BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart adamantly refuted the suggestion that Kyrie Irving’s leadership struggles were a primary culprit in the team’s inability to reach expectations this season.
Speaking the day after Boston’s season ended with a five-game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in an Eastern Conference semifinal series, Smart bristled when asked about those that have suggested Irving’s leadership killed Boston's locker room.
“Bulls---. That’s bulls---,” said Smart. "Not one of us on this team knows what Kyrie’s been through. Probably a few amount of people in this world knows what Kyrie goes through. It was hard for him as well.
"He was forced into a situation where it was business over the friendships, where he had to come into a situation knowing that this is a group of guys that had something going before I come here. 'How will I fit in?' He didn’t want to disrupt that. And that says a lot. This is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about. And he’s talking about coming in and disrupting us.”
The Celtics surged to the cusp of the NBA Finals a year ago while both Irving and Gordon Hayward were lost to season-ending injuries. Boston entered the 2018-19 season with grand expectations in pairing those two with the young core that got a taste of playoff success, but the combination never worked.
Smart still applauded the way Irving tried to integrate himself without disrupting what this team had built before he arrived.
"We took him in with full arms and we tried to understand it,” said Smart. "Like I said, we never really understood. We’re not in his shoes. So that’s just a bulls--- statement to say his leadership killed us. There’s four other guys out there, there’s 12, 13 other guys on the team, coaches and everything. So to blame it on one guy is bulls---.”
Irving is expected to opt out of the final year of his deal this summer. While he expressed a desire to return to Boston before the start of the 2018-19 season, he later hedged and told reporters to ask him July 1 about his future.
Smart said he hasn’t talked to Irving about his future and supports whatever decision he makes.
"I think if he wants to talk about it, he will. That’s his decision,” said Smart. "It’s not for me to ask. That’s not really my business. I love Kyrie as a brother. I talk to Kyrie. I wish nothing for the best. If he decides to stay, if he decides to go, I wish nothing but the best for Kyrie. That’s my brother but I have not talked to him about it and I don’t plan to. That’s his decision.”
Smart repeatedly said he wishes this Celtics group could get a do-over and believes things would have played out differently. When a reporter asked about bringing back a similar core, Smart sounded open to the idea.
"Of course. Anybody would be a fool not to say yeah,” said Smart. "That’d be like the Warriors saying they don’t want their team. We definitely wish we could start over right now from the beginning and do things differently, but I definitely want another crack at it. If that’s in the plan for us then it will. But at this point you just control what you can control.”
The Celtics could experience another overhaul depending on the summer plays out and Smart said he’ll try to ignore the noise and focus on his own development.
"I can’t really focus on the changes that are going to come, if any come,” said Smart. "I can just focus on what’s put in front of me and do the best that I can do being the longest-tenured Celtic and being the player and person I am to try to help this team make a run at it. That’s all I can do. That’s all I can control.
"For me, this summer is really just honing my game even more. This is probably, by far, the best year I’ve had in my five years, especially on the offensive end. Each year I plan on getting better on both ends of the court. I’m one of the best two-way players to do it. I’m constantly working. It’s going to take time, it’s not going to be easy, but if I want to do it, it’s just going to happen. So for me just honing my game on every skill and just trying to reach up and increase on that ladder for my talent.”
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