After Kyrie Irving’s trade request, Nets try to focus on anything but his future: ‘No idea, I just work here’

NEW YORK — When Kyrie Irving’s trade request was reported on Friday, Brooklyn Nets center Nic Claxton’s phone started going crazy. 

“I was taking a nap,” Claxton said. “And I looked in one of my group chats and I saw it and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Just caught me off guard. But it is what it is.”

Nets wing Royce O’Neale said he was “surprised” by Irving’s trade request, adding that he found out the “same way everybody else did: Twitter.” 

“We’re just like everybody else,” Claxton said. “We’re caught off guard.”

Irving’s future in Brooklyn is uncertain. The Nets have three games before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, starting with Saturday’s matchup against the Washington Wizards. Irving “reported some calf soreness,” coach Jacque Vaughn said, so he’ll miss the Wizards game. Claxton said he learned that Irving would be out of the lineup “when I got here.” 

Vaughn said he wasn’t sure whether or not Irving would be at Barclays Center on Saturday. The coach did not say whether or not he expects Irving to be in uniform when the Nets host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. 

“I’m just going to be concerned about tonight,” Vaughn said.

Asked if Irving had directly told Vaughn that he wants a trade or explained his rationale, Vaughn said: “I didn’t ask those questions. There’s a business side to this thing and there’s a human side to this thing. I elected to touch on the human side, check on him as an individual. I’ll leave the business side to [team president] Sean [Marks] and that group.”

Claxton said that he communicated with Irving after the news — “he hit me, just checking in” — and is not judging Irving for asking out. 

“I always respect his decision, whatever that may be,” Claxton said. “That’s my brother. And we just gotta roll with who’s here.” 

As for whether or not Irving might change his mind, Claxton said: “I have no idea. I mean, no idea. I just work here, at the end of the day. I just want to come out here and beat Washington and have fun in front of our fans.”

O’Neale, who also texted with Irving on Friday, offered no more clarity on the subject: “We didn’t get that far. It was just a text and then a reply and then that was it.”

Around this time last season, a disgruntled James Harden wanted out and Brooklyn traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers. In the offseason, Kevin Durant asked out and the Nets did not trade him. Brooklyn parted ways with coach Steve Nash seven games into this season, and three days later suspended Irving during an antisemitism scandal. After all of that, on Jan. 9, the Nets had won 18 of 20 games and owned the NBA‘s second-best record. Durant has not played since then because of a sprained MCL, but they are still 31-20 and fourth in the East.  

“I’m hoping we’ve built up enough mental resolve,” Vaughn said. “That’s kind of been the task going along this thing.”

Ever the optimist, Vaughn said he hopes that Irving’s trade request “lifts the group up and that they can pull together.” He spoke to every member of the team individually on Friday, and he said he wants all of them to “play with a free mind” and focus on what’s in front of them.  

“I said to them, ‘We’re not going to make this weird; we’re here to play. we’re here to do a job, show up and do your job,'” Vaughn said. “I said, ‘You’ve done this. First step of this thing is we’re here, we’re showing up.'” 

Asked if he feels Irving is letting the team down, Vaughn said he is “not going to speculate on what they think.” Asked again what he personally thinks, Vaughn said: “I think you have a responsibility as a basketball player, like I do as a coach. I show up, I do my job every single day. That’s what I signed up for, and that’s my expectations for 1 through 17.”

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