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Celtics GM Ainge on Kyrie Irving: ‘He can be the best player in the world’

Boston Celtics Media Day

CANTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 24: Kyrie Irving #11 answers questions during a press conference on Boston Celtics Media Day on September 24, 2018 in Canton, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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Kyrie Irving has committed to staying with Boston next summer when he can — and will — opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Right now, it’s like all of Boston is singing kumbaya: Irving loves Boston, the Celtics fans love Irving, Brad Stevens is praising Irving and he is returning the praise to his coach, Irving loves his teammates and his teammates love him.

But nobody had praise — and raised expectations — like Celtics president/GM Danny Ainge. Check out his comments to Joe Varden of The Athletic.

“I see a more mature Kyrie than even just last year. I think he feels more comfortable with everything in his life and the organization and where he is as a player...

“I think he’s anxious to be a leader, not anxious to just lead the team in scoring or be the most efficient player on our team, but I think he really wants to hold the guys to a high standard...

“I don’t know to what extent, but it has accelerated our timeline to the point where Kyrie is one of those players that can be the best player in the gym on any given day against any given team,” Ainge said. “He can be the best player in the world. He can add a lot of juice to your team and his teammates a lot of confidence.”

That’s setting the bar high for Irving, but setting the bar high is what this Celtics’ season is about. (For Irving, getting near that bar starts with him staying healthy for a full season.)

Expectations in Boston are Finals or bust — this team made the Eastern Conference Finals last season without Irving or Gordon Hayward, both out injured. Their young core players, particularly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, stepped up, Al Horford reminded everyone he is good at everything, and Boston kept surprising teams. Until they ran into LeBron James. However, he’s gone, Boston’s healthy, and they are the team to beat.