Apr. 27—There was a story brewing yesterday that the Boston Celtics, at least the team we saw the last few months, took off when Danny Ainge resigned and left for Utah and the team’s “presidential” keys were handed over to Brad Stevens.
While Stevens made a few elite moves, including the hiring of Ike Udoka as head coach, dumping a brutal contract (Kemba Walker), while acquiring Derrick White and Celtic redos Al Horford and Daniel Theis, it is a simpleton argument.
The real story is this:
The Celtics organization, really Celtics Nation, bet on Kyrie Irving to lead the next dynasty, a bet that seemed like a good one, with so many good young pieces around him.
The thought was Kyrie deserved his own team, as the alpha male, had championship pedigree (he hit the 3-pointer to clinch a Game 7 win over Golden State), and he was a magician basketball.
We, as Celtics Nation, overlooked his flaws, including the fact he despised being LeBron James’ wingman, and his weird views about, well, everything.
Here are five things Kyrie did that almost, single-handedly, killed this Celtics franchise rebuild:
Kyrie never bought in
On another team in another city, with 90 percent less history than the Boston Celtics, Kyrie could get away with getting special treatment. In fact, it would probably be warranted. In Boston, Kyrie had to prove himself to the franchise and fandom. The Celtics have been about winning for most of their existence and the reminders were everywhere with retired numbers and banners, hanging in the TD Garden and practice facility. If the history of the Celtics isn’t an overwhelming positive experience — ie Kevin Garnett’s time here — then this is the wrong place.
The kids’ run in May of ’18
The most exciting run the Celtics made this decade was in Kyrie’s first season here. There was one problem. Kyrie wasn’t a part of it, having surgery in mid-March and watching from the bench as then-rookie Jayson Tatum and then-second-year 6th man Jaylen Brown averaged nearly 19 and 18 points per game in the playoffs while Kyrie’s” Replacement,” Terry Rozier averaged over 16 points and 6 assists, pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference final. It was almost as if, “We don’t need you, Kyrie.”
Kyrie’s sad swan song
The next season was miserable, as Stevens also tried but failed to get Gordon Hayward, who missed the entire 2017-18 season, into the mix. The “kids” basically lost all the mojo from the previous playoffs, going five steps back after going three steps forward the year before.
The worst part was when Kyrie was seen with Kevin Durant at the NBA All-Star game, apparently talking about teaming up the next year, only four months after Kyrie told Celtics fans in their opener that he was staying “for a long time.” Losing four straight to the Bucks wasn’t as bad as Kyrie’s shooting totals, 25