After days of trade speculation that swirled around Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics like a polar vortex, the six-time All-Star -- who missed the last two games with a left hip injury -- didn't exactly ice the rumor mill when meeting the media this morning prior to tonight's C's-Knicks game.
His return to Boston with a multi-year, max contract this summer seemed a given after he proclaimed in the preseason that he wanted to return to the Celtics.
However, when asked by reporters at the team's shootaround if he has changed his mind, Irving replied, “Ask me July 1.”
That is when the Celtics’ star becomes an unrestricted free agent and will be among the most sought-after players in the league, as part of a free agent class that includes Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson.
He also said: "At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s best for my career."
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“I spent the last eight years," he said, "trying to do what everyone else wanted me to do -- managers, other personnel -- and I don't owe anybody shit.
"I still have confidence in Boston and what they can promise for the future and what we have in terms of pieces. That’s what excited me at the beginning of the season."
While Irving’s return now seems, at a minimum, far from a given, he indicated on Friday that his focus remains on helping the Celtics continue to grow in what has been a season that began with NBA Finals aspirations and despite a rocky start, remains the team’s goal.
But all the talk about Irving’s next move doesn’t help.
“People talk about my future all the time,” he said. “To me, it’s unfair to me, because I have a focus to really help this team be successful. When it starts getting out of hand and people start getting attacked personally and ‘he said she said,’ that’s so fifth grade and elementary."
Irving added: “It’s my decision at the end of the day. Who cares who said what’s best for him, like, it doesn’t matter. It’s unwarranted commentary, and of course it’s going to continue throughout the season. I’m aware of that. I’m a professional, I’m not going to disrespect anybody but like I said, it really comes down to what’s best for me and my family.”
Irving having a more open mind about his impending free agency is a surprise to some, but at the same time predictable considering recent developments.
First came the news earlier this week that Anthony Davis wanted out of New Orleans. Davis is a player the Celtics have coveted for some time but can’t acquire via trade until July 1 because of both he and Irving are signed to contracts that reward high-achieving, young players - better known as the Rose Rule - and teams are not allowed to have two players on their roster signed by the Rose Deal at the same time.
If that wasn’t enough, then came the New York Knicks trading away Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas which will free up enough salary cap space for New York to sign a pair of salary maxed players.
The Knicks have made no secret about wanting Irving this summer, and potentially pair him with another superstar (Kevin Durant? Kawhi Leonard?) and now have the salary cap space to do so.
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