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After ‘failed’ Celtics leadership role, Irving seeks new start with Nets

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Agence France-Presse

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving said Friday that the death of his grandfather last October made for a personally tumultuous NBA season for him and helped spur his decision to depart the Boston Celtics.

Irving, speaking at the Nets’ media day prior to the opening of pre-season training camp, said he felt he failed his Celtics teammates in some respects as he struggled to come to terms with his loss.

“When he passed, basketball was the last thing on my mind,” Irving said. “A lot of basketball, the joy I had from it, was sucked away from me.

“I didn’t take the necessary steps to get counseling or get therapy or anything to deal with someone that close to me dying. I responded in ways that are uncharacteristic.

“Throughout that year it just became rocky and a lot of the battles that I thought I could battle through from the team environment, I just wasn’t ready for,” added the 27-year-old. “And I failed those guys in a sense that I didn’t give them everything that I could have during that season, especially with the amount of pieces that we had.”

The Celtics were widely expected to be a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference last season after LeBron James departed the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers in the West.

But they struggled to build chemistry and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in five games by the Milwaukee Bucks.

“My relationships with them personally were great,” Irving said of his Celtics teammates, “But in terms of me being a leader in that environment, I failed.”

Having opted to join the Nets via free agency, Irving says he won’t make the same mistakes again.

He envisions one of his key roles as a protector of Kevin Durant, who also joined the Nets as a free agent this year but isn’t expected to play this season as he continues to recover from a torn Achilles tendon suffered playing for the Golden State Warriors in their NBA Finals loss to Toronto.

Durant, who won titles with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018, has said he doesn’t blame the club for rushing him back for game five of the championship series after a nine-game layoff with a right calf injury.

But Irving was blunt in stating his belief that the Warriors pressured Durant to return too soon.

“We all know K was not ready to play in that environment,” Irving said. “Now I’m here to protect that — and I’m going to be the protector of that all throughout the year … I want him to be 101 percent healthy.”