Matt Barnes Lakers Could Win Another Title ... With Kyrie Irving

KYRIE'S THE KEY
TMZSports.com

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving won a ring together before, and it may not have been their last ... 'cause Matt Barnes tells TMZ Sports the Lakers could be smelling champagne if Kyrie Irving joins L.A.

Matt -- who played for the Purple and Gold for two seasons -- spoke about the recent Irving rumors out at LAX this week ... and he told us if Uncle Drew ends up with the Lakers, it could result in the franchise's 18th championship.

Barnes thinks Irving -- who is rumored to be at a standstill in contract negotiations with the Nets -- would be the perfect fit for the Lake Show ... which would set him up with his old teammate in Cleveland.

"I think what they have right now," Barnes said, "if they can learn to co-exist with the group they have now, they're really close."

Barnes told us the biggest key for Irving -- who missed a ton of games over the years for a bevy of reasons -- succeeding or failing in L.A. is his level of commitment to playing.

Of course, the Lakers still have Anthony Davis, who (when healthy) is still considered a top 10 player in the league ... but Barnes thinks Kyrie is the missing piece Bron and AD need to win another ring.

"Kyrie is probably a top 5 talent in the world, but you never know what you're going to get. So, if Kyrie is committed to playing whether he plays in Brooklyn or the Lakers, he definitely makes them a title contender."

Kevin Durant To Charles Barkley Claps Back After 'Bus' Criticism ... 'Hatin' Old Head!!'

Kevin Durant's fed up with Charles Barkley's criticism ... calling the NBA legend "a hatin' old head" after Chuck questioned KD's legacy, comments the NBA superstar believed were "nasty."

The latest iteration of their beef started when KD and the Brooklyn Nets were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs back in April.

Chuck ripped Durant for failing to lead the Nets to playoff success ... and said despite KD winning 2 NBA titles with Steph Curry and the Warriors, he questioned whether KD was truly a champ because he wasn't the leader in Golden State (according to Barkley).

"If you ain't driving the bus, don't walk around talking about you a champion," Charles said.

To add more fuel to the fire, the Celtics -- the same team that swept the Nets -- lost to the Golden State Warriors ... Durant's former squad.

Of course, Barkley took more shots at KD 'cause of that, saying on ESPN ... "Before KD gets that great respect from all the old heads, he's going to have to win a championship as the guy, as the bus driver."

"Listen, he joined that team that had already won a championship so no disrespect, that's just a fact."

Durant responded on Monday via Twitter ... "All this s*** is nasty."

"Another terrible analogy from a hatin' old head that can't accept that we making more bread than them. It's just timing Chucky, don't hate the playa."

The Nets have a bunch to figure out this off-season. There's reportedly been no progress with Kyrie Irving's contract, and Ben Simmons -- who had back surgery in May -- his status is unknown.

John Salley Defends Kyrie's Vaccine Stance ... He's A Thinker!!!

KYRIE'S THE REAL DEAL
TMZSports.com

Kyrie Irving has been ripped to shreds over his COVID-19 vaccine stance, but John Salley is coming to his defense ... telling TMZ Sports he tips his hat to the Nets star for standing up for what he believes in.

We spoke with Salley -- who won 4 NBA titles -- out in NYC this week ... and the former Detroit Piston spoke glowingly about Irving, who faced immense backlash this year for refusing to get the jab.

"I think Kyrie Irving is the premier athlete -- professional," Salley said. "I think he's conscious. I think he thinks it through. I think it's very important that people pay attention too, he's not into the lies, the glitz. He's into taking care of his body."

Salley said he knows Irving is into science and does his own research, but because his stance differs from the views of mainstream society ... people hate Kyrie because of it.

"I'm the biggest Kyrie fan," Salley added. "Everything he does, I take my hat off to him."

Of course, Kyrie received a lot of heat for his personal decision to remain unvaccinated despite being forced to miss games ... drawing criticism from the likes of Howard Stern and Chris Rock.

