Newly minted Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving is now the best player in a championship contender, a situation he desired after publicly demanding to be traded to get out of LeBron James’ shadow in Cleveland. Irving spent three years playing with the best player in the league during that time, the duo went to three straight NBA Finals and won one – the Cavaliers’ first ever championship.
Despite all this success, something continued to rankle Irving and this is probably the fact that no matter how hard he played and how many points he scored, he would always be second fiddle to “The King.”
While many have doubted his ability to lead a team given since in his first three seasons without LeBron, Irving only managed a losing 78-152 record as the “man” in Cleveland, it can also be argued that he is a different player from that time.
Playing with one of the greatest players of all time gave him a role model on how to be a leader on and off the court, and more importantly, put him in pressure-packed situations where he had to step up or shut up. Playing with LeBron humbled him, made him defer, despite his inherent inclinations to take over games. In Cleveland, LeBron was the superstar, the champion, the king.
Irving couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Overnight, he is now the designated superstar in Boston. But instead of going to a middling team where he will be forced to carry most of the burden, he is with a team, a system, that finished No. 1 in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, he will play under coach Brad Stevens who is a coaching prodigy. The Celtics are reflective of Stevens’ coaching philosophy – solid basketball fundamentals, good teamwork, and defense, forcing opponents to make turnovers. Additionally, Stevens’ system is always adapting, always changing to the talent that he has. He is known for bringing out the best in his point guards.
Recently, Celtics president and general manager Danny Ainge said that Irving’s potential could be unleashed under Stevens’ system where he will be forced to play defense – one area he is sorely lacking. Irving will also be expected to be the primary playmaker, a role he hasn’t played in Cleveland where James was the focal point of the offense. Expect his assist numbers to go up this season.
Irving will also have the luxury of having two good teammates –Al Horford and Gordon Hayward plus athletic wings in Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.
Irving is truly a phenomenal talent and is perhaps the best “one-on-five” player in the league. This is his time and is now under a bigger spotlight. The success or failure of the Celtics rests squarely on his shoulders. He wanted to be the “man” in another team and it’s up to him to prove it.