There is a danger in lingering on the past too long. It’s quite clear from this summer that both the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving have both moved on following their broken-off engagement. Still, the question lingers:
How did it all fall apart so quickly?
On Oct. 4, Irving surprisingly announced that he intended to re-sign with the Celtics at an open practice in front of season ticket holders. It was a staggering proclamation for a player nine months shy of free agency. And, yet, by December, Irving had started to at least ponder other options.
Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie suggested recently that Irving had started inquiring about his experience with the Nets in December. In that interview with The Athletic, Dinwiddie said that initial contact came before Dinwiddie inked his contract extension with the Nets, which happened on on Dec. 13.
Which means that no more than 70 days passed between Irving’s announcement in front of Celtics fans and his curiosity jumping up with the Nets.
No matter how much of a train wreck the 2018-19 season was, it’s still wild that everything changed — or at least started to — in a two-month span. While frustrations were evident early on, it left us wondering if we should have noticed the cracks sooner. Yes, by March, plenty of people around the NBA had started wondering out loud if Irving and Kevin Durant were plotting to pair up in New York. But what exactly happened late in calendar year 2018 that greased those skids?
We dug back into our notebook to see what jumped out about Irving’s comments between his October declaration and early December. It was a rather fascinating exercise. What we found was a player obviously irked by Boston’s inability to play to expectations but also someone who had a front-row seat on the emotional roller coaster that players rode most of the season.
OCTOBER 5: THE AFTERGLOW
Irving had already met with reporters before his declaration to re-sign so his first comments on the matter didn’t come until a day later at Boston’s preseason practice at the Auerbach Center. He reaffirmed his desire to re-sign and then, in a bit of irony, got careful with the words he used.
"I just have every intention of signing back,” said Irving. "Me and Danny [Ainge] and management have not talked about any numbers, so please do not ask me about it. That goes for anybody, we don’t want any tampering or anything like that. July 1, whatever that day is, we’ll talk about contracts and stuff like that. I have every intention of signing back with Boston.”
Irving gushed about how happy he was in Boston — a departure from what was reported by his exit — and the potential to one day put his No. 11 in the Garden rafters (more on that later). He even noted that the Celtics’ young core, “played a huge factor,” in his decision to stay.
"Honestly, thinking about starting over was just a s——y thought, honestly,” said Irving. "Man, I do not want to move again — I do not want to uproot my family. Just be dealing with anything new again. No disrespect to other organizations, but here is perfect for me.”
While many believed, even at the time, that Irving’s declaration was done in large part to minimize the questions about his future, it was notable that also noted how he huddled a core group of teammates at his home the day before his announcement to alert them to his intentions. Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston at the time, "We were together. He was like, ‘I wanted to throw it out there, here’s what’s going to happen.’ … It was a very nice surprise.” Diversionary tactic or not, Irving seemed all in on a future in Boston.
OCTOBER 11: ALL SMILES AT GALA
The Celtics huddled for their annual glitzy Shamrock Foundation Gala and there was still a buzz about both Irving’s declaration and the season ahead. Irving was spared media chores that night and spent his time lounging on a couch before the ceremony looking particularly content.
Across the room, Celtics lead owner Wyc Grousbeck addressed reporters while twisting his 2008 championship ring.
"I feel like I've been getting to know Kyrie for a year. Everything I learn about him and every connection that I make is authentic. He's genuine, he's a true Celtic, basically, and a great person,” said Grousbeck. "I’m really honored that he'll plan on considering us next summer and I couldn't be happier with how the relationship stands and the fact that he's leading our team into this exciting season.”
OCTOBER 14: A WORRISOME PRESEASON
Celtics coach Brad Stevens had expressed concern about his team’s play in the infancy of the exhibition season and, two days before the start of the regular season, Irving seemed leery as well.
"I think the emphasis on how great we are on paper and how great we possibly can look, we’re giving ourselves a little bit too much credit now,” said Irving. "Now we have to actually go out and play and show it. And that’s what I’m looking forward to. So talking to the guys about being a great team as of yet -- we’re not there. We still have a long way to go. We have the talent. But now we just have to kind of bridge that gap of just finding out the knowledge of the game. And having fun with it. And being understanding of the challenges that we’ll face going through stuff like that."