But, Salley isn't in the same camp -- he says the Nets did the right thing by standing by Kyrie amid the vaccine drama this season.

"You have a guy who didn't get the virus, and everybody who talked about smack about him got it really bad," Salley said. "He had a very strong immune system."

It's unclear if the Nets -- or Nike -- will commit to a long-term relationship with Irving in the future ... but either way, Salley thinks the 30-year-old is an exceptional talent.

"I watch how he plays. His dribbling, handling; he's going to be a Hall of Famer."

Kyrie Irving Nike 'Unlikely' To Extend Shoe Deal ... Star Bashed Co. Last Year

Kyrie Irving might not have to worry about having "trash" shoes anymore ... Nike is reportedly "unlikely" to renew its signature shoe deal with the Brooklyn Nets star after next season.

Irving's relationship with the company could change "dramatically" in the future, according to ESPN ... but his (potentially) final shoe release is slated to go down as expected in the fall.

If the report is true, there is a possibility retro Kyrie shoes could still be released in the future ... but as of right now, it sounds like the Kyrie series is getting shelved.

Remember, the 2016 NBA champ -- who's been a Nike athlete since 2011 -- went off on the Swoosh back in July ... calling leaked pics of his "Kyrie 8" sneaker "trash."

He claimed he was not part of the design or marketing of the kicks ... saying, "I have Absolutely nothing to do with them!"

Irving later admitted he handled things poorly ... and he was working with the shoe giant to fix his issues with the 8s.

Of course, Irving has been at the center of a ton of controversy over the last year ... missing half of the NBA season after he refused to get vaccinated for COVID. It's unclear if the coronavirus drama is playing a part in Nike's impending decision, considering they already had beef to begin with.

Nike elected not to confirm or deny the claims ... telling ESPN, "We don't comment on contracts or rumors or speculation. Kyrie remains a Nike athlete."

We've reached out to Nike for comment.

Dikembe Mutombo Super Teams Don't Exist In NBA ... It's About Mental Toughness

NOT ABOUT STAR POWER
TMZSports.com

Dikembe Mutombo is calling cap on anyone who believes the Brooklyn Nets are a super team ... because he tells TMZ Sports no such thing exists!!

We spoke with the legendary big man out at LAX this week ... and when we brought up the fact a lot of stacked rosters like the Brooklyn Nets are out of the playoffs, the Hall of Famer said he isn't on board with calling them -- or anyone else, for that matter -- a "super team."

"What is a super team?? Who told you that was a super team??" Mutombo asked our camera guy. "Everybody plays in the NBA. They play on the same team. I work for the league. There is no super team."

Mutombo goes on to explain no matter how much talent is on a team, what really matters is what's between the ears.

"If you are not ready to play, you lose," added Mutombo, who won the DPOY award 4 times. "It's like a boxing match. If you not ready, somebody gon' knock you out."

Some fans will vehemently disagree with Dikembe's take ... especially since the Nets have a roster that boasts two of the game's best scorers -- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving -- and an elite defender in Ben Simmons when healthy.

"If you mentally ... not tough, you can be beaten," Mutombo said. "If you not mentally tough, somebody gon' dunk on you."

The quote echoes what some talking heads have said about Simmons, who was called out for not playing through a back injury. The criticism, however, may have been too harsh ... as the hooper needed back surgery to help the issue.

On paper, the Nets have one of the scariest rosters ... but based on Mutombo's comments, he's not feeding into the hype of KD, KI, and Ben as a trio until they prove they're tough enough upstairs.

Kevin Durant I Bought Another Soccer Team ... Invests In Gotham FC

Kevin Durant now has as many soccer teams as he does championship rings -- the NBA superstar just invested in Gotham FC!!

The new NWSL club announced KD and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, just made a "significant" investment in the franchise ... joining U.S. women's team legend Carli Lloyd in the ownership group.

