By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The 98.5 The Sports Hub Year-End Awards are presented at the end of 2018 to recognize the New England’s most successful professional athletes. Click here for all year-end awards from Boston’s home for sports.
Kyrie Irving might honestly be the most interesting athlete that’s rolled through Boston.
That’s an all-encompassing kind of statement, too.
Irving thought the world was flat and later apologized for it. He almost completely refused to talk about his move from Cleveland to Boston, focusing on the reality-based life he leads, and then one day decided that he would reference the lessons and everything else he took from Cleveland, as if nothing ever happened. He also has an alter ego that is like 90 years old and plays basketball with a 90-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, which I now realize is my new favorite sentence.
But how about on the court?
Oh, y’know, just your average franchise-altering guard nobody wants to handle when the lights are at their brightest.
It’s kinda crazy when you think about everything that is Kyrie The Celtic.
First of all, the Celtics acquired him for what is basically nothing. It was a broken Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a Brooklyn pick that ended up netting the Cavs a late-ish lottery pick (used to nab Collin Sexton), and a second-round draft choice. The trade tree only got more complicated from there, but the long and short of it is that Cleveland didn’t get nearly enough. I only know this because I frequently find myself thinking “My God, the Cavs gave Kyrie to the Celtics” all the time.
It’s also crazy to think of the way that Irving came in and not only matched I.T.’s stardom at the 1, but basically upgraded it.
While neither will land on an All-Defensive team anytime soon, Irving is a more versatile guard for today’s game. He can be the volume scorer that Thomas was throughout his Boston tenure, but he’s entirely more comfortable spreading the wealth with a passing game, and his unpredictability and size (6-foot-3 versus 5-foot-9) make him a near-unguardable talent.
From January through March, Irving was exactly that, with 23.9 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game. He was downright lethal as a shooter, too, with a 51.6 field goal percentage, including a 41.4 percent mark from three. Over that same stretch, Irving also racked up 10 nights of at least 25 points, emerging as the Green’s focal point on offense.
Given his ability to simply take over a game, Irving had the Celtics looking like a legitimate championship threat (even with Gordon Hayward done for the year) before his knee condition worsened and knocked him out of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
But if he missed the entire postseason, why is he the Celtic of the Year?
It’s pretty simple, really: commitment.
Of course, anybody can say anything, but Irving’s decision to verbally commit to a long-term future with the Celtics — and with obvious dreams of having his No. 11 raised to the TD Garden rafters when it’s all said and done — is such a gigantic boost to literally everything this franchise plans and wants to do moving forward.
With word that Irving wants to and plans to stay here on a max contract next summer, the Celtics can officially focus in on building around a core that features Irving. I mean, think about this for even just one second: Would you ever believe that Danny Ainge, an executive that’s made countless deal after deal to put his franchise in a position of strength, would ever allow himself to be left at the altar by a player? Especially one of Irving’s status? Irving would be swapped for Anthony Davis tomorrow if the Celtics were 100 percent convinced that Kyrie was going to be hanging around beyond this season.
And you’re seeing the stamp that Irving is putting on the 2018-19 team.
By now, it’s obvious that the Celtics, while obviously imperfect, are at their best when it’s No. 11 leading the charge. They’re 9-4 when Irving has at least 25 points, and he’s seemingly already had countless nights where his ‘takeover’ style has propelled the Celtics to victory, with Christmas Day’s victory over the Sixers coming as the most recent example.
It’s been enough for the 26-year-old to seemingly pick up where he left off a season ago, averaging 23.3 points per night while shooting 48.7 percent from the field, and with a 41.1 three-point percentage that’s challenging his 41.5 percent career-best set back in 2014-15 with the Cavaliers.
There’s also the fact that nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to see Kyrie cookin’ come May and June.
Making him the Celtic of 2018, and perhaps 2019, if he untucks his jersey and has his say.
Honorable mentions: This entire thing would be a waste without mentioning Jayson Tatum, the 20-year-old superstar-in-development that took on the majority of Boston’s scoring in an undermanned run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. Also: The dude dunked on LeBron James. That’ll earn you recognition on any list… Marcus Morris is another player that deserves some consideration, all things considered. In a trying first year in Boston, one that started with knee issues and a desire to play more, Morris seemingly grew into his role as a physical enforcer for the Celtics, and was downright scary at times throughout their postseason run. Morris also kicked off the first two months and change of the 2018-19 season as perhaps the only Celtic not named Kyrie that was playing up to his potential and earning more minutes.