People around the Celtics stood in the crater left by the team’s demise and the exodus of its core all summer. They wondered where it went wrong. Notable dates stood out: the trip to NYC when Irving reversed his promise to re-sign, the blowup with Gordon Hayward against the Magic, or the big one — “I had to call Bron.”
Few mentioned a moment Kyrie Irving emphasized at his long-awaited introduction with the Brooklyn Nets. Only 26 days after the season ticket event — in-between questions about a win over the Pistons — he said he’d miss a game to grieve his grandfather’s death.
We learned that Irving didn’t get to speak with his grandfather extensively before he died. He blamed his commitment to basketball, and carried a grudge toward his profession all season. It took the form of unwelcoming facial expressions. An unwillingness to connect with people around him. Through it all, he said, he was never able to seek help.
Friday’s introduction revealed various aspects of Irving’s mindset last year, though the pieces did not connect into a concrete reason for leaving Boston. Irving continued to criticize “youthful expectations” for undermining the Celtics. He also revealed that his trade to Boston was a surprise.
“It felt incredible in terms of the energy we were building, especially for the future in Boston ... I don’t think I was acknowledging the things that were surrounding my life as well — and how to lead this group of guys that I’ve been traded to. I wasn’t drafted by Boston. I had no type of affiliation with Boston before I left Cleveland ... Boston was a surprise team, with Wyc and Danny, that took the chance on trading for me.”
The jubilation of the season ticket-holder event soon disappeared. The Celtics lost to the Jazz while Irving grieved. A 3-5 stretch followed. Then eight straight wins. Three straight losses. The jolting rocked a team that found no stability through the playoffs.
He did not discuss the meltdown against the Milwaukee Bucks that ended the year.
Irving leaned on calling out a team he did not feel earned its stature through its run to Game 7 against the Cavaliers. The Celtics’ expectations were unfounded, which heightened criticism for each of their downturns. He touted championship aspirations for young teams as unrealistic in general. It has to be earned.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier. The same cast that achieved greatness without Irving returned to listen to him blast them.
“Marcus, Terry. All those guys just want to be great,” Irving said. “We were all internally trying to be great. I don’t think we were trying to be great as a team to meet at the top. That happens in team environments all the time.”
His demeanor on Friday reflected much of what he projected in Boston’s locker room after tough losses. This time, he added a sprinkle of regret.
Everyone played a role in the downturn, but he accepted that he failed too. Brooklyn served as the blank slate to start over. The same players Irving could not mesh with would be the core of the team moving forward after efforts to acquire Anthony Davis fell short.
By mid-to-late June, the idea of Brooklyn with friends and an old teammate in Joe Harris — who he said he saw something in previously — became a plan.
“It just happened in the spur of the moment.”
That new bond with Kevin Durant forged on the first day of free agency. Little more released after that. Durant addressed his departure from the Warriors and dispelled the injury controversy. Irving remained silent. Brooklyn did not introduce them the way the Celtics did Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter.
Friday granted Irving his chance to weigh in on that Durant situation that was seemingly in the past. While Durant has asserted that he decides when he plays, Irving declared himself as the one who would prevent Brooklyn from repeating Golden State’s mistake.
He will not press Durant to play this season as the protector. The display fanned new flames on Durant’s insertion back into the Finals after a calf injury that became an achilles tear.
“A lot of people have responsibilities for why that ended up happening the way it happened,” he said. “We all know K was not ready to play in that environment.”
He scorned the media for creating expectations in Boston. He did the same for their intrusion on Durant’s injury status. The Nets will be a new start for one of the most talented point guards in the league. But old wounds still clearly remain.