Celtics

Call to LeBron James proves Kyrie Irving's focus is on winning

Call to LeBron James proves Kyrie Irving's focus is on winning

BOSTON — Kyrie Irving wants to win. Badly.

That’s the big takeaway after his jaw-dropping revelation Wednesday night that, in the aftermath of his pointed comments toward Boston’s younger players after Saturday’s loss in Orlando, Irving phoned former teammate LeBron James for guidance on how to be a better leader to a young team with championship aspirations.


Consider how difficult it must be for a player of Irving’s magnitude to essentially swallow a bit of his pride and make a call in which he had to admit that, not only did he not handle his situation well when he was a younger player, but also acknowledge that he was essentially becoming everything he resented now that roles have been reversed all these years later.

With the benefit of time, Irving now understands why James was so demanding. Irving understands that he was too singularly focused on individual accomplishments and didn’t always recognize the need to sacrifice himself so the team could achieve its championship goals. He understands that, in order for his current team to get to the championship stage the Cavaliers eventually reached, he had to figure out how James got the younger players in Cleveland to embrace what he was preaching.

Irving is admitting fault in hopes his young teammates can learn from his experiences.

In making that call, Irving proved more definitively than ever that winning is all the matters to him now. It shows he understands that part of his legacy will be determined by if he can get the most out of the players alongside him in Boston and deliver them to a championship stage.

“[James] has a legacy he wants to leave, and he has a window he wants to capture,” said Irving. "So I think what that brought me back was like, ‘Alright, how do I get the best out of this group to the success they had last year and then helping them realize what it takes to win a championship?’”

Irving didn’t have to detail his call to James. Back in December, during a road trip to D.C., Irving revealed how he sought advice on growing as a leader but, pressed on who exactly he phoned, he suggested he would never tell reporters.

In revealing his call to James, Irving laid himself bare a bit. All at the cost of winning.

By simply referencing James, Irving left reporters salivating for more details. When about 15 reporters shouted follow-up questions after his revelation, Irving smiled and fired back, “Aww, relax. Relax. Relax. We’re good. Relax, OK? One question at a time because when you bring up Bron, of course it brings extra questions.”

He didn’t want to offer much more specifics about the call but he was willing to admit that, in the firestorm created by his comments Saturday, he recognized that he hadn’t handled things right. But the call reaffirmed what he needed to do to get everyone on the same page.

“It gave me a peace of mind to go about what I’ve gotta go do,” said Irving.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has acknowledged recently how his team hasn’t always handled adversity well this season. These 2018-19 Celtics haven’t always shown an ability to turn a negative into a positive.

But maybe that changed Wednesday night.

The Celtics show remarkable resolve in a showdown with the conference-leading Toronto Raptors, first clawing their way out of an early double-digit deficit then fighting as Toronto tried to pull away late. Irving, of course, was spectacular with 27 points and a career-high 18 assists, unwilling to let this game get away from the Celtics.

Irving’s comments after the game might have been even more important, though. Irving acknowledged that Jaylen Brown was right when, after Monday’s loss in Brooklyn, Brown essentially said the team cannot point fingers at each other.

Irving promised to push the younger players but to do so more frequently behind closed doors. He stressed that his words were never meant to hurt his younger teammates, but instead push them to be as good as they can be.

That’s the sort of leadership that younger players should be able to get behind. In taking culpability, Irving made it OK for the rest of the Celtics to admit they haven’t always handled their situations as well as they could.


Maybe this will help fix any fractures that were created by public criticism. Though, more than likely, winning will do that. What’s obvious is that Irving just wants to win and get the most out of his teammates. He hasn’t always approached that the best way but he’s showing that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to become a better leader.

It’s going to take more than a phone call to fix things. But it’s a step. Like a team meeting, it can be a positive, but it’s only another step in getting everyone on this roster on the same page.

But it might be the biggest step yet and one that might have prevented this team from skidding further off the rails. Irving’s call shows he’s growing as a leader and determined to help this team reach its lofty goals.

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Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

The NBA's Board of Governors reportedly is expected to approve a 22-team return plan during Thursday's meeting, which would pave the way for the 2019-20 season to resume later in the summer.

Under the reported proposal, each of the remaining 22 teams would play eight more regular season games before a 16-team playoff commences. 

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The Boston Celtics currently are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They also are one of three teams in the East that's already clinched a postseason berth. It's not a perfect plan, but it does allow players some regular season games to get ready for the grind of the playoffs. The proposal gives teams on the playoff bubble a chance to earn a postseason berth as well.

Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye joined Wednesday night's "Arbella Early Edition" to discuss the proposed return plan and the challenge players will have in getting ready to restart the season.

"I think it's a good plan," Ojeleye said. "Obviously, the entire pandemic we've been focused on keeping people healthy, and keeping the players and the fans healthy, that's why we shut (the season) down. I think what we're doing now, easing back into workouts with a few people in the gym is a good plan. Hopefully, going forward we keep people healthy as well."

What has Ojeleye been doing to stay in shape?

"I've been blessed to have a little outdoor space," he said. "I got my hands on some indoor equipment -- some bikes and weights. From there, it's really just about not skipping days. There have been a lot of days where I'm like -- I can't hoop, but I knew I could try to get my cardio in and try get my lifts in. That's what I've been focused on, and hopefully it pays off."

There's been a lot of debate over how much time players need to get into game shape. Some people think a month or even a few weeks is too much, but the long layoff hasn't been like a normal offseason where players are able to play pickup games and train however they choose. Many players have had limited access to workout equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic as gyms and team facilities have been closed.

Ojeleye explained why players need plenty of time to prepare their body and mind for the remainder of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs.

'It's going to be tough. Different guys have different access to weights and facilities," Ojeleye said. "And guys are at different stages of their careers. Some guys are coming off injuries, some guys have had nagging injuries during the year and they've taken a break. Everyone is going to need a little bit more time. I'd say, at least a few weeks at minimum for everyone to get back in shape and to get that feel. As a team, we need our chemistry, and that's going to take time as well."

The Celtics, despite making several roster changes before the 2019-20 season, quickly developed a strong chemistry. While there are reasons to be optimistic the C's will find this chemistry again soon, the process doesn't happen overnight, especially when these players have been unable to play basketball with their teammates during this pandemic.

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

When the NBA season was put on pause in March, the timing could not have been much better for the Boston Celtics. 

Wins were getting harder to come by (they had lost three of their last five), the jacuzzi-hot play of Jayson Tatum was starting to cool off some and Kemba Walker was headed towards a stretch of “strategic rest” days off because of knee soreness. 

And just like the rest of the NBA is fired up about the potential return to play reportedly as early as the end of late July, the Celtics are an eager bunch to restart the season as well. 

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And they should be for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, there’s a very real chance that they can move up in the standings if the league adopts the reported return-to-play model which includes eight regular season games before the playoffs. 

Currently third in the East, the Celtics would begin the postseason against Philadelphia if the league went straight into the playoffs — an idea that hasn’t garnered a ton of support from owners or players. 

An eight-game slate of games would provide Boston with enough opportunities to potentially move ahead of Toronto and secure the No. 2 seed in the East. 

The way the standings look now, the potential for movement is great for many teams. 

Boston (43-21) trails the Raptors (46-18) by three games in the standings. Behind the Celtics you find the Heat (41-24) who are 2.5 games back.

The next closest teams to Boston beyond those two are Indiana and Philadelphia (both 39-26) who each trail Boston by 4.5 games. 

For the Celtics’ sake, moving up from their current draft position and avoiding a first-round matchup with Philadelphia would be the preferred path to take this postseason. 

The Sixers, one of the bigger disappointments this season, will feature a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making them a much tougher foe come playoff time. 

For the Celtics, the alternative if they move up would be a Brooklyn Nets team that’s expected to play this postseason without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant who have both been out recovering from injuries. 

There’s also a chance that Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round if the C's remain as the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed which, similar to facing Philadelphia, would provide a tough first-round matchup. 

The reboot to the season also allows more time for the Celtics to adjust to what’s shaping up to be a new pecking order. 

While Walker is the team’s most proven, most decorated talent, there’s no escaping the inevitable rise of Tatum as the face of the franchise (if he’s not already there). 

As the season wore on, his ascension was undeniable. Tatum began the season as a player the Celtics were hoping to see blossom into a big-time talent with the departures of Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia).

Following his first All-Star appearance in February, Tatum averaged 29.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s. His ability to pick up where he left off would go far in Boston’s quest to build off the successes they had this past season. 

As for Walker, he had missed some games and played limited minutes in others shortly before the season was paused thanks to knee soreness.

The extended downtime without games or practice should allow Walker to return to action revived and refreshed.

And him being healthy combined with Tatum’s improved play gives the Celtics a potent 1-2 punch as they inch closer to rebooting the system and in doing so, restarting their journey towards what they believe will be a deep postseason run.