In August of 2017, the Celtics and their fans rejoiced when the team completed a trade for superstar point guard Kyrie Irving. It had all the makings of a franchise elevating trade: Irving was an elite talent just entering his prime who already won a championship, the Celtics were a team who had just signed Gordon Hayward and who believed they were one superstar away from raising Banner 18. In just over 22 months, the move has ended in disaster. The only positive thing that can be said about the trade is that the Celtics did not give up their most precious assets in the deal.
Initially, Irving seemed to adhere to the Celtics culture and system, even after the catastrophic leg injury suffered by Hayward on opening night. As time went by, the façade began to erode and Irving’s true demeanor became evident. The first public sign of trouble was his decision to skip game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2018, a Memorial Day game against his former team, the Cavaliers, with an opportunity for Boston to return to the NBA Finals.
Following that, the Celtics began the 2018-19 with a stumble. The team struggled out of the gate, starting 10-10 amid juggling lineups and inconsistent lineups. After improving their play and surging during the middle part of the regular season, the Celtics finished 12-10 in their last 22 games before a stumbling and lackluster second round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in five games.
The results of the season were frustrating enough, but several of Irving’s actions, and inactions, prevented the Celtics from getting fully on track at any point during the season. There were the postgame criticisms of his teammates, his head coach and stretches of uninspired play. There was also the choice of Irving to sit out games before the All-Star Break due to injury and then play 25 minutes in the All-Star Game. Throughout it all, an increasingly prickly relationship between Irving, the media, and Celtics fans exacerbated all of the tension on Causeway Street.
Now, this is not to say that everything that went wrong in Boston this season was Irving’s fault. As ESPN Senior Writer Jackie MacMullan detailed, the issues with the Celtics ran beyond him. However, Irving repeatedly said that he wanted to the leader and be responsible for leading his own team to a championship. To say Irving failed in his quest to effectively lead a team would be an understatement.
There is no denying that Kyrie Irving is one of the 20 best players in the NBA and that the Celtics will be a less talented team without him. However, by the time the Irving and his teammates walked off the court after a Game 5 drubbing against the Bucks on May 8, it was clear that the Kyrie Irving Era in Boston was over. He proved in the end that he didn’t have what it takes to be the primary leader on a championship team and that he didn’t want to be part of the solution in Boston. And to that, we say good riddance.