Celtics

Kyrie Irving's unpredictable future with Celtics makes for fascinating theatre

Kyrie Irving's unpredictable future with Celtics makes for fascinating theatre

Unpredictability. It’s what makes Kyrie Irving so unique on the basketball court. An opposing defender can never be certain what Irving is going to do next and he keeps everyone guessing by dipping into a seemingly endless rolodex of basketball moves.

Unpredictability. It’s what makes Irving so unique off the court. He loves to challenge conventional beliefs, everything from the Earth’s geometry to the type of foods we consume. The all-seeing eye that has become a staple of Irving’s brand is a constant reminder of how he questions everything.

When we expect Kyrie to zig, he zags. It’s part of what makes Irving so fascinating. And maybe frustrating as well.

Celtics fans, on edge after a week of reports speculating about Irving’s future and the possibility that he’s cooled on his preseason declaration to re-sign with Boston after the season, were hoping Irving would strut into Madison Square Garden on Friday morning, reaffirm his love for the organization, and calm the masses with a declaration of dedication.

It didn’t happen. 

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Irving bristled at the rumors swirling around him but didn’t exactly shoot them down. Asked if he still planned to re-sign with Boston, Irving said to “ask me July 1,” and later declared, “At the end of the day, I'm going to do what's best for my career, and that's just where it stands.”

Irving asserted that, “Boston is still at the head of the race,” but, in doing so, essentially admitted that there’s still a competition for his services. If Irving wanted to end all the “unwarranted commentary” about his future, he could have squashed it on Friday.

But when everyone expects Kyrie to zig, he zags.

What’s obvious from Irving’s five-minute session with reporters was that he does not much like others suggesting what he’s thinking. The reports about his future and who he’d like to play for or with have added unnecessary tension to a season that hasn’t gone to script.

Part of what makes covering Irving so fascinating is that, for all his accomplishments, he’s still a 26-year-old trying to figure everything out. He offers genuine emotions in the moment and that sometimes gets him in trouble. Irving so clearly yearns to be a good leader and yet he’s still figuring out how to thrive in that role. It’s a fascinating dichotomy: Basketball comes so easy to him and yet it’s been a challenge to get these Celtics to reach their potential as a team this season, and it all plays into what’s ahead for him.

Irving’s own missteps, while simply the product of those emotions, have complicated matters and maybe contributed to the speculation about his future. Still, it’s noise from the outside that has added noise this week and now we wait to see if his raw reaction Friday pours gasoline on the matter.

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It should be reaffirmed: Nothing that Irving said before this week suggested a player who had changed his outlook on the future. The possibility of a change of heart has always existed but only became a storyline when someone other than Irving suggested he might be having a change of heart.

It’s important to remember that Irving’s preseason declaration was made out of a combination of 1) Excitement about the prospects of the year ahead and 2) To limit the amount of questions about his future so that it wouldn’t hover like a cloud over Boston’s season. Heck, that Irving even made public his declaration stunned many in the Celtics organization, but they also recognized that a verbal commitment wasn’t exactly binding. It just ensured sunny skies early in the year.

A new cloud hovers now, joining the cumulus that gathered while the Celtics endured more turbulence than expected in the first few months. It’s somewhat ironic that the cloud about Irving’s future arrives just as the Celtics seemingly start to play some of their most consistent basketball of the season.

Maybe that’s contributing to Irving’s frustrations. These reports have put him in an uncomfortable spot just as the Celtics seem poised to gain some momentum. Irving chastised reporters Friday when he said, “It’s crazy how stories and storylines can seep into a locker room. [The media is] part of the destruction of locker rooms.” Later he added, “This is an entertainment industry. I don’t live for this entertainment.”

Part of what endeared Boston to Irving was that the focus was often on basketball and not the drama that he loathed during his time in Cleveland. Is he handling this current situation the right way by pushing back on Friday? Again, Irving is simply saying how he feels and offering genuine emotion. Maybe it’d be easier to just reaffirm his dedication to Boston but that wouldn’t be true to himself.

Irving has already learned this season that he needs to be careful with his words. His heart is usually in the right place but his public criticism of younger players caused unnecessary tension before his own future came into the spotlight.

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The wildcard here is what Irving is saying behind the scenes. In much the same way that he revealed his desires to re-sign in Boston to team brass a few days before his public declaration, there is always the chance that Irving has communicated what he’s feeling and where he stands to both the Celtics’ front office and his teammates. If they know where he’s at, then the noise is less likely to permeate the walls.

Through it all, we’re left to speculate from the outside. And, in the rush to suggest that Irving might have one foot out the door, let’s remember that he so often does the exact opposite of what you are expecting.

One thing is certain: This is fascinating theatre. It’s Super Bowl week and the NBA is dominating the sports landscape, much of the focus on topics that might not have resolutions until five months out. As the Celtics navigate the peaks and valleys, so does their star, who's learning just how difficult it can be in the spotlight. 

This won’t be the final twists and turns in the Irving saga. How the Celtics finish out the 2018-19 season could play a big role in what exactly he decides about his future. If Boston makes a sustained postseason run, Irving is more likely to stay. If the Celtics hook another big fish at the start of the offseason, Irving has increased motivation to stick around.

