Don’t Give up on Kyrie just yet.
The NBA Playoffs are soon coming to an end and everyone in the basketball world—including fans, the media, and even some players—are all speculating where some of the NBA’s biggest stars will be headed this offseason. Among the stacked list of free agents is Kyrie Irving.
Irving and the Boston Celtics ended their season by losing 4-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the playoffs. It seemed like Boston had been off all season. No one expected this year to be tough for a team that had one of the most stacked rosters in the league, especially after they came within one game of the NBA Finals last season without its best players (Irving and Gordon Hayward).
Regardless of that, Boston had problems within the organization all year. Multiple Celtics players made headlines throughout the season after making controversial statements. Terry Rozier came out saying the roster was “too talented.” Marcus Morris drew some attention in after saying it’s “not fun” playing for the Celtics, after blowing a 28-point lead to the Clippers. He went on to say, “I watch all these other teams around the league and guys are up on the bench and jumping on the court. They’re doing all the stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates.” But perhaps the player who made the most controversial statements was Irving himself.
Irving was supposed to be the leader of the team. General Manager Danny Ainge made a blockbuster trade to acquire the 6’3” point guard after Irving demanded a trade from Cleveland while saying he wanted to be “the man.” He was tired of being in the shadow of others. Finally healthy and fully recovered from his injury in his second season as a Celtic, Irving was given the chance to do exactly what he wanted: lead a team. Upon doing so, he completely disappointed.
He made the environment in Boston toxic. At one point in the season, he called out the younger players on the team by saying, “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team. What it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?”
The squad didn’t take kindly to this, and it impacted the teams’ chemistry on the court. It showed through Boston’s bad losses. There were clearly issues within the organization, and instead of acknowledging the issues and taking responsibility, Irving would commonly shake it off by saying, “I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games.”
The Celtics didn’t deserve to beat the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks, who won 60 games throughout the regular season. The Celtics swept the Pacers in the first-round because the Pacers subpar roster couldn’t contain Boston’s talent. In the second round, however, this wouldn’t fly. The Bucks have a much deeper roster than Indiana, and they wouldn’t let players like Irving help the team win games by excelling individually. That is, not until after the first game, where Irving and the Celtics did just that to steal game one. Milwaukee would win the next four to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Although Irving showed poor leadership and even selfishness this season, it’s important to remember that the guard is only 27 years old. This was essentially his first healthy season as the leader of an NBA team. It’s going to take more than one year to adjust to this new organization. Irving himself is still young and immature and has a lot to learn in terms of being a leader. He still needs to adapt to be the wise, experienced mentor to the younger players.
He even said during the season that he had to call former teammate LeBron James and apologize to him for “being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips.” Irving continued by admitting that “sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world.”
Unfortunately for Irving, adjusting to Boston may not even be an option considering he’ll be a free agent in the 2019 season. The smart choice would be to stay in Boston and continue building on the classic franchise with a genius coach and loads of talent. He’s only spent two years with the Celtics, one of which he was injured for the majority of the year. Championships don’t come in two years. In winning championships, it takes struggle. It takes chemistry issues. It takes failure. Hence, if Kyrie was to stay in Boston and strive to become a better leader, the Celtics could be contending for championships once again.
If Irving does decide to leave and go to the Knicks or Nets (as rumored) then it will have been a failed experiment in Boston. The gigantic blockbuster trade will have gone to waste. However, for Irving, he might be able to use this experience in Boston to better himself for the next team he joins.
Even though he acted immature and selfish this season, don’t give up on Kyrie as a franchise player just yet. He’s still young. His growth and experience in Boston will shape him to be a franchise player one day. Irving wants to be the face of a team. That’s the precise reason he requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first place. Kyrie will be a fantastic leader for a team someday, but it’s going to take some time and patience.