scorer: There are a lot of scorers in the NBA but no guard provides more breathtaking finishes around the basket than Irving.
And now Irving has added a new role: The Bodyguard.
Irving made it blatantly clear Friday that he will protect Kevin Durant from coming back too soon from his torn Achilles tendon injury.
“A lot of people have responsibilities for why that happen on a national stage,’’ Irving said yesterday’s at the team’s Brooklyn practice facility. “We all know KD was not ready to play in that environment. We all know that, whether people want to admit or not.
“He was out 31 days … We put him out there to sell a product that came before the person, Kevin. And now I am here to protect that. I am going to be the protector and not let anyone infiltrate that circle. ‘Hey K, do you, get right. We’ll be fine.’”
Safe to say Irving won’t be getting any Christmas cards from the Warriors. He doesn’t care about that. He cares about KD and what a magical season the Nets can have in 2020-21 when Durant returns from his injury.
But first, there is the matter of this season. The Nets were one of the league’s feel-good stories last season. After a woeful start they gelled under the guidance of Kenny Atkinson, as down to earth a coach as you’ll find in any sport, and the patient planning of GM Sean Marks.
The Nets slipped into the playoffs, losing a first-round series to the Philadelphia 76ers. And then the late-night fun began.
Free agents Irving, Durant and veteran center DeAndre Jordan stunned the , and floored the Knicks, by signing with the Nets. Locker room fave Lance Thomas signed with the Nets on Friday. He will take the roster spot many assumed Durant pal Carmelo Anthony would get.
Add those four players to the existing nucleus of Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and 3-point champ Joe Harris and as Atkinson said, “We know there are expectations.”
Expectations?! Wait til next year, when Durant is back.
There has been talk about KD returning this season. Not on Irving’s watch.
We’ve already seen the terrible results of rushing a player back. Durant missed a month of the 2019 playoffs with what was listed as a calf injury. He returned for Game 5 of the Finals against Toronto. Two minutes into the second quarter he fell to the court clutching his right calf.
“I’ll be over-patient with Kevin because I don’t want that to happen to anyone ever again especially on that type of stage where he was answering questions about whether he would be back or not. I want him to be 101 percent healthy,” Irving said.
Durant said he would be at games while he continues to rehab. Word of caution to any reporter or Nets fan that wants to know if he’ll back this season: They’ll have to go through Irving.