For now, it’s probably best to just enjoy the show. Whether Irving has 30 games left in a Boston jersey or if his No. 11 eventually ends up in the rafters at TD Garden like he’s publicly yearned for, just enjoy the ride. 

Because it’s too hard trying to guess how it’ll all play out. Irving is much too unpredictable.

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Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Celtics point guard Kemba Walker admits that, in order for his new team to maximize its potential, he needs to alter his offensive approach. Fresh off inking his max contract, the eight-year veteran said he’s on board with deferring to the new talent that now surrounds him.

“[My role] does [need to change], and I’m looking forward to it,” Walker said on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "It’s something new. It’s not as big of a burden, I feel like, on my back. It’s like, I had to be perfect every night in Charlotte. Had to be. I had to have a great game, offensively, if not, it will be a struggle for us to win. Like I said, with the personnel, we have on this team and the way these guys can score, it’ll be different.”

The Celtics landed Walker on a four-year, $141 million deal. With the Hornets, Walker was forced to shoulder much of the scoring burden and sometimes even big outputs weren’t enough to will Charlotte to wins (Walker had seven games of 40-plus points last season and Charlotte lost six of them, the only win coming against Boston).

Walker ranked ninth in the NBA in usage rate last season at 30.8 percent. That was one spot ahead of ball-dominant Russell Westbrook and two spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard. Which is to say that Walker is used to finishing possessions but seems on board with giving it up more. Kyrie Irving ranked 17th in the NBA in usage at 28.6 last year.

Walker cited young players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as reasons he wanted to come to Boston and he’s eager to use his talents to get them scoring opportunities. A healthier Gordon Hayward is going to demand more possessions as well and the team can lean on his ball-handling skills, especially when Walker isn’t on the court.

Walker said he’s excited about the potential. 

"I think there will be a lot of space. I’m a willing passer as well. I’m very unselfish,” said Walker. "I love to score, don’t get it twisted. Whenever I have an opportunity to score, I’m going to score. But, when I draw defenders and see open guys, I’m going to get rid of that thing. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to kinda changing my game as well, just giving the ball up a lot more.”

Coming off a season in which Irving’s missteps as a leader contributed to friction with younger players, Walker’s arrival begs the question of whether he can maximize their talents. While he’s expressed a desire to help those players grow — while also suggesting that he yearns to learn from them and their playoff experiences -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge remains staunch that Walker simply needs to be the best version of himself.

"I don't really look for other people to draw out anything from anybody,” said Ainge. "I expect him to be at his best, that's all. Work hard and be who he is. He doesn't have to try to draw anything out from any of the other guys...It's not anybody's responsibility to draw the best out in every other player.”

Added Ainge: "I see Kemba as a good fit with anybody. He's a really good player. He's smart and is experienced and wants to win. He's accomplished a lot of things individually and he just really hasn't been able to accomplish the team goals since winning the national championship in college. But I think that's what he is hoping for. He's at the stage of his life where that's all that matters.”

Walker landed on the All-NBA third team this past season. He averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game but has shot just 41.8 percent from the floor from his career and 35.7 percent beyond the arc. The Celtics are hoping that with more skill around him, Walker can ratchet up his overall efficiency. He averaged 5.9 assists per game last season and that number could spike if Tatum, Brown, and Hayward elevate their offensive output this season.

It is, of course, easier to say you want to morph your game in July than it is to actually do it on the court in October. But Walker has repeatedly stressed a desire to win after limited playoff exposure in Charlotte. Given some of the losses on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the frontcourt, it’s imperative that the Celtics play with high efficiency on the offensive end. Walker’s ability to maximize opportunities for himself and his teammates could be key in Boston’s success in the 2019-20 season.

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NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

It's been a tumultuous offseason for Marcus Morris.

The former Celtics forward stirred up some controversy when he backed out of his agreement with the Spurs to sign with the Knicks in free agency. San Antonio offered Morris a two-year, $20 million deal, but he ultimately chose New York's one-year, $15 million offer instead.

That decision led to Morris parting ways with his agent, Rich Paul, and the Spurs reportedly being "pissed" about the 29-year-old's change of heart.

Apparently, San Antonio's offer wasn't the only one Morris turned down. According to Frank Isola of The Athletic, he also declined a three-year, $41 million offer from the Clippers at the start of free agency.

Isola writes:

Morris, however, lost out on a much more lucrative contract with the LA Clippers, who were prepared to pay him $41 million over three seasons. A Clippers source said the three-year deal included a provision for Morris to receive 50 percent of his salary on Oct. 1.

Morris was hoping to earn $40 million over two years but the Clippers couldn’t offer that deal if they wanted to sign Kawhi Leonard to a max contract. Once Morris took that stance, the Clippers moved on and acquired Portland’s Maurice Harkless in a four-team trade that included Jimmy Butler signing with the Miami Heat. Harkless will earn $11 million next season, or $2 million less than what Morris would have made with the Clippers.

The Clippers certainly aren't losing sleep over Morris declining their offer. They went on to sign superstar Kawhi Leonard and trade for another star in Paul George.

As for Morris, he might regret overestimating his market value early in the offseason. Fortunately for him, he'll get another shot at it next July with a new agent.