Under Stevens, Kyrie's game ready for growth spurt

Under Stevens, Kyrie's game ready for growth spurt

BOSTON – One of the things you quickly discover if you’re around Kyrie Irving long enough, it’s that he’s really perceptive.
It isn’t so much what he observes in a particular moment, but the knowledge he banks away based on what he sees and how that knowledge makes its way to the surface when he deems it necessary.


When the Celtics went all-in to trade for Irving, there were lots of questions and concerns about whether it was a good idea.
Even before sitting down with the Celtics’ brass, Irving saw himself and the Celtics both wanting the same thing out of this budding basketball marriage – growth.
For him, that growth comes in the form of stability, the kind of coaching stability he has never had since coming into the NBA.
Knowing Brad Stevens was a heck of a coach, one who brought out the best in those he has worked with, was appealing to Irving.
And knowing that Stevens wasn’t going anywhere, Irving didn’t have to come to Boston and buy into Stevens’ system or anything like that.
Irving was already all-in before he arrived. It's one of the key reasons the Celtics (7-2) are off to such a fast start despite Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury that’s expected to keep him sidelined all season.
When asked about why he left Cleveland, Irving often mentions a desire to grow both as a player and as a person.
That often gets him the McKayla Maroney side-eyed smirk from fans who look at him and are like, ‘Dude, you’re a four-time all-star whose only 25 years old! How much more growth do you need?’

The first nine games speak to that growth Irving has been seeking, not just since he became a Celtic, but since he came into the NBA.
Before LeBron James arrived in Cleveland, Irving was trying to find his way like most young, ridiculously gifted players. Once James arrived, Irving had to modify his play to be more of a complement to James, rather than a headliner, which is what No. 1 overall picks such as himself and James, are accustomed to being for their team.
Well, he has the spotlight in Boston and so far has shown that he’s more than just an elite scorer with crazy ball-handling skills.
He has become the de facto closer for the Celtics, a role many envisioned him playing when he arrived in Boston.
More than that, he has also become a defensive asset that nobody saw coming.
Irving has been among the league’s leaders in steals and deflections, with a defensive rating among the best in the league among guards.
He has become a more complete, all-around superstar who, if he continues the pace he’s on now, will soon be mentioned as a league MVP candidate.
And his talent has a lot to do with that.
So does the trust he has developed in Brad Stevens.
Stevens presented Irving with something no other coach he has ever had in the league could – stability.
Aside from San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, there isn’t another coach in the NBA who has the kind of job stability that Stevens does.
For all the X’s and O’s that Stevens draws up, the fact that he’s not going anywhere anytime soon is huge for Irving who had four different coaches in a six-year period in Cleveland.
With so many new forms of leadership, Irving was constantly being tasked with adjusting to a new system and a new role, without there necessarily being a growth component attached to it.
That’s not the case in Boston.
He came to town as a high-impact scorer.
Irving still gets buckets, obviously.
But we have seen aspects of his game that most didn’t know existed because, again, he had a role in Cleveland that was more about using his talents to help the franchise win rather than his overall development as a player.
In Boston, Irving is getting the best of both worlds with Stevens as his coach.
Although Stevens has only been in Boston for four-plus seasons, there’s a clear pattern of players getting better in their time under his watch.
Evan Turner, Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk are just a few of the players whose fortunes improved dramatically from the time they arrived in Boston until the time they left.
Irving hopes to be the latest success story, one that Celtics fans are hoping will have a happy ending with Irving helping lead Boston to bringing home Banner 18.
A big part of that journey will be the ever-growing bond built on trust that has developed between Irving and Stevens.

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

1:32 - Marcus Smart is back! Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta discuss the 4-year, $52 million deal the guard signed with the Celtics on Thursday and debate whether or not he’s worth the money.

7:36 - According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, the issues between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady haven’t been resolved, but then we have Danny Amendola on Barstool’s “Comeback Szn Podcast” disputing this. Phil Perry, Tom Giles and Michael Holley try to make some sense of it all.

12:49 - After J.D. Martinez said that this Red Sox team is like a family, it has Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta wondering if the club has an identity and what that might be.