Boston Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving made it clear: He was never going to be the guy in Cleveland.
In fact, it was the first thing Irving’s made clear in regards to his Cleveland past Finally open to talking about the organization he grew up in for the first six seasons of his NBA career after spending almost all of the 2017-18 season refusing to talk about the past, Irving’s commentary on his run with the Cavaliers was about as honest as you’d expect, and shined a light on how Irving handled his time in — and in turn, his exit from — The Land.
“I wasn’t the face of the franchise,” Irving admitted following Tuesday’s practice when asked of his tenure with the Cavaliers. “They made that very clear. I was just a great piece in Cleveland, which I gratefully accepted.
“[The Cavaliers] weren’t giving me the keys to the franchise. They weren’t. I was too young, man. I didn’t deserve them. But after I while, I felt like I earned it and I took a lot of that responsibility on myself. Still wasn’t ready to do it, but learned a lot from that point to be at this position [with the Celtics] now.”
Referencing the time before LeBron James arrived and after for that matter, Irving didn’t seem to take the forced relationship with James as a negative, and instead took it as an opportunity to learn — and then start his own journey.
“Whether it was the lieutenant, sergeant — whatever you want to call it to ‘Bron — I think that being around him and his basketball knowledge, as well as all the other veterans that complemented us at that time, was something I needed,” Irving, who went to three straight NBA Finals to end his time in with James and won a championship with the Cavaliers in 2016, recalled. “I was the fourth year in, just signed a $90 million contract [extension with the Cavaliers]; I’m thirsty for everything, and for the most part I’ve just been taught to roll out the ball and go play.
“I saw it as a point in my career where I could grow,” Irving added. “I took as much knowledge as I could and moved on with my career. From that point I learned a lot about myself and how much of a competitor I am.”
Noting how he quickly went to being ‘the hunted’ as a true contender upon LBJ’s return to the Cavaliers, Irving knows it’s on him to show the way for a Celtic squad featuring its share of young pieces that need to take that next step forward in their career development for the Celtics to truly take advantage of their championship window.
“We’re asking a lot of our players to be basketball savants now rather than just basketball players, like, just going out there like you have nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, just go out there and play. Like, we’re not that team anymore,” Irving said. “We have to be a lot smarter, a lot more diligent in what we’re doing out there, a lot more communicative.”
The Celtics open their season Oct. 16 against the Philadelphia 76ers.