“The Celtics will finish with a record of 64-18 this season, have the top spot in the East, and will beat the Golden State Warriors dynasty in 6 games to win the 2018-2019 NBA Finals.”
This was me before the NBA season started heaping these lofty expectations upon this Celtics squad. Here we sit 58 games in and the Celtics boast a record of 37-21 and are currently tied for the four seed in the Eastern Conference.
They have three more losses before the All-Star break than I predicted they would have all season. Sure, I’m happy to shoulder some responsibility in overestimating their capabilities, but there’s a serious issue on this team. It’s certainly not talent related.
Kyrie Irving, or as I like to call him KyME Irving, because as he has proved through his words and actions this season, the only thing that matters to Kyrie is Kyrie. Before the season started, and expectations were high he gave Celtics nation a rousing “yes” that he will be back next year and for the future.
Now that Boston has been hit with some adversity he’s unsure of what will ensue in the Summer, and said “I don’t owe anybody s**t.”
Kyrie is an amazing player, easily one of the top 10 players in the league today. His jumper, handles, finishing ability, and clutchness all make him the breathtaking player we watch night in and out. As outstanding as this all sounds, the former first overall pick is a cause for the Celtics struggles seventy percent of the way through this up and down 2018-19 campaign.
A majority of people might say it sounds insane to claim the Celtics are a better team without Kyrie, but let’s take look at the facts..
The Celtics with Irving this season are a modest 28-19 (.617), score 112.7 points a game, give up 107.2 points a game, and have an average +5.5 plus-minus per game.
The Celtics without Irving this season have a outstanding record of 9-2 (.818), score 114 points a game, buckle down to concede 103.9 points a game, and have an average +10.1 plus-minus per game. Let us not forget the Celtics were one game away from making the finals last season without him. Clearly his closing ability was missed in game seven, but up until that point the Celtics played fantastic basketball.
Boston is twenty percent more likely to win, and are 4.6 points better without Irving.
Eleven games is a big sample size, and the numbers clearly show the Celtics produce better on both ends of the court, as well as in the win column, when Kyrie is nowhere to be found. What makes this wacky is that it’s not attributed to Kyrie’s play on the court, he’s shooting better than ever (49.6%) and scoring/passing just as efficiently (23.6 PPG, 6.9 APG). Plain and simple he’s been phenomenal.
It’s the drama that makes Irving such a frustrating figure. His lack of leadership, and his selfish attitude are the main reason the Celtics occasionally struggle while he’s in the game. It doesn’t seem like the other Celtics don’t know what to do when he’s isolated at the top of the key taking players off the dribble.
For one, he seems to always have a nagging injury, and has already missed 11 games this year. This is nothing new… Kyrie has never come close to playing an entire season in his career. The former champion has also gone on the record many times criticizing the younger players on the team, and deflects blame off of himself whenever the Celtics go through tough stretches. He even admitted that he wasn’t ready to be a leader, and reached out to LeBron for advice on how to handle a team.
Last year when Irving and Gordon Hayward were out for the playoffs the Celtics had a tenacity and life about them that they just don’t seem to have anymore. The Celtics almost look as though they are a disinterested, and don’t even like playing with each other half the time.
The C’s have plenty of talent, but like in any team sport you need strong leadership at the top. Kyrie is supposed to be that guy, and he’s dropping the ball badly.
Team morale is a factor that’s so much more important than people understand, and when Irving is on the court, there is a lack of intensity and fire brought to every game. They have shown this in back to back wins against the 76ers and Pistons, both of which may have been their best team performances of the season.
Speaking of fire, the NBA world would burn down if New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis was to ever sign with or be traded to the Celtics. Could Kyrie and Davis play together? Is there even enough money in the world to have Davis, Irving, Horford, and Hayward on the same team?
My answer will be no to all of those. Davis’ father has already said that he does not want his son playing in Boston, and it’s unrealistic to think that the Celtics could somehow afford to pay all these guys at the same time anyways.
The young core is talented, athletic, and most importantly hungry. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Robert Williams, and Terry Rozier are pieces Boston fans should hope stay together for a long time. The Celtics are guard heavy and although Kyrie is an amazing player, his isolation style of basketball often time struggles to get others involved as frequently as some would prefer.
When you add in the past success without Kyrie, the current mediocrity with him, the distraction of his unwillingness to commit to Boston long term, and his lack of leadership, the six time All-Star just doesn’t fit in with this team.
This Celtics are not in need of another star like Anthony Davis, they just need someone to step up and become a leader. It could 10000% be Kyrie, but he’s yet to show any signs of this being a possibility.
They have a fantastic young nucleus, and that is what Danny Ainge should spend his time building around.
Are the Celtics a better team without Kyrie? That’s hard to say, they morph into something totally different when he’s off the court. He’s the closer, and the dominant force on the team, I’m not sure if Boston can win it all without him. All I know for certain is that if Kyrie wants to help this team he’ll become a leader in the locker room and a better teammate to the youngsters.
Boston doesn’t need anymore diva distractions, they need more NBA Championships.
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