For Boston, It’s Kyrie or Bust
an article by Alex Kurpeski
Kyrie Irving: mercurial superstar, internet celebrity, recovering Flat-Earther, highlight reel mainstay, and sports media supervillain. Many fans in Boston have grown tired of Irving, as his constant complaining (about the team’s young pups Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) and aloofness (regarding his future in Boston) during interviews has really gotten under their skin. As talented as Irving is, many blame him (despite his quiet career year) for the team’s struggles. While some of these claims hold validity (Irving’s attitude has definitely contributed to poor team chemistry to a degree), blaming Kyrie solely for the team’s shortcomings is a complete cop-out (one which I fell victim to briefly). Irving has been the team’s best player without question, as he is averaging 23.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and 7.1 apg on 49% shooting, all of which are currently or are nearing career highs. As for the rest of the team, much of the struggles can be blamed on the inconsistent play of Tatum, Brown, 30 million dollar man Gordon Hayward, and the once reliable Marcus Morris (who has been a bigger problem than his stats suggests, as he has been taking an exorbitant amount of shots considering the overload of scorers around him). Irving has a right to be frustrated, as this was a team expected to make the NBA Championship in 2019 (after making it all the way to game 7 of the East Finals without Irving last season). This is a two-way-road, as the rest of the team has a good reason to feel embittered for the very same rationale. They made it to the East Finals without Irving, so why should he be allowed to tell them that they don’t know what it takes to win?
This Celtics team is a classic case of miscommunication, as there are just too many mouths to feed on offense. This offseason, the move that would be in the best interest of everyone would be trading the young players (and Hayward for salary matching purposes) for superstar big man Anthony Davis. As painful as it might be for fans to say goodbye to Tatum and Brown, the team will just have a better chance at winning with the duo of Davis and Kyrie. While some may say that the team will be better off just letting Irving walk in free agency and building around Brown and Tatum, the risk involved with that strategy is far higher than the risk associated with building around two All-NBA talents. For Celtics fans hoping to win a championship in the near future, the truth has become self-evident. It’s Kyrie Irving or bust.
The NBA is a superstar driven league, as it is next to impossible to win a championship without at least two superstars on a team (The Warriors currently have 3-5 on their roster, depending on how you view Boogie and Draymond nowadays). A lineup consisting of Irving, fan favorite Marcus Smart, a switchable 3-and-D wing (Trevor Ariza is a free agent this offseason and Joe Ingles could be available via trade), Al Horford (if he opts in), and Davis could easily be the best in the East next season if everyone is healthy. By comparison, a lineup consisting of “Scary” Terry Rozier (should Kyrie leave, we assume the team would bring in Rozier), Brown, Hayward, Tatum, and Horford (should he decide to return to a middle of the road contender) is maybe more balanced, but also possesses far less upside thanks to the lack of a true superstar.
Unless this team makes a very deep run in the postseason, it is hard to envision the opening night lineup for the 2019-20 season resembling the current iteration. At this moment it seems as the damage done to the team’s morale is irreparable, thanks to the schism between Irving and his teammates. This situation might not be salvageable even for a team building wizard like Danny Ainge. It has become clear to everyone: it’s Kyrie’s way or the highway.