There is no denying that Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving is one of the most exciting NBA players of this era, but he is also one of the league’s most enigmatic. Irving has fame, fortune, and a signature shoe from Nike, but there are some things that are eluding him which include the ability to lead as well as having accountability.
After appearing in 11 games as a freshman for the Duke Blue Devils, Irving decided to test the waters of the NBA. And in 2011, the Cleveland Cavaliers would make Irving the first overall pick of the NBA Draft. In Irving’s first year with the Cavaliers, he would average 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per game en route to being named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. In each of Irving’s first three seasons with the Cavs, he would lead the team in points per game, but he could never find a way to get them to the postseason in a weak Eastern Conference. And during this time Irving would also clash with former Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters who felt that the point guard was playing “buddy ball” with center Tristan Thompson.
It was not until small forward LeBron James re-joined the Cavaliers in 2014 that Irving got his first taste of the postseason, and in the process he was a big reason why Cleveland would win their first NBA Title in 2016 as he played the part of being James’ “sidekick”. But Irving’s ego would not allow him to remain in the shadow of James and in the summer of 2017, he sought a trade out of Cleveland. The Cavs would grant Irving’s wish as he would find a new home with the Boston Celtics that summer as he looked to establish himself as one of the game’s premier players, but it has been easier said than done.
Last season a knee injury limited Irving to 60 games, while he would also be unable to participate in Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals. And after the Celtics lost a grueling seven-game series to the Cavaliers, conventional wisdom pointed to the Celtics being able to do bigger and better things this year with a healthy Irving leading the way.
However that has not been the case as with the NBA season nearly 75% completed, the Celtics do not have the look of being a championship team. Boston’s record is 38-26 which is fifth in the Eastern Conference as they’ve lost five of their last six games. And as the C’s are struggling, their All-Star point guard is getting the lion’s share of the criticism.
The Celtics playoff run last season was based off of team chemistry, ball movement, and the emergence of youngsters in small forward Jayson Tatum and shooting guard Jaylen Brown. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has spent this season attempting to figure to the chemistry for which has included utilizing small forward Gordon Hayward off of the bench, but Irving has not been able to blend in.
Throughout Irving’s career, I have always recognized him as being a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. This is why Irving had issues in Cleveland with Waiters, part of the reason why he no longer wanted to be James’ “little brother”, and why he is a hindrance to the Celtics as this squad needs a floor general who is going to get everyone involved in order to make them better. This season Irving is attempting five more shots per game than any other Celtics player which is taking away from the ball movement philosophy that Stevens has employed with this team. And for reasons such as that, I don’t see a scenario where Irving will be back with this team next season. Irving is set to become a free agent this summer, and as all signs point to him seeking a max contract, I do not see him receiving it from the Celtics.
The New York Knicks have space to offer two max contracts this summer, and they appear to be the favorite to land Irving. A marriage between Irving and the Knicks makes sense from the standpoint that you have a front office in New York that does not know what they are doing in regards to putting a championship team together, while Irving would be given free reign to score at will which is what he wants. An Irving-led Knicks team would more than likely lose 50 games next season, but it would not matter to him because he’ll be getting paid, along with being the undisputed star on the team, and unfortunately for him, that will forever be his legacy.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made a mistake in not trading Irving prior to this season’s trade deadline in order to rekindle the magic from last year’s club. The Celtics will once again make the playoffs this season, but they are headed towards an early exit as they won’t be able to keep up with the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks who’ve all beefed up their rosters. And as Irving came to Boston in the hopes of emerging from James’ shadow, he has instead only added to the label that he had during his pre-LeBron run with the Cavs, which is a guy that’ll drop 25 points a game, but it won’t matter due to the fact that his team lost.