PHOENIX — Coaches often talk about how players have to take ownership of the team to get to championship level.
So far Kyrie Irving is doing that in Brooklyn. The Nets face the Suns on Sunday having won back-to-back games, with Irving’s much-maligned leadership skills proving to be almost as important as his scoring. Almost.
“He’s been through a lot, been on championship teams. Any experience you can have in the NBA, he’s gone through,” Joe Harris told The Post.
“He just has that level of composure now. We all just love playing with him, being around him, how competitive he is, how he holds everybody accountable.
“That’s what you want out of the best player, someone able to vocalize exactly what he’s feeling, but do it in a way where people have a lot of respect for him. He’s not doing it where he’s degrading anybody just because he’s so much more talented. But he does it in a way where they appreciate him coming to them. And he cares … what he does, what he says, is very genuine and authentic in terms of leadership ability.”
Harris has known Irving longer than most of his teammates. They were together in Cleveland from 2014-16, and Harris watched Irving mature from just being able to score for a team to being able to steer one.
Granted, Irving’s leadership was questioned last season in Boston. But so far, the Nets insists they’re happy with not only his willingness to lead but the direction he’s taking them. And the message is always more impactful coming from a teammate than a coach, from a friend than a boss.
“Oh man, it carries so much weight. It’s so huge,” Atkinson said. “Good thing Kyrie is carrying our message and he repeats it. It just carries a lot more weight. It’s just how it is in this league.”
The young Celtics clearly chafed at Irving’s leadership. Perhaps they felt they didn’t need it after having reached the conference finals essentially without him. Or maybe he learned from the experience.
Either way, the Nets are clearly more receptive. And that includes even when Irving has to deliver a tough message, be it to Harris several games ago or to Spencer Dinwiddie during Friday’s win at Portland.
“Kyrie coaches them and holds them accountable, and coaches them hard, which is good,” said Atkinson, noting Irving’s talk to help spur Dinwiddie in his team-high 34-point outing.
“They have a mutual respect obviously. But I saw them talking a lot, and when something goes wrong or we didn’t run something right, Kyrie will say something to him. That’s what you have to do as a leader. So they have a lot of conversations and its good leadership from Kyrie.”
Irving’s friendship with Dinwiddie is well-known. They met in high school, became friendly at the 2018 Skills Challenge, and even shared a course at Harvard the next September before Dinwiddie helped recruit him to Brooklyn.
“One of the good things about having friends, they know you a little differently than some other people. So it’s cool to be able to have him hold me accountable, and continue to just push me to be better,” Dinwiddie said. “He brings it consistency every night and just figuring out my role on this team and trying to do what both he and Kenny say.”
What Irving says is just downhill off the pick-and-roll and staying aggressive — except with the refs. Atkinson and DeMarre Carroll had preached the same message, but it’s finally sinking in.
“If they call it, just move on to the next play. That’s part of maturity as a player,” Irving said. “And that’s also maturity of knowing how valuable you are to our team. So it’s just a mentality. I can see it really changing within him. He understands how valuable he is.”