Of course, KD's Thirty Five Ventures first dipped its toe into soccer back in 2020 ... when it bought a minority stake in the MLS' Philadelphia Union.

No word on how much KD and Kleiman shelled out for their piece of Gotham FC, but the team hints it was substantial.

KD shares his excitement on Wednesday ... tweeting out, "Let’s get it @GothamFC."

Kleiman commented on the business move ... saying, "As a New York-based company, the opportunity for us to partner with a forward-thinking team like Gotham FC was a no brainer,"

"There’s been so much growth in the NWSL in recent years, and the chance to be a part of that growth and work directly with the Gotham FC executive team and players is really exciting."

KD's company is slated to be hands-on -- helping out with player relations, community outreach, producing content and building a social media presence.

Nice to see the dude's staying busy after an early exit from the playoffs.

Kyrie Irving Admits After Nets Sweep Vax Drama Was 'Distraction'

NOT ABOUT ME

Kyrie Irving is admitting it ... his COVID vaccine drama did become a "distraction" for him and his teammates this season.

Irving -- who was forced to sit out a large portion of the year after refusing to get the shots -- said following the Brooklyn Nets' 4-0 series sweep to the Boston Celtics on Monday night that his unvaccinated status did have a big effect on his team this year.

"It was just really heavy emotionally this season," Irving told reporters after the Nets' 116-112 Game 4 loss. "We all felt it. I felt like I was letting the team down at a point where I wasn't able to play."

"We were trying to exercise every option for me to play, but I never wanted it to just be about me. And, I think it became a distraction at times."

You'll recall, Irving was initially barred from Nets games and practices over his vaccine choice. He was later allowed to play in road games for the team, but not home ones due to New York mandates.

And, by the time Irving was fully allowed to suit up for Brooklyn ... the team had developed just too many issues on top of the whole ordeal to gel in time for a deep playoff run.

Head coach Steve Nash said following the loss Tuesday night it all certainly weighed on the team.

"I think that's a big reason why we were in that position," Nash said, "a lack of continuity."

Irving appears to be poised to try to rebound for the team next season ... saying he doesn't "really plan on going anywhere" this offseason.

Charles Oakley Steve Nash Might Be Wrong Fit For Nets ... Could Be The Problem

OAKLEY'S OBSERVATION
TMZSports.com

Charles Oakley has an idea why the Brooklyn Nets are struggling so far in the playoffs ... telling TMZ Sports head coach Steve Nash might be the problem.

Despite having two of the best players in the league -- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving -- the Nets are currently down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics by a combined 8 points.

If Brooklyn loses to the Cs at home on Saturday, the Nets will be faced with the nearly impossible task of winning four straight.

We spoke with the NBA legend about the Nets' woes ... and he says the 2-time MVP could be why they're stumbling out of the gate.

"The problem with Brooklyn was I don't know if Nash is the right coach for them," Oak said at LAX this week. "I don't know. Being a ballplayer watching them, you know, everybody say, 'well, this and that, if you got Kyrie and KD' but you still need somebody at that front seat."

Of course, Nash joined the Nets last season ... finishing with a 48-24 record and a playoff appearance. But, with guys like KD and Kyrie, people are expecting rings.

Oak -- who recently released his own book, "The Last Enforcer" -- points out successful dynasties like the Lakers and Bulls had coaching masterminds leading the charge -- like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.

Oakley says the Nets' issues started when they brought in James Harden -- a move they didn't need to make.

But, speaking of the Zen Master, we asked Oak if Phil should come back to coach the Lakers ... and he has an interesting reason behind why it wouldn't work.

Kyrie Irving Fined $50,000 For Flipping Off Fans ... Using Profane Language

Kyrie Irving's middle fingers and potty mouth just cost him some serious coin ... the NBA announced it has fined the Nets superstar for flipping off Celtics fans as well as cussin' at some of them at Sunday's playoff game.

