BOSTON – The theory surrounding why Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland is the story that seemingly will never die.
That’s because the true narrative is very much like its author.
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It’s complicated and consists of several layers that at its core will likely never be known to anyone other than Irving.
But one thing we do know about Irving.
He wanted to run his own shop, to be the where the buck stops, to shoulder the blame win or lose.
And that’s why right now may be the most significant period of time in his career.
Irving has been great all season. Part of that has to do with this being a great season for the Celtics (Gordon Hayward’s injury aside, of course), who have been the team most of the East has been chasing for months.
But they have fallen down and no one knows if they can get up and get back to where they were as the East’s best team.
We’ve talked about Marcus Smart’s return and how much that will help.
Jayson Tatum’s dislocated pinky from a month ago will surely benefit by having a week or so without practice or real games to be played.
And the team, by and large, should feel rejuvenated, a similar vibe most teams feel right after the break.
But when it comes to this team getting back on track to climb past Toronto, which is playing great basketball, and do so while fending off a charging Cleveland team and an on-the-come Washington Wizards, the Celtics don’t need Kyrie to be good.
He has to be special.
And yes, it’s a huge amount of pressure on him but if you listen to him talk, it’s clear as day that this is what he wants and expects.
Irving does his best Ubuntu-esque spiel when it comes to talking about the team’s leadership and how he’s just one of many leaders on this team.
While it sounds good, let’s be real.
This is Irving’s team, and they are only going to go as far as he leads them.
Yes, there have been others who have stepped up and done some great things and those players have every reason to feel empowered by their contributions to the team’s success.
But Boston’s chances of having the kind of season they believe they’re capable of – with or without Hayward's return – hinge entirely on how Irving guides this team through the next 23 games.
And the load that Irving will be counted on to carry, teammates recognize he has been literally building himself up to handle this all season.
I asked Al Horford what has impressed him the most about Irving that doesn’t necessarily involve his play.
“The way he takes care of his body, to me is very impressive,” Horford said. “Massage therapy, lifting in the weight room, to make sure he’s at the highest level to play. He’s a younger guy, but he’s very wise. He really takes care of himself. It’s great to see that. He understands he has to take care of his body and that’s something that’s really impressed me, from him.”
Still, any conversation about Irving can’t totally ignore that the 25-year-old, five-time All-Star is a hell of a player, too.
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“His ability to see the game. Just looking at him, and him being able to make reads and understand certain things, those are the things that have impressed me,” Horford said.
And that vision has guided him throughout his career, whether it’s leaving Duke after playing just a handful of games there or showing no hesitation in taking and then making the most iconic shot in Cleveland Cavaliers history to bring home an NBA title.
Irving has shown no fear when it comes to stepping up in big moments.
And with Boston (40-19) in need of a serious surge, not only in terms of better play but also leadership, this is Irving’s time to shine in what should be another page-turner from a guy whose basketball narrative seems to always keeps us on our toes guessing as to what’s coming next.