It was never controversial to say that adding Kyrie Irving to an NBA roster would help a team. It seemed like a no-brainer. Which is why, when the Boston Celtics were provided that chance through a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in the summer of 2017, they jumped on it.
Irving had played second fiddle to Lebron James for a few years in Cleveland, but crescendoed when he hit the Finals-clinching shot over Steph Curry to deliver to Cleveland. It was no secret from then on that Kyrie would be a premier player in the league for the next decade.
What has led up to now?
Last year was Kyrie’s first season with Boston and all things considered, the Celtics had a successful season. They were without Gordon Hayward all season and without Kyrie in the playoffs, but were still just one game away from a trip to the NBA finals. Led by a core of developing, young players, the remaining healthy bunch on the Celtics roster did a lot of unexpected heavy lifting in the playoffs.
Add Kyrie and Hayward that group for this season and its no wonder most people felt that a Celtics-Warriors matchup in the finals was a lock. But as it stands the Celtics record is 43-29 and they currently sit at fifth in the Eastern Conference.
This is Kyrie’s first full season in a feature role on a team. He’s really never had to show leadership skills until now because that was always left up to Lebron. Kyrie has left much to be wanted in that respect from what we’ve seen this season. The C’s have played with a notable energy in the few games Kyrie has missed this season and his off-court comments have raised plenty of eyebrows.
In hindsight, it may not be all that surprising though. His main veteran leader before getting to Boston was Lebron, but Lebron may not be the leader we all have championed him to be. He has had constant friction between coaches, teammates, and front-office for whatever teams he’s played on. Star players have been vocal the last few seasons about not wanting to join him in L.A. Even Kyrie publicly referenced Lebron by saying he “called him to apologize” about when he was a young, inexperienced player on the Cavs. It seemed like a roundabout way for Kyrie to call out his Celtics teammates for being the same type of youngsters this season that he felt he was in Cleveland. All in all, the Celtic’s main superstar has been the main source of turmoil for the team so far this season.
Turning It Around
On March 5 the Celtics played the Golden State Warriors and stomped them by 33 points. After the game, Kyrie was interviewed about their performance and credited a few talks with head coach Brad Stevens, GM Danny Ainge and other Celtic’s teammates. He highlighted their cross-country flight to get to Golden State as a time of airing out feelings and a potential remedy to a tumultuous season. According to Kyrie “That long plane ride helped us out. I’ll just say that.”
Boston is 4-4 since that time, and although their record isn’t indicative of much improvement, their demeanor certainly is. And while their record is only .500 in their last 8 games, it’s been mainly a question of X’s and O’s.
On one of his recent podcasts, Bill Simmons mentioned that he felt like the Celtics have more questions than answers heading into the playoffs. While that may be true, they may have solved their most crucial one: team chemistry. But can they continue that growth as a team and take the next steps as serious Finals contenders? Fans will see if the plane ride of camaraderie came soon enough for them to make the adjustments necessary for the playoffs. If so, the Celtics could show everyone why they were so highly thought of before the season began.