By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Celtics guard Kyrie Irving is talking about his teammates again, and more specifically the trying year it has been for a C’s squad that’s underachieved compared to their preseason expectations, with a 37-21 record coming out of the All-Star Break.
“It’s been a trying year for us, because we basically have a bunch of young men in our locker room that feel like they’re capable of doing a lot more than what they’re doing,” Irving, sitting with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols for the in-depth interview, said. “And that’s OK. But there’s a maturity that you have to have, a professionalism you have to showcase every single day, and that’s what the great ones do.”
Kyrie Irving sits down to talk about the Celtics' "trying" season: "we have a bunch of young men in our locker room who feel they're capable of doing a lot more than they're doing." We also talked free agency, the LeBron phone call, & how anger can fester if you don't address it pic.twitter.com/VGNqkifWnk— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 20, 2019
The 26-year-old Irving also touched on some frustrations with his playing time in Boston, and the internal competition between he and backup point guard Terry Rozier for crunch-time minutes.
“I initially didn’t play the minutes I wanted to play” said Irving. “I’m 26 years old heading into my prime. Like, why do I have to wait for anybody? Terry Rozier — he played in the playoffs [last season], he did extremely well. Coming back, that’s a natural competition that me and him have. Like, it is what it is. No one wants to say it, but I will. It’s part of their growth.
“When you have winning in mind, then you’ve got to do what it takes, but you’ve got to understand your teammates.”
For what it’s worth, Irving is averaging a Celtic-high 32:28 per game this season, while Rozier ranks 8th among Celtics in minutes per night, at 23:16. There’s also something to be said for the Celtics attempting to manage Irving’s minutes, as he has battled hip and knee issues this season, which likely contributes to that minor decrease in his minutes. There’s also no way that Rozier’s minutes are eating into what Irving is able to do, as he still averages a team-high 17.9 field goal attempts per night (Jayson Tatum is second, at 13.4 per night), and has the league’s 21st-highest usage percentage.
In what was yet another bizarre interview, at least in terms of what he was saying and who he was appearing to throw under the bus, Irving once again shifted his attention towards what the media has said or speculated on regarding his future as a free agent in 2019. He even suggested that it’s enough to break up a locker room.
“The talk follows the great players in the league, and I’m appreciative and grateful to be one of those great players in our league,” Irving admitted. “I’ve worked my way to get here, and honestly, all that goes with the free agent talk is really a distraction. A lot of people don’t realize on the outside that a lot of things that are said get into the locker rooms. Like a lot of things that are put in headlines get into locker rooms. Like, media has broken up locker rooms. Like, it’s been done before.
“You say something that’s misinterpreted, and instead of addressing it with the person or individual — like human interaction — you read it on your phone, or you read it in text. Someone says, ‘Hey did you see what this person said about you?’ and it’s your teammate. And you’re like — wait, I didn’t hear that, and then you hold back, you don’t say anything to him, and then throughout the season it ends up coming out again.
“And it’s just like, man, that’s not the way life is supposed to go.”
Lost in this is the fact that Irving, as the self-appointed leader of Boston’s locker room, has the ability to shut things down by being upfront and honest with his teammates behind closed doors, and/or saying nothing when media members try to goad him into questions about his future and his struggling teammates.
“It’s fun,” Irving said. “But at the same time, goodness, it’s energy-taxing.”
Like pretty much every other Irving interview to this point.