The NBA released a statement Tuesday saying the Nets guard has been docked $50K for "making obscene gestures on the playing court and directing profane language toward the spectator stands."

FINGER TO THE HATERS
@_Shawn_gill33

Of course, the gestures the league is referring to came when Irving flashed his middle fingers behind his head while standing in front of a group of Celtics fans who were trolling him.

The other incident occurred when Kyrie was walking in the hallway at TD Garden and a fan shouted, "Kyrie, you suck." Irving responded by yelling, "Suck my d*** bitch."

Unfortunately for Kyrie, this isn't the first time the NBA has come down on him. Earlier this year, KI was hit with a $25,000 fine after he clapped back at a fan in Cleveland who was giving him a hard time.

CLAPPING BACK AT FANS
@_willswish

Irving's relationship with Celtics fans has been contentious ever since he left the team to sign with the Nets ... and Cs fans make sure to let him know they feel whenever he steps foot in TD Garden.

The Nets play the Celtics on Wednesday night in Game 2 of their playoff series ... and it's clear if Irving isn't careful about the back-and-forth, he'll find himself writing a lot more checks to the league's front office.

Kevin Durant Subway Shooting In BK 'Devastating' 'I Hate Senseless Violence'

Nets forward Kevin Durant is condemning the tragic subway shooting in Brooklyn on Tuesday ... calling it "devastating" and saying he "hates senseless violence."

Durant addressed the media after the Nets walkthrough ahead of their play-in game tonight against the Cavaliers at the Barclays Center.

"It's devastating," Durant said, adding ... "I don't know the details. To hear the sirens out front of the practice facility and see so much commotion going on outside, you hope and pray for the best for everybody involved."

Durant said he received a text saying there might be heavy traffic on his way to the arena but the reason for it was never specified. Durant told reporters he initially heard about the tragedy from his teammates, but admits he didn't know the severity of the situation.

"I hate violence," Durant said, "I hate senseless violence."

"Hopefully we can figure out the details and get everybody to safety and get everybody the help that they need, but it's a tough situation right now."

Durant, of course, is referencing the mass shooting that occurred at a Brooklyn subway station this morning in NYC where at least 10 people were shot and several others were left injured during the chaos, according to the Associated Press.

The incident happened at the 36th Street station in the borough's Sunset Park neighborhood, which is not too far from where the Nets practice at the HSS Training Center.

4/12/22
CHAOS IN NEW YORK
Instagram/@angry_yeti

Head coach Steve Nash also responded to the shooting, calling it "a very tragic morning," saying the Nets org. is "devastated for the community and those directly involved."

As of now, the Nets are still expected to host the Cavs tonight as both teams fight for playoff seeding.

NYPD officials say the suspected gunman is still on the loose.

Kyrie Irving Confronts Wrong Fan For Heckling ... 'I Tapped The Wrong Person'

Things got testy between Kyrie Irving and a fan at MSG last night ... the Nets star was heading to the locker room during halftime when he stopped to confront a man (he thought was) heckling him.

The exchange went down as the Nets were coming off the floor, trailing the Knicks 67-50 at the half. Irving stopped and doubled back to get in the face of a fan he thought was trolling him.

In the short clip, you can see Irving tap the guy on his shoulder and exchange words with him ... before heading to the locker room with the rest of his teammates.

It's unclear what Irving said to the fan, who seemed visibly shocked Irving was there/touching him. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the interaction didn't get any more serious.

After the game, Kyrie spoke to reporters and apologized to the fan for making contact with him ... and letting his emotions get the best of him.

"East coast basketball at its finest," Irving said. "People just yelling random s*** from the crowd. They wanted a reaction, they got one."

"I think I tapped the wrong person, so I apologize to the random guy that I tapped. He looked at me with a big surprise on his face. Somebody said something. I was just fed up with our performance."

