Kyrie Irving Is Back, as if He Never Left

But for now, Irving is disregarding those concerns.

“Every time someone asks about chemistry, you’ve got to have reps. You have to be out there together. But I think something that doesn’t really get mentioned a lot is that when you’re a great basketball player or a great basketball mind, you’re able to play with anyone out there on the floor,” Irving said.

Instead, Irving is giving this strange Nets season another go. That’s a strong signal of commitment to his teammates, the front office and the paying fans. (And the sighs of relief aren’t just from Brooklyn. The last thing the league office needs is for star power to remain sidelined.) Let’s not forget that Irving was an absolute force in the 11 games he played this season before the injury. He was averaging 28.5 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds — all on pace for career highs. On opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, with chants of “Kyrie’s home!” flying around the rafters, Irving dropped a 50 point masterpiece. It was a clear reminder of the fact that when Irving is engaged, he is easily one of the best players in the world.

“Obviously, we play hard, but we want to be a championship level organization,” Irving said after the game. “We want to do that for the next few years, competing. When I’m done playing basketball, this culture here will still be consistent. That’s what I’m after. That’s a long-term goal. But obviously it starts with being here for the guys.”

The Nets could certainly use Irving’s presence on the court, although strangely, they were only 4-7 in the games he played before the shoulder caused pain. In his absence, the Nets were 13-13. At one point, the team was 9-3 without him, riding the backs of Dinwiddie and an improved Jarrett Allen. But the league caught up with a franchise without Irving and LeVert. Near the end of December, the Nets fell into a seven-game losing streak, stopped by a rousing win on Friday against a strong Miami Heat team.

The team was able to remain competitive because of their defense, ranking fifth in the N.B.A. during the span of games Irving missed. Where the Nets really missed Irving was as a playmaker in particular. While Irving rehabbed, the Nets were one of the worst scoring teams in the league, ranking 28th in offensive efficiency. With Irving, the Nets were 12th. That’s how much difference one All-N.B.A. level scorer can make, as Allen noted.

“If you see Kyrie going to the basket, you need about four people to stop him from scoring it,” Allen said.

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