Why the Celtics Are Better Off Without Kyrie Irving

May 09, 2019 - 12:51 pm
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(WEEI) Twelve championship titles since 2001, and you can add another five from our championship college hockey friends at BC and BU within that same period of time. Not to mention 17 conference or league championships at the professional level to boot.

Yes, over the last two decades we have truly learned what a champion looks like, and as a sports fan, it's been a true privilege to experience. Far beyond anything I could have hoped for during the dark years of the 1990s, when I wondered if I'd ever see another championship in this town again. Then came the turn of the century. Privileged indeed.

That privilege works both ways however.

Fans and followers of sports in Boston are indeed privileged, but the players who get the opportunity to play in this town, particularly now after all this unprecedented success are privileged as well. Just listen to guys like Rodney Harrison, who spoke recently on-air about his playing days in New England and his upcoming induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame. He played elsewhere first, then came here and won, won again and nearly won another time. Guys like Harrison who have that kind of perspective fully comprehend the difference between playing in Boston versus the experience in less intense markets. They cherish the opportunities they had, playing in front of sellout crowds where the enthusiasm never waned, not even after 12 championships, duck boats and perennial contention basically in all four sports.

In the case of Kyrie Irving, however, that theme doesn't seem to resonate, does it?

After a series of third-quarter collapses over the last week or so, the tent finally folded for good on the frustrating 2018-2019 Celtics season, and I just can't get over the long, sad, bitter and malcontented face of the Celtics' "leader" in Irving. Their failures do not fall fully on Irving, that's just unfair, but it's clear that he just doesn't want to be here.

And after analyzing all the factors to be considered, I confidently say: Good riddance.

I can hear Glenn Ordway now, saying that the Celtics' only chance is to build around Irving. That the only way to do it is to get Anthony Davis and you cannot get him unless you have Irving in place. Given the way the NBA works and the need to over-acquire and bundle superstar talent, it does makes sense. But that doesn't make it right or enjoyable.

Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has been building this thing up since moving on from the new Big Three era in 2013. All due respect to Kris Humphries, but the first year was expectedly ugly. Since then, incremental baby steps were made. Drafting Marcus Smart, adding Jae Crowder, trading for Isaiah Thomas, signing Al Horford, drafting Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, then trading Thomas for Kyrie Irving. Add in the courtship and near miss of acquiring Kevin Durant and eventually pulling in Gordon Hayward, and this Celtics build has been a joyous pleasure ride aimed directly at that 18th championship banner. They came pretty darn close last year, despite injuries to their two marquee players.

Joy to the world! The Celtics have come!

Then, this season happened...

In a league that is so predictably top heavy where the teams with the superstars contend and all the others simply fill out the standings, color me unimpressed with the Irving-led Celtics. Amplifying that are the unmet expectations following the afterglow of the 2018 Celtics postseason. What a ride that was and what an impression it made. That positive impact was so deep and so pleasantly different to what the NBA has conditioned us to expect year after year. The contrast between the two seasons is glaring. Just one year ago, the championship future was well within grasp. Now it feels like they took a giant step back.

The 2017-18 Celtics were so easy to love. The 2018-19 Celtics have been even easier to dislike. It's like riding the T on a hot summer day after flying first class. Not fun, not at all.

We know what a championship team looks like. Moreover, we recognize the subtle differences of each of our championship teams. Given the utter embarrassment of riches we have in this town, what that 2018 Celtics team had was exactly what a fan base like ours needed to keep igniting that championship fire. They were underdogs, over-achievers and they were still miles away from their primes. The whole story instilled hope for the future while fully satiating our thirst every game, particularly in the playoffs.

Fast forward.

After watching the failure of this season and contrasting it to the pure excitement and enjoyment of last season, I don't want to root for a Celtics team created in a lab with superstar prima donnas like Irving and Davis. Birds of a feather flock together, and the evidence shows me that Irving is an emotional anchor on this team and in that locker room. Let's be honest here, it's not like he's hiding it. The man is miserable and is creating a miserable culture that has clearly infected that team. Show me a moment of adversity this season and I'll show you a Celtics team that quit, which is horribly un-Celtic-like. Even in the best of times this season, smiles weren't exactly common.

No more for me, thanks. I'll wait a little bit for Banner 18 if I have to. I would rather watch a team that I actually want to see win that championship. Give me Brown, Tatum, Smart, Horford and a point guard who can get them the ball where they need it. Heck, maybe the rea Hayward will actually show up once out from the gloomy shadow of Boston's current alpha dog. Underscore the word dog.

Players need to be reminded it's a privilege to play in Boston, and Irving blew his chance. I'm not even sure he gave it his best shot on many nights this season, particularly in the last four games. I do know this, though: This team's energy level never matched last year's team, and when that's the case, I'm looking directly at their supposed leader.

By Jim Hackett