OCTOBER 16: OPENING STATEMENT
Irving didn’t have a particularly crisp opening night — he finished with 7 points on 2-of-14 shooting with 7 assists — but Boston produced a quality win over the rival Sixers.
"I just had a big smile when they announced my name again [in pregame introductions], and having Gordon [Hayward] out there, playing with Al and [Jaylen Brown] and [Jayson Tatum] again,” said Irving. "And just really getting a sense of playing for the Boston Celtics again. I had missed it so much. It was just like, [exhales], finally I got this game out of the way. I’m just so grateful that I was out there with my teammates and coaching staff.”
OCTOBER 20: A VISIT TO NEW YORK
Game No. 3 took Irving to Madison Square Garden where he had another rocky shooting night (5 of 16) but Boston rebounded from a loss in Toronto with a win over the Knicks. After the game, he was peppered with questions about if he had given the Knicks consideration before his declaration to re-sign with Boston.
"New York held a special place for me, just being from Jersey, and obviously envisioning myself as a free agent and ultimately taking a meeting and playing for [coach David Fizdale] and the great young core they had here, and thinking about playing with [Kristaps Porzingis], that was a big thing before I made my decision to sign back -- to plan on re-signing back, I don’t want to get in trouble, plan on re-signing back with Boston. But, yeah, of course. New York was a strong consideration.”
Maybe Irving qualifying his announcement should have seemed suspicious but he soon raved again about what Boston could offer.
"If you were in my position, I think it would be an easy decision for you as well,” said Irving. "Thinking about who we have and the future and what we’re set up for. For me, it was, where I am in age, and how I envision my career going, kinda the lineage of guys that have come before me in the Boston Celtics, it’s something that I wanted to be a part of. Obviously, my dad and my mom met in Boston, so I had a lot of history there as well. Obviously, being from Jersey, had history there, but, Boston, there’s nothing like it."
OCTOBER 23: A SIT DOWN WITH COOZ
The night after a bad loss at home to the Magic, the Celtics got a visit from legend Bob Cousy. With two of the most creative ballhandlers in league history under the same roof, the Celtics asked the two to sit down for an interview with each other that set in motion the “Passing the Torch” special.
“The generation now, I feel like even myself, I’ve become at times more stat-oriented and worried about self,” Irving told Cousy. “And you lose your sense of what a team looks like. And coming to the Boston Celtics, that was the overall energy and attitude that I got here, that you are a great player and you're capable of doing these things, just imagine if you’re a great player on a great team as well.”
At the end of their chat, Cousy told Irving, "You gotta bring a [championship] home for me.”
NOVEMBER 11: FRUSTRATIONS MOUNT OUT WEST
A four-game winning streak, culminating with a win at home over the Milwaukee Bucks, helped restore Boston’s confidence a bit. A five-game road trip tore it back down. The Celtics lost a heartbreaker in Indiana (in part because of an Irving defensive miscue in the closing seconds) and, two nights later, Irving would launch the game ball into the crowd while upset Jamal Murray was stat-chasing at the end of a Nuggets win.
The Celtics needed double overtime to win in Phoenix then fell in Utah and Portland to wrap up the trip. Irving vented a bit after the loss in Portland.
"I think it just comes with just some experience,” said Irving. "Looking at this locker room, me being in my eighth year and being a “veteran,” as well as Al and [Aron] Baynes. Right now I think it would be nice if we had someone that was a 15-year vet, a 14-year vet that could kind of help us race along the regular season and understand it’s a long marathon rather than just a full-on sprint, when you want to play, when you want to do what you want to do. It’s all about attitude and effort. That’s all it is.”
Added Irving: "Experience. We needed this. We’re not as good as we think we are. I said it at the beginning of the season. The excitement is done. It’s real basketball now, so it’s not just about the potential of the team or where we’ll be at the end of the season. It’s right now and taking care of what presently is in front of us. We have challenges. We have barriers to get over as a team and individually. I’m going to be the most patient out of everyone. I’m not going to get too frazzled, too high or too low or stuff like that. It’s a long season . I just understand that for us to be special we just have to get through some challenges."
NOVEMBER 16: AN EXTRA DOSE OF KYRIE
The Celtics steadied themselves a bit at home with consecutive wins, including another solid triumph against an East rival in Toronto. Irving had one of his louder games of the season, scoring 43 points on 18-of-26 shooting while adding 11 assists over 38 minutes.