Of course, this isn't the first time Irving got into with a fan. Earlier this year, Irving was fined $25,000 by the NBA for using the word "motherf***er" while responding to a fan giving him a hard time.

The NBA also hit Irving's teammate, Kevin Durant, for $25K after he told a fan, "you gotta shut the f*** up and sit down" during a game against the Dallas Mavericks.

Even though Kyrie was upset with the wrong guy, the back-and-forth seemed to motivate him and his teammates in the second half ... 'cause the Nets erased a 21-point deficit, with KD and Ky leading the way, winning the game 110-98.

Kyrie Irving Allowed To Play In BK Again ... NYC Mayor Lifts Vax Mandate

UPDATE

10:27 AM PT -- 3/24 -- It's official -- Kyrie will be able to take the court at Barclays Center once again ... as the mayor just lifted the mandate.

UPDATE

The NBA and Players Association released a statement on Thursday ... saying, "With today's announcement, we support the Mayor's determination that the old rules treating hometown and visiting players differently no longer made sense, particularly because unvaccinated NBA players will continue to test daily."

UPDATE

"We applaud the Mayor for listening to the concerns of our New York teams, players, fans and communities and for leveling the playing field for home teams and their opponents."

After a long standoff with NYC vaccine mandates, Kyrie Irving will be allowed to play in home games once again ... as a new exemption will allow in-town athletes and performers to work indoors and on the court again.

Irving will be eligible to make his home debut at Barclays Center on Sunday when his Nets take on the Hornets, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

The new exemption -- which was just reported Wednesday -- will be effective immediately beginning Thursday.

Irving was sidelined for a majority of the season over his refusal to get jabbed ... but he's since been allowed to play in road games for the Nets.

MIXED MESSAGES

The mayor previously expressed his desire to see Irving on the court, but said he would not change the rules just to accommodate Kyrie.

Irving has missed a substantial amount of games this season due to the current mandate that  required players to be vaxxed ... which, of course, he is not.

"REAL ENOUGH TO STAND UP"

The NBA champ had been criticized from several high profile celebrities like Howard Stern and Chris Rock ... but he refused to cave in and get the shot.

NBA commish Adam Silver has called for Irving to get vaccinated ... but recently admitted he felt the current mandates in NYC made no sense.

The Nets were recently fined $50,000 by the NBA for breaking the NBA's COVID-19 protocol ... after Kyrie was spotted in the Barclays Center locker room after a game.

At the time, Irving was allowed to watch games in the arena, but NOT be in a workplace environment -- AKA, he couldn't be in the locker room. Silly, we know.

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

The change comes ahead of MLB Opening Day ... which means Yankees and Mets players are also breathing a sigh of relief.

No official announcement yet ... but it's just a matter of time.

BTW -- it's Irving's birthday on Wednesday ... so it's a pretty great gift.

Originally Published -- 3/23 3:58 PM PT

Kevin Durant Fined $25,000 ... For Telling Fan To 'Shut The F*** Up'

Kevin Durant's potty mouth just cost him $25,000 -- the NBA just fined the Brooklyn Nets superstar for telling a fan sitting courtside to "shut the f*** up."

The league announced the punishment on Friday afternoon ... saying in a statement they issued the fine against KD "for directing obscene language toward a fan."

The incident happened during Brooklyn's game against the Dallas Mavs on Wednesday ... when a fan said, "KD you gotta take this game over."

KD responded, "You gotta shut the f*** up and sit down."

Kevin wasn't disciplined for his clapback in-game ... although, you can see a referee was nearby to witness and hear the entire exchange.

But, Durant already knew what his fate with the league office would be ... preemptively tweeting out a symbolic meme of a girl forking over cash.

"Damn, smh" Kevin wrote on Twitter.

Durant might be $25k lighter in the pocket as a result of his comments, but knowing KD, he probably wouldn't change how he responded.

