Nets Kyrie Irving Issued 1-Word Message From Raptors Star Fred VanVleet

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Getty Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets stands with Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors.

Game recognizes game. Don’t look now but the Brooklyn Nets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last several weeks going 10-1. Their surge has coincided in part with the return of mercurial star Kyrie Irving, often the subject of controversy including this season after he shared an anti-semitic video resulting in a suspension.

Brooklyn went 5-3 without Irving but, as one might expect, has been on another level with him.

After the Nets’ 119-116 win over the Toronto Raptors on December 16, Irving took a moment to give credit to Fred VanVleet for his tremendous effort against him, which the latter got word of.

“I love going against Fred,” Irving said per Josh Lewenberg of the The Sports Network. “I watch him a lot, he watches me a lot…I have so much respect for Fred. He’s a winner. He’s a champion.”

VanVleet Responds to Irving

The Raptors and VanVleet have been mired in a bit of a disappointing season relative to expectations – a position the Nets can relate to in many ways. There has been speculation over whether or not VanVleet, who can opt-out of his contract next summer, is a candidate to be traded at or before the deadline.

For his part, VanVleet had seen his personal production dip this year becoming a poster child for what has gone wrong for the team.

But his play has begun to turn around despite the results not coming for his team just yet. VanVleet is averaging 27.3 points on 61.2% true shooting with 6.2 assists (2.0 TOs), and 1.8 steals over the last six games as Toronto has gone 1-5 leaving the guard searching for answers.

Irving’s raw numbers had taken an initial hit since he returned but have rebounded nicely.

He followed his 32-point performance against Toronto with a 38-point showing in a surprisingly tight win over the Detroit Pistons.

If Brooklyn is going to have any shot of coming close to their potential, they need this version of Irving who joined teammate Kevin Durant as a nominee for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week that ultimately went to Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell.

Irving Unrattled

There are still some who are having fun prodding Irving in the wake of, not only his controversial tweet but also because of his previous dabbling in flat-Earth theory. Some of those people include the Pistons video team who did a bit of trolling while Irving attempted free throws in the Nets’ win.

Irving sank 7-of-8 attempts at the charity stripe in the 128-124 win including 2-of-3 late in the fourth quarter.

Moments like this are unlikely to go away anytime soon and the Nets’ success will only serve to amplify the spotlight on the aloof Irving. That is why, again, it is paramount they get this level of focus from him for the rest of the season.

Next Year is Next Year

The most important thing for the Nets is there also seems to be renewed synergy with Durant who created waves of his own with a trade request this past offseason that stemmed in no small part from Irving’s stalemate with management. Things worked out to keep everyone together this far but the rest of this season is still key.

Having Irving locked in should go a long way to keeping Durant’s focus on basketball rather than other things as he has often said he prefers.

Irving will be an unrestricted free agent after the season so a trade at the deadline is still possible.

But, if the Nets keep seeing the type of success they have been, and Durant can be kept satisfied, this group’s window might end up being more open than it seemed just two months ago when they were mired in controversy.