Exactly one year ago we were watching a gritty, hard-working, team-oriented Celtics squad claw their way through the NBA Playoffs and come within minutes of a Finals appearance. The key pieces to that team were Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, and Aron Baynes.
Every single one of those guys is still around, but the passion and togetherness that they displayed is no longer existent. Why? They went from playing for one another to desperately searching for a consistent role while clearing the way for their star point guard to throw up 19 shots a game. The result is six less wins and getting bounced a round earlier by a team they beat in seven last year.
Saying that this current Celtics team is “better without Kyrie Irving” is no longer some edgy, controversial “hot take” that gets spouted when they rip off a few regular season wins while he’s sidelined with an injury. It’s an indisputable fact based on a year of evidence. The season is done. The data is in. 49 wins and a second round exit in 5 games. Last year’s team won 55 games including a 7-1 stretch right after Kyrie’s injury, and then fought to Game 7 of the Conference Finals.
The 2018-19 Celtics were supposed to be great. An elite scorer and another All-Star joining a team of young phenoms? See you in June. When it became clear early on that this team was actually becoming worse on the floor and way less likable off it, criticism naturally landed on Kyrie. Gordon Hayward was terrible, Brad Stevens’ coaching was questionable to say the least, and neither of them helped the situation. But the majority of the blame has to fall on the guy who leads the team in minutes and has the ball in his hands on every possession. When you’re a ball-dominant guard who joins an already successful roster and then all of a sudden everyone on that roster is less productive and less efficient than they were before you got there? It’s your fault.
Then there was the unwavering desire to be a leader despite having poor leadership skills. Kyrie wasn’t at Game 7 last year because he was getting a nose job for his movie, and if you didn’t know any better you’d think he wasn’t at any of the Celtics playoff games in 2018 because not once this year did he acknowledge the incredible run that his teammates went on last spring. Instead, the 26 year-old approached this season as if he was joining a lottery team and it was his duty to show them how to win basketball games. When they lost, it was because the “young guys don’t know what it takes”. If you asked him why they’ll be fine in the playoffs, he’d say “because I’m here”. Not because of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, or any of the guys who played their asses of through three playoff rounds just a few months prior. Nope. If they succeed in the playoffs it will be due to number 11.
Meanwhile, those “young guys” went 12-3 this year when Kyrie was out of the lineup. 12-3 is a good record. 4-13 is not. 4-13 is the record of the Cavaliers from 2014-2017 when LeBron was hurt and Kyrie was handed the keys. In their first season together, LeBron missed eight straight games in December and January and Cleveland went 1-7 with Kyrie at the helm to fall under .500. Then LeBron returned and carried them to the Finals.
Why do I mention this? Because Kyrie’s false notion that he’s some sort of seasoned veteran leader at age 26 and 27 is laughable, and it’s likely the reason none of his teammates have been able to relate to him. Make no mistake about it, those Cavs teams from ‘14 to ‘17 would have still been in the lottery if LeBron didn’t come in and catapult them to title contenders. And even then, Bron had to get Kyrie’s head screwed on straight before they could start winning. In their fourth game together in 2014, Kyrie dropped 34 points but recorded zero assists and Cleveland lost to the Jazz to fall to 1-3. He was trying to prove to LeBron that it was his team too even though he had led them to a 78-152 record over the previous three years while Bron was winning championships in Miami. Once again, a false sense of entitlement. I thought hitting one of the biggest shots in Finals history had gotten to his head, but it appears Kyrie has always been a self-absorbed diva who sucks the life out of his teammates.
The 2017-18 Celtics banded together and learned how to win in the playoffs without the help of their superstar. History shows us Kyrie doesn’t know a damn thing about winning at the NBA level without the help of one of the greatest players of all-time. Still, he acts like riding LeBron’s coattails to a title somehow made him a more qualified “winner” than his own teammates who went to Game 7 of the Conference Finals. To show you how unwarranted Kyrie’s pompousness is, here’s how his teams have performed when he’s been the best player:
- 2011-12: Kyrie leads the Cavs to a 21-45 record in the strike-shortened season
- 2012-13: Kyrie leads the Cavs to a 24-58 record
- 2013-14: Kyrie leads the Cavs to a 33-49 record
- 2014 to 2017: Kyrie leads the Cavs to a 4-13 record when LeBron is out of the lineup
- 2017 to 2019: Kyrie misses 37 regular season games and the Celtics have a higher winning percentage without him (.702) versus with him (.614). They go to the Conference Finals without him and get bounced in round two with him.
What we’ve all come to realize is that if Kyrie Irving is the best player on your team, you’re going to have a bad time. Doesn’t matter if you’re a teammate, a coach, or a fan. This guy is a carbon copy of LeBron personality-wise but he has less than half the ability on the court. LeBron is elite at both ends of the floor, Kyrie is really good at dribbling and shooting. LeBron makes his teammates better, Kyrie makes his teammates significantly worse and then throws them under the bus for underperforming. LeBron gets away with being an egomaniac, Kyrie looks like a jackass because he hasn’t earned that right.
Unfortunately this Celtics team didn’t have a guy like LeBron who could put Kyrie in his place. Some of that blame falls on the coaching staff, but a lot of it falls on Kyrie’s inability to take guidance from anyone who isn’t an elite basketball talent like himself. If a coach or statistician brought to his attention that the Celtics are actually 10-19 when he takes 22 or more shots, do you think he would start shooting less? Absolutely not. If he hasn’t realized after 29 times that he’s hurting his team by not getting everyone involved, then he truly doesn’t care. He’ll gladly go out and piss the season away by going 6-for-22 and not allowing anyone else to find a rhythm.
Kyrie is a magician with the basketball, but his game isn’t as well-rounded as some people might have thought. He’s a classic example of a talented player who doesn’t make the guys around him better and a lot of that is due to his stubbornness. He’s unwilling to adjust his game to benefit someone else, which really makes you question if he gives a shit about winning. His 30% from the field in those last three playoff games was a fitting end to this dumpster fire of a season and a nice way to wrap up the debate about who caused the Celtics’ demise. There’s nobody who can convince me that he gave his best effort out there. He quit.
There was never any indication that this guy was capable of leading a good team. The hope was that he could become a leader, but he walked in acting like he already achieved that status without checking his ego at the door. He was insufferable to listen to all year and that “who cares” comment after Game 4 was a slap in the face to any Celtics fan who has tried to defend him. No matter how much you wanted him to act selfless and sound like a true Celtic (Bird, Pierce, Garnett, Isaiah, etc.), he kept doubling down on his egotistical ways that managed to strip this team of its identity in less than a year.
We’ve seen enough. You can go now, Kyrie.