Ainge on T&R: Kyrie Irving struggled with 'burden' of leadership, 'unfair' to blame chemistry issues entirely on him

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

As clearly the best player on the Celtics last season, Kyrie Irving faced a lot of pressure to also be the leader - some of which he welcomed initially. It's now plainly obvious that he wasn't ready for such a role. And president of basketball ops Danny Ainge admits that the All-Star point guard struggled with having that weight on his shoulders.

In a call with 98.5 The Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich this morning, Ainge wanted to make it clear that the Celtics' chemistry issues went beyond just Irving. But he did believe Irving had problems of his own with the stress of leading the team, whether it was self-inflicted or came from outside noise.

"Listen, I just don’t think our chemistry was good. And again, it’s not just Kyrie, it’s - there’s a lot of people involved that form the chemistry of a team," Ainge said. "And I know that from day 1, a lot of people put a lot of heat on Kyrie of being the guy that’s supposed to be this great leader and it was his responsibility to lead everybody.

"I continually tried to remove that pressure from Kyrie and [tell him to] just be yourself, just go play, just have fun, find joy in the game. Quit trying to be something you’re not. Just forget about all this nonsense about ‘You have to get other people involved, you have to be the leader of the team, you have to be Superman to our team. ... He didn’t need to do that. I think he did feel that burden, that he had to be too much, and wasn’t able to do that."

Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics looks on during the third quarter at TD Garden on April 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics looks on during the third quarter at TD Garden on April 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Ainge later called back in to the show to clarify things, after he disagreed with what he was hearing in the aftermath of his first call.

"I don’t like the fact that it’s all the blame on [Irving]," Ainge said. "I’d like everybody to take responsibility for that. I feel like the Kyrie-bashing is unfair, that’s all.

"I’m trying to defend Kyrie, here. I think he’s been unfairly [given] responsibility for all the things that went wrong this year. I think he has some responsibility, as I do, as Brad does, as does [everyone else] in that locker room."

Whether or not you foist all or most of the blame on Irving for the Celtics' chemistry problems, it's indisputable now that he lacked the experience and acumen to be the true leader of the team in addition to the best player. He may yet gain those skills now that he's had quite the learning experience in Boston. But of course, that does Ainge and the C's no good now.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].