In a wide-ranging interview, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, NBA reporting legend and former Boston Celtics beat writer, got Kyrie Irving to open up about all the topics that Boston fans have been wondering about this summer.
On his health, Irving said he’s no longer in pain.
“I’m moving completely differently,’’ Irving tells ESPN, just days away from the official start of training camp. “I’ve worked on my strength and have a heightened awareness of what my body needs on a day-to-day basis. I spent all summer trying get my left leg to catch up with my right. And it’s there.’’
MacMullan noted that Irving looked different and had just completed a informal pick-up game with his Celtics teammates at the brand-new Auerbach Center.
About those pick-up games, Irving said:
“Our pick-up games are next level,’’ Irving says. “I mean, next level. You can’t believe what we’re doing out there. We can’t wait to get started.’’
When asked about his expectations for the season, Irving answered with thoughts that match that of the Celtics fan base:
When asked if it would be a disappointment if the Celtics didn’t make it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2019, Irving firmly answers, “Yes.’’
Pressed if he would be disappointed if they didn’t win a championship, Irving responds, “Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes.’’
What makes Irving sure the Celtics can compete for a title?
“Because of who we have,’’ Irving answers, “and what we’re establishing here, not just for this season, but for hopefully for the next few years, something that’s pretty special.”
As far as the rumors of the desire to team up with Jimmy Butler, Irving made it clear he’s aware of the chatter, but poured a big bucket of cold water all over it:
In fact, he says, the last time he talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spit-balling session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them.
”And that,’’ Irving laughs, “was in 2016.’’
When asked about his future in Boston, Irving added:
“Who wouldn’t be a part of this?” Irving says, gesturing to Boston’s new practice facility. “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and Al Horford and Gordon Hayward? People keep saying, ‘Why won’t he commit to Boston?’
”Well, there are financial implications involved.’’
This stance about it not making sense for him to sign an extension vs waiting for free agency remains consistent with Irving’s thoughts since he joined the Celtics. Irving would sacrifice not only years, but upwards of $80 million by signing an extension now vs waiting for a new contract in July.
Irving consents that this story won’t go away:
“I’m accepting it’s going to be a constant story,’’ Irving shrugs. “It’s a point in my professional career where it is a big-time decision. I’ve been away from Cleveland officially for a year now, and I’m finally getting acclimated in Boston.”
The interview closes with Irving acknowledging the depth of the Celtics roster, but that he thinks the competition for minutes will drive the team:
“The drive for greatness, the drive to win a championship, that’s all I care about,’’ he says. “The rest of it doesn’t matter.’’
So, what should Boston fans take away from this in-depth article?
- Irving is healthy and feeling good. This matched previous reports from earlier this summer that Irving looks back to his old self.
- Irving’s expectations are to compete for a title and he’ll be disappointed with anything less. That is expected, but still good to have confirmed with training camp opening in a few days. Lots of players will play it off, but Irving is welcoming the pressure of competing for a championship.
- He is laughing off the rumors of teaming up with Jimmy Butler. Not only that, but Irving alluded to being in Boston for a few years beyond this one at different points in the article.
- His not signing an extension is completely financially driven, as it should be. Players can, and do, sacrifice for the team by taking less money. But superstars don’t do it in the middle of the peak years of their career. Irving can, and will, cash out with a max deal in July.
- Finally, he thinks the depth and competition is good for the roster. The Celtics have 10 players who played rotation minutes last year and that’s before you include Gordon Hayward and newcomers Brad Wanamaker and Robert Williams. It’s up to Brad Stevens to manage the roster and playing time. When his best player buys in that it’s good for the team, that makes Stevens’ job that much easier.
It wasn’t expected on a Friday afternoon of the last weekend of the offseason, but Celtics fans considerable excitement can only grow after reading this piece from Jackie Mac. The season is almost here and it can’t come a minute too early.