By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Four months ago, Kyrie Irving told a TD Garden crowd that he would like to stay with the Celtics on a long-term deal.
But at the end of a week featuring rumors ranging from a LeBron James reunion in Los Angeles to league insiders wavering in their belief that Irving wants to be in Boston beyond this season, an obviously frustrated Irving sang a different tune Friday morning at Madison Square Garden, and made it clear he doesn’t owe anybody anything.
“I’ve spent the last eight years trying to do what everybody else wanted me to do in terms [of] making my decisions and trying to validate through the media, through other personnel, managers, anybody in this business,” Irving said.
“And I don’t owe anybody [expletive].”
Oh, awesome. That makes me feel super-awesome about Irving loving his Boston situation and wanting to stay here.
The flip-side of that is he’s talking about (and to) the media that’s annoyed him all year. He even went as far to suggest that these kind of questions, stories, and digging are locker room killers. Sure, that’s fine, and you can even accept that to some degree. Irving truly doesn’t owe anybody a February soundbite of his July plans.
Buuuuut, while we’d love to live in a world where we all simply believe that Irving is still in love with the C’s experience (the Kyries alone are too awesome to see him leave Boston), we have to know there’s more to this five-minute agitation of a media pestering not even Irving could dribble around.
At least if we want to step outside the fantasy of everybody just plain loving the idea of being a Celtic because of their promise and be honest regarding an increasingly uncertain future and the uncomfortable situation this has quickly become.
I mean, when asked about a long-term future in Boston on Friday, Irving said, “Ask me July 1st.”
That could be viewed as a ringing endorsement and make every shoe-peeing dumdum look stupid when Irving re-ups on a max contract on July 1. Or it could mean that new options are now being considered, and that his desire to stay with the Celtics, as professed in October, is now a more fluid situation. Putting your faith completely in either direction seems silly.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I feel is best for my career, and, that’s just where it stands,” Irving told reporters. “And my focus this season is winning a championship with the Boston Celtics. Obviously we had goals coming into this season, and the primary goal is to win a championship, so that’s where my focus is.”
While there’s nothing that says this is not where he wants to be, there’s nothing in there that indicates Irving believes Boston is the best place for his career. If he believed that, he would have said as much and essentially put the whole thing to bed. Irving came close, sure, saying that he still believes the Celtics can deliver on their promise and that the pieces around Irving can win. But again, it was not the slam dunk reassurance many have been quick to suggest or enough to allow them to comfortably brush these comments off as nothing more then media-venting on the part of Irving.
“Boston’s still at the head of that race, and that’s just where it stands,” Irving admitted.
Then it got interesting.
“I’m not worried about a reputation, not worried about a legacy to leave,” Irving said. “I’m just trying to be a human being, trying to make the best decision for me and my family.”
This is just plain not true. If it were, Irving would not have filmed a Nike commercial that featured him playing one-on-one with his father and saying he wants to be the last Celtic to wear No. 11. Irving also talked about seeing No. 11 raised to the Garden rafters back in September. So, that’s two different instances in which Irving openly talked about a) staying with the Celtics and b) creating a legacy here. If ‘legacy’ didn’t matter, retired numbers wouldn’t mean a thing.
But, again, it got even more interesting.
“Obviously things this season haven’t gone as I planned, and that’s part of being on a team where you’re still trying to figure things out,” Irving offered. “So I’m always going to be mature about that, professional, come and do my job every single day and really just see what happens. That’s what it really comes down to.”
That first part is a big one: “Things haven’t gone as I planned.” You could read that as the Celtics not being the 60-win juggernaut many expected them to be, and that would seem fair. (In their defense, they seem to be finally getting their game on track, but nobody expected them to begin February as the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.)
But Irving himself has obviously gone through his own growing pains as a leader — pains that even prompted a call to LeBron following an on-court meltdown in Orlando — and it’s worth wondering if his situation in Boston has him reconsidering the long-term viability of the franchise as a legitimate championship threat for the next five years.
Maybe Irving, while obviously wanting out of Cleveland to accept the new challenge of being ‘The Guy,’ doesn’t want to be The Guy in this context or within this construct. It’s clear Gordon Hayward is not at 100 percent (and who knows if he ever will be), Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have experienced some stop-and-start development, and Al Horford is not getting any younger. Perhaps Irving believes the Celtics need more, like Anthony Davis (who does not want to be here). Or perhaps Irving is realizing he’s more equipped to be part of a 1A/1B that could be achieved in say, New York, next year.
At their very best, Irving’s answers were ambiguous. Which is in line with pretty much everything to date.
Listen, Irving is a weird guy.
He says pretty much whatever’s on his mind or whatever he’s feeling at that moment, and he basically admitted that on Friday, saying his original statement that he wanted to stay in Boston was sparked by the ‘excitement’ of that moment. What Irving’s thinking about his future may honestly vary day to day, and that’s fine. That could simply be the cost of doing business with No. 11. When you’re as talented as he is, you can absolutely get away with it, because nobody is going to get sick of your crap when you’re one of the game’s top guards (and have a Finals-winning shot to your name).
So perhaps Friday came with the opposite, resulting in some straight-up damning language and normal (and necessary) extra reads when talking about a player that dabbles in fake-deep jargon with the frequency Irving has over the last two years.
But you can’t sit there and say everything’s awesome and that you have no reason to be worried. There’s legitimately no way of knowing, especially when you’re talking about Kyrie Irving, clearly.
Just like Irving can’t sit there and get mad about having to answer questions about his future — or accuse anonymous reports of ruining the C’s locker room he’s supposed to lead as its most experienced champion — when he opts not to offer anything of real substance regarding exactly that.
When the doubts are at a fever pitch, no less.