An NBA star offered words of reassurance to Boston Celtics fans that things will turn out OK this season. No, those words did not come from the mouth of Kyrie Irving, whose pronouncements of late — not to mention reports about him — have generally set Celtics supporters on edge.
Instead, it was left to Kevin Durant, whose Golden State Warriors play the Celtics on Tuesday. Given that the game will take place on Golden State’s home floor, Boston may well be looking at an extension of its 3-7 skid, but Durant said Monday that Irving and Co. would be “fine once the playoffs start.”
That would certainly be a welcome development in Beantown, particularly given how unexpectedly shaky the Celtics appear at the moment. Not only is the team, widely predicted to be the best in the East this season, scuffling on the court while mired in fifth place in its conference, but its All-Star point guard and theoretical leader has been projecting a distinctly disgruntled mood.
Before a game Sunday against the Rockets, Kyrie Irving was heard on camera declaring, “I’m not going to miss any of this [expletive] when I’m done playing.” After the 115-104 loss to Houston, he turned monosyllabic, offering the tersest of answers to reporters’ questions, including one about what he thought he “had to do to turn this thing around as a leader.”
“Just got to play better,” was all Irving said in response, in a media performance very similar to one he gave last week after a blowout loss to the Raptors. Among his nonexpansive answers that day included being asked about teammate Marcus Smart’s opinion that the Celtics’ biggest problem was “not being together,” to which Irving said, “That’s Marcus’ opinion. I respect it.”
If the loss and Irving’s demeanor were troubling to Boston fans Sunday, Monday brought more reason to fret about the 26-year-old’s relationship with his squad. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported that sources around the Celtics told him that Irving has “become disengaged and detached from those around the team.”
O’Connor wrote that Irving, who can opt out of his contract after this season, “has grown increasingly frustrated with the intense media coverage of his future decision,” as well as with the state of the Celtics. He added, “The Kyrie News Cycle is its own industry at this point: The Celtics lose a game, Irving gives a terse and meta-commentary on the state of the media, basketball, and the universe, questioning the motivations of those asking him questions. Those reporters then write about Irving’s responses and the scrutiny on his and the team’s play is that much stronger.”
Later in the day, though, Irving was far more willing to engage with reporters and even tried to explain his recent grumpiness. However, while he spoke at length, at least one set of comments raised eyebrows, when Irving said, “I didn’t really come into this game to be cameras in my face, be famous, be a celebrity, whatever embodies that, so it’s a little hard for me. I wanted those things when I was younger, but now, at this point in my career, I just want to play basketball at a very, very high level.”
As many noted, that mindset might explain why Irving appeared to express displeasure with having a camera crew follow him to the Celtics’ locker room before the Rockets game, but there’s also the small matter of his starring role just last year in a feature film, “Uncle Drew,” based on his starring role in a series of Pepsi ads. An upcoming project, per reports in January, has Irving producing and starring in a movie about an Oklahoma City hotel that some believe is haunted.
Of more concern to the Celtics and their supporters is where Irving plans to have a starring role as an NBA player next season. He can leave Boston as a free agent and is rumored to be interested in joining the Knicks, who just happen to have oodles of salary-cap space this summer, thanks to a trade of Kristaps Porzingis that made the basketball world wonder whether New York was confident of landing not only Irving but Durant, as well.
It didn’t help the mood in Boston that, shortly after the Porzingis trade at the end of January, Irving said to reporters of his plans, “I’m just going to do what’s best for me. … I’m not worried about a legacy to leave.”
Oh, and this line at the time made a teensy ripple or two: “I don’t owe anybody [expletive].”
But before the Celtics can worry about the offseason, there’s the rest of this season, one that thus far has not gone at all according to plan. Of course, that’s all relative, considering that plenty of other NBA teams would love to have Boston’s 38-26 record, not to mention its vexing problem of how to carve out enough minutes for so many good players.
Durant referred to that situation Monday in saying that the Celtics “were losing a couple of games, but they’ve got the top talent.” He added, “There’s going to be some ups and downs throughout the season. That’s the nature of the game.”
“You have a bunch of young players who have been through the struggles. They’re still trying to figure each other out,” Durant continued. “It takes more than half a year or a whole year to figure it out. They keep growing. What you see right now is not the finished product.”
So that may be of some comfort to Bostonians — a former NBA MVP and two-time Finals MVP drawing upon his years of experience in the league to express optimism about how things will likely unfold for the Celtics. Then again, that is the same Kevin Durant who has lashed out recently at the media over speculation about his own free agency plans, which, as noted, may include teaming up with Irving in New York.