Kyrie Irving was beaming in his first press conference as a member of the Boston Celtics. The acquisition of Irving was a business decision at its core, but his genuine enthusiasm to join the Celtics could yield even greater results than we realize. Not to say that happiness leads to better stats, but it could be essential for the team’s survival. Irving’s responses almost felt like they were meticulously crafted ahead of time to make his transition a smooth as possible - too smooth, even. Let me show you what I mean:
The Alley Oop
During Irving’s post-conference interview, CSNNE's Kyle Draper asks him which Celtic he’s most excited to play with. Irving names Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and then Al Horford in an attempt to list each returning Celtic before asking, “Um, am I missing somebody?”
“Oh, forgot about high-flying Jaylen Brown that I’m about to be throwing crazy ‘oops to.”
Pause. Did Kyrie just throw an alley-oop to himself while simultaneously talking about throwing alley-oops to a teammate?
Let’s take a moment to appreciate his reaction to the question. Without hesitation, Irving named the few returning Celtics from last year, which I think his way of showing that he wants to become a part of the identity that the Celtics have already established, even if most the players that accelerated the rebuild aren’t on the team anymore.
Here’s the clip:
The Next Level
Later on in the interview, Draper asks Irving “What can fans expect from you? What level can you get to, do you think?” Irving’s response was out of character for him, in that he didn’t act born-ready to answer it.
I don’t think that moment of hesitation was due to a loss for words, but instead an exercise in restraining himself from unloading an almost unprecedented amount of pre-season trash talk. It’s like he wanted to say he’s going to play better than he did as a Cavalier, and that he’ll do more than Isaiah Thomas, and that he could even make a run at the MVP award in his first season with Boston, but instead had to settle for “It’s gonna be pretty exciting, guys.”
These expectations all coming before exploring what the eastern conference could look like if LeBron James leaves Cleveland to go west. Irving could theoretically put up the same numbers that he has been and still be seen as someone who reached a “new level” by leading a team without the help of a top-five all-time player. It kind of goes without saying, but a lot of what he wants to accomplish, in terms of crafting his own legacy, is achievable by simply not being teammates with LeBron James.
Addressing the Idea of Being “The Man”
There are two things to consider here, the second one being more obvious than the first.
The obvious: this sounds like a subtle shot taken at LeBron James or at least the idea that James was the sole reason for Cleveland’s recent success. Whether or not he was talking about his former teammate, I still think Irving wants to set the record straight, which leads to my second point: Irving doesn’t want to be seen as selfish. It’s been said that Irving wants to be “the man” for a change and to have an opportunity to emerge from LeBron’s shadow. And it’s a reasonable assumption, but I don’t think Irving wants to be seen in that sort of light. Irving wants to be a star, but not the center of the universe, just himself.
The TD Garden might as well only have revolving doors given how frequently Danny Ainge shakes up the roster. In the rush of trades, we can lose sight of some of the human aspects of sports, and that’s why I find it important to recognize that Kyrie Irving is genuinely excited to wear a Boston Celtics uniform. The impact of Danny Ainge's movements aren't usually described with emotions but rather with stats, but Irving’s smile made me realize that we never took the time to consider how other players felt about being sent to Boston, from crowd favorites like Jonas Jerebko to new additions in Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes. It sounds sappy, but it helps us address the biggest question mark of the upcoming season: team chemistry.
If the main concern of the upcoming season is chemistry, we need to look at what unifies our players, and right now the common factor is that they’re proud of the jersey they wear. Emotions don’t win ball games, but Ainge has managed to make every player he adds feel like they landed in a “right place at the right time” scenario, and I think that feeling of belonging almost guarantees a high level of team chemistry.