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.
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.
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.
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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