By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer
DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving isn’t interested in talking about what his long-term future could be with the Dallas Mavericks, and he doesn’t understand why people don’t think he can play well off the ball.
“All I know, this is really playing basketball with a lot of high-level, high-IQ players and making it work,” Irving said before his first home game Monday with the Mavericks and All-Star teammate Luka Doncic. “Every single time I step foot out there, I get a chance to prove it to myself that I can play with anybody and everybody and still be efficient and be myself.”
Irving’s home debut in Dallas came a week after the blockbuster deal became official to bring the potential free agent from the Brooklyn Nets. The Mavericks lost 124-121 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who held on even as Irving scored 26 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter.
The first three games for Irving with the Mavs were on the road, and he played with Doncic for the first time Saturday night — Irving had 28 points and Doncic 27 in an overtime loss at Sacramento. Doncic had 33 points against Minnesota.
As for what happens after this season, the talented and enigmatic eight-time All-Star said that question constantly getting asked just puts unwanted distractions on him and the team.
“I’ve dealt with it before and it’s very emotionally draining to ask questions about what’s the long term,” Irving said. “What the future holds is really only going to be dictated on what I do right now, and how I prepare for those next steps, and that’s being the best teammate that I can in that locker room and a great leader out here, I think within the Dallas community. … So we’re just putting that to bed and just focus on what we have ahead as a team.”
The Mavericks, with 23 games remaining, are part of a crowded mix for a playoff spot. They are tied for fifth in the Western Conference, only 2 1/2 games ahead of 11th place — the first spot left out of the postseason.
When Dallas general manager Nico Harrison was asked his response to people who viewed the acquisition of Irving and his expiring contract as a risk, the former Nike executive, who already had a relationship with the player, said that wasn’t the case.
“I don’t see any risk involved at all. I’ve known Kyrie for a long time, I know his core, I know what what type of person is. I think anybody who’s ever watched him play basketball knows the type of basketball player he is,” Harrison said. “So I don’t see risk. I actually see a risk in not doing it.”
Irving smiled and responded, “touché,” then adding that he appreciated their relationship and that it was now up to him to prove it “and control what I can control.”
Dallas also got Markieff Morris in the trade that sent Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick and two second-round choices to the Nets.
Irving had a relationship with Nike for the entirety of his NBA career until earlier this season, when the sneaker giant dropped him — and canceled the planned release of his next signature shoe just before it came out — after Irving tweeted a link to an antisemitic film.
“I would love to be well-liked by everybody. … Oh, that’s just not it. That’s just not for I think anyone in this room,” Irving said. “But the genuine love that you have in your heart is the only thing that you can really control. I have open dialogue with everybody that spends time with me, wants to have conversation, wants to ask me questions.”
For those who don’t like him, he said he wishes them well.
“But I have a life to live and I have kids to raise,” he said. “So I don’t really have the energy to sit and focus on things I can’t control.”
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