Brooklyn Nets Fined $50K For Allowing Kyrie In Locker Room ... Broke COVID-19 Protocol

The Brooklyn Nets' bank account is a little lighter today ... the team was just hit with a $50K fine for breaking COVID-19 protocol and allowing Kyrie Irving in the Barclay's Center locker room.

The NBA announced the 5-figure fine Monday afternoon.

"The Brooklyn Nets organization has been fined $50,000 for violating local New York City law and league health and safety protocols during the team’s March 13th game against the New York Knicks at Barclays Center," the NBA said in a statement.

"The violation occurred when the Nets permitted Kyrie Irving, who was in attendance at the game, to enter the team’s locker room."

Waiting for your permission to load the Instagram Media.

So, what'd the Nets do that was wrong?

Irving is allowed in the arena to watch games inside the arena, but not in a "workplace environment," which the league considers the locker room, according to  Woj, a league insider.

The rules go back to NYC's COVID-19 safety protocols ... which places restrictions on unvaccinated workers. Irving is not vaxxed.

The Nets beat the Knicks, 110-107.

Kyrie was not personally fined.

Kyrie Irving Watches Nets Game Maskless in Stands ... LBJ Slams NYC Policy

make it make sense ...
Courtesy of NBA

Kyrie Irving is throwing NYC's vaccine mandate policy right back in its face on primetime TV -- taking in a home game, maskless, from the stands ... but not able to step onto the court.

The awkward scene played out live Sunday during the Nets' home game against Knicks ... which was being carried by ESPN. During the 2nd quarter, the camera panned to KI, who was shaking hands with people down near the bottom of the stands, and then going up to his seat a few rows up.

In this capacity -- as a spectator -- he's totally okay to not wear a mask and move about ... as that is now NYC's policy on events like this, regardless of vaccine status. However, their rule pertaining to private employees hasn't changed -- namely, those folks have to be vaccinated, and Kyrie isn't.

Still ... the irony of the sitch reeks of hypocrisy, but more importantly ... it reeks of a lack of common sense, something that Doris Burke and other announcers broached with trepidation ... because, if we're being honest, the regulations here just don't make sense anymore.

Kyrie's former teammate, LeBron James, was not as shy about expressing his indignation over NYC's backwards thinking. In response to someone pointing out what a joke this is, he wrote ... "FACTS FACTS FACTS!! It literally makes ABSOLUTELY ZERO SENSE!!! They say if common sense was common then we’d all have it. Ain’t that the truth."

LBJ has been outspoken on the pandemic, especially the further into it we've gotten. Remember, it was just in December that he suggested the latest strains were more like the flu or the cold than anything else ... something he was slammed for at the time, as some felt he was downplaying the seriousness of the virus.

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And yet, as more time goes on -- it seems more people are willing to say how they really feel ... and on the topic of Kyrie, it's clear many think he should be allowed to play by now, jab or not.

Ben Simmons Booed, Heckled By Fans ... In Return to Philly

76ers fans greeted Ben Simmons with boos and trash talk as he took the court before Thursday's game ... marking his first return to Philadelphia since his trade to the Brooklyn Nets.

Remember, the 25-year-old guard made it clear he wanted out of Philly ... and was willing to lose out on millions of dollars as he refused to suit up for the Sixers this season.

Simmons finally got what he wanted last month ... after the Sixers traded BS, Seth Curry and Andre Drummond to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for James Harden.

Simmons returned to Wells Fargo Center -- this time as a visitor -- in black and white gear for Thursday's matchup against the Sixers ... and despite being out with an injury, the fans let him hear it during pre-game shootaround.

In fact, the 3-time All-Star was heckled way before getting to the arena -- he was surrounded by an angry crowd while getting onto the team bus ... with one fan saying, "Ben Simmons, you stink!"

Fans were also booing Simmons outside the Four Season in downtown Philadelphia ... with one fan actually thanking him for the Nets trade.

"Thanks for James, man" one fan yelled.

Welcome back to Philly, Simmons.

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