Nets come to Kyrie Irving's defense, dismiss report that his mood swings are a problem to the team

NEW YORK -- At first, DeAndre Jordan cracked a joke. At the mere mention of an ESPN story on Tuesday, the Brooklyn Nets center, claimed he doesn't read much.

"Unless it's 'Harry Potter' or 'The Alchemist,' Jordan said. "I just ordered the 'His Dark Materials' books yesterday. I'm really excited to read those."

A reporter read a sentence from a feature written by Jackie MacMullan. It was about a reported "unspoken concern" about Irving's "infamous mood swings." 

"What do you want me to say?" Jordan said. "Kyrie's a bad guy. He's terrible. He's moody. I don't like to be around him. He's horrible in the locker room. He's a selfish player. I don't like his haircut. I wear his shoes only because they're comfortable and because he makes me. Is that good?"

In Jordan's view, this is clearly not to be taken seriously. But he was one of three Brooklyn representatives to come to Irving's defense after practice, essentially saying that he has been nothing but positive, supportive and connected to his teammates. Spencer Dinwiddie also made light of the situation, laughing as the sentence about mood swings was read to him. He denied that Irving had isolated himself from the Nets at any point since joining the team. 

"I have actually spoken to him and guarded him more than I'd like," Dinwiddie said. "So if he wants to take a break, like, that's cool. We can not talk for three hours."

Dinwiddie praised Irving's leadership and communication, saying that he has been "an open source of knowledge." Kenny Atkinson directly denied that the organization was queasy about Irving falling into a funk. 

"That is completely false," Atkinson said. "Strictly speaking in my observation and my experience with him so far, it's absolutely not true. I'd say I'm the moody one. I really am. I hate to [say it]: I'm cranky, and I have my ups and downs. So if there's just natural human behavior where guys are up and down, that's different, but from my perspective I just give Kyrie an A-plus on his consistency and his spirit. It's been great." 

"Everybody in the world goes through mood swings," Jordan said. "I'm not saying that Kyrie [specifically]) goes through mood swings; I go [through them], everybody goes through them. I mean, it's a part of life and human nature. I just don't think that it should be targeted at one person. If that's the case, then say I have mood swings or Sean Marks has mood swings or Kenny Atkinson has mood swings. I don't think that -- whatever, it's not affecting our team. I think that Kyrie's a great guy. I don't think that there's anything negative that I've seen that he's done. And he's a friend of mine, so if it was, I would tell him."

Some context: The story is about the Nets -- defined for the last few years by their team culture, which Atkinson compares to that of a college program -- integrating two of the NBA's biggest stars. In the piece, swingman Caris LeVert says that opposing teams saw them as "an automatic win" when he arrived in 2016, and Dinwiddie says that, when the Nets established themselves as overachievers, his peers complimented them for their hard work "like I was a little brother they could pat on the head or something." With Irving on the court and Kevin Durant waiting in the wings, they are no longer the plucky little brother.

In describing that shift, the story digs into a subject that has come up since the moment the Nets were rumored to be pursuing Irving: the perceived tension between his personality and their famous culture. MacMullan acknowledges that the players do not see that tension as real, while asserting that other officials do: 

But Brooklyn's players speak glowingly of Irving's leadership and temperament. Dinwiddie spent a week with him and his family in Hawaii in July. LeVert says Irving drops a little basketball gem in his lap nearly every day, whether it's how to cross over to shake off defenders, or the concentration and repetition required to finish in traffic.

Yet Irving's infamous mood swings, confirmed by his ex-teammates, which followed him from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn, are the unspoken concern that makes Nets officials queasy. When Irving lapses into these funks, he often shuts down, unwilling to communicate with the coaching staff, front office and, sometimes, even his teammates. Nets team sources say one such episode occurred during Brooklyn's trip to China, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to what precipitated it. There's hope that Durant will be able to coax his friend into a better frame of mind. But when presented with that scenario, KD says he will be hands off.

That Jordan, Dinwiddie and Atkinson spoke up for Irving is predictable. If he was indeed disconnected during the trip to China, there is no good reason for them to confirm it on the record, and, regardless the broader implication is more important than the details. Nothing they could have said would invalidate the idea that, in some minds, Irving's personality -- Durant told ESPN he looks at him like an artist who sometimes needs to be left alone -- could eventually become a problem. The validity of that line of thinking will be revealed over the course of the next few years. 

In the meantime, we know for sure that Irving has been thriving on the court. He scored 50 points in his debut and is averaging 37.7 points, 6.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds. It is a plus that Atkinson says he has had "great one-on-one conversations" with his point guard, who he says has fully bought in and is trying to learn his teammates' tendencies. It is nice that Jordan called his close friend a leader and a great teammate. Brooklyn is only three games into this new era, though, so every single thought about how it will play out is speculative -- even when the thoughts come from the people directly involved. 

CBS Sports Writer

James Herbert is somewhat fond of basketball, feature writing and understatements. A former season-ticket holder for the expansion Toronto Raptors, Herbert does not think the NBA was better back in the... Full Bio

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