After the game, Irving, likely pleased with the uptick in playing time, praised Stevens while suggesting a long-term future ahead.
“Our relationship is growing every single day so I think that he’s such an intelligent basketball mind, so I give him his space and then, as well as who I am as a player and what I can do out there to create and generate offense and defense, he gives me my space as well,” said Irving. "So I just think there’s just a mutual respect there. So if he sees something I’m going with it. And if I see something he’s going with it as well as the rest of the team. So it’s just been an ongoing, growing relationship which I’m appreciative of for the next years to come.”
NOVEMBER 17: THE “YOUNG GUYS” PROBLEM
The good vibes from the Toronto win were washed away with a 12-point loss to visiting Utah the very next night. Irving suggested after the game that he knew it was going to be a rough game when Tatum didn’t attack like he was supposed to on the first possession.
And then came one of the earliest references to the “young guys” and how they were holding the team back.
"I think guys have gotten better. I think that guys want to take advantage of their talent. With that being said, I think last year, the young guys that are in the locker room now, some of the guys that are playing, they were a little bit younger,” said Irving. "They weren’t expected to do as much and I think that the amount of pressure that we put on them to perform every single night is something that they have to get used to, like being part of a great team like this. If you’re not playing to the standard then, as a team, we just don’t all click. I think once we get that, and we find that consistency, we’ll be good."
NOVEMBER 21: GETTING ANTSY
A three-game losing streak culminated with a loss to the lowly Knicks with Trey Burke becoming the latest role player to scorch the Celtics. With the team falling to 9-9 overall, Irving again vented about aspects of Boston’s performance.
"We just can’t wait anymore, honestly,” said Irving. "From myself, everybody else as a collective, to our coaching staff, we just don’t have time to really be waiting to kind of see if guys are going to give that extra effort. Including myself, it’s just an accountability standpoint that we all have to have.”
Later Irving added: "It’s just a storm that we’re weathering right now. It comes when we’re all on the same page. Right now, in this game of basketball, it’s so fragile. You can be one of those teams that there can be something so subtle as a change and you can go on a streak, or you can continue to be in a funk for a while, it could be the subtle changes that you need to make or things that you need to do, things you need to focus on a lot more. It takes time. I hate to keep saying it takes time but this game, it’s just so fragile, you gotta do little things, you have to earn your wins in this league. In order to be considered a special team, you have to earn it, and no one is going to give it to us, no one is going to -- the expectations everyone has on us means s--- at this point, excuse my language, but it doesn’t mean anything. Until we figure that out, we’ll be struggling. But I’m going to continue to push this team, I’m going to continue to lead the best I know how, as well as with Coach Stevens.”
Irving capped the night by declaring, “F— Thanksgiving,” when wished a happy holiday after his media session.
NOVEMBER 22: JERSEY IN THE RAFTERS
Irving’s Nike commercial featuring his father and a declaration that he wants to be the last person to wear 11 in Boston debuted and remained in heavy rotation through the early portion of the season. The script, which Irving wrote, and filming took place earlier in the year but again showed how invested Irving was before the season.
DECEMBER 6: THEY’RE HAVING FUN AGAIN!
The Celtics ripped off a season-long eight-game winning streak, which included a big night in Minnesota for Gordon Hayward, and an overtime thriller in DC with Irving playing the hero. Midway through the streak, after a win over the Knicks in Boston, Irving admitted the start of the season had left the team in a sour mood.
“I think the important thing to take away from our shoulders early on was just how much of the fun we weren’t having. It just wasn’t fun,” said Irving. "It just wasn’t good basketball, we weren’t cheering for one another and we weren’t doing the little things. I know certain guys would probably be fearful to talk about it, but it goes on in every NBA locker room where guys have egos, or guys have a way of they think that their best way of winning, and you have the coaches, they have their best way, you have the GM, the president, everybody feels like they have an ego in this, and all in all, we just want the best for one another.
"I think at this point, we’re just playing with a sense of effort where now it’s not so much about who’s playing, who has more talent. Now it’s like, OK, who is going to give that effort every single time down, and who’s going to demand it from one another and hold each other accountable. And you go from there, you start building some great championship patterns."
Irving also cryptically noted how he, “still remember(s) certain players on other teams asking us what was going on with us when we were 10-10.” It certainly makes you wonder if a wandering eye had started amid those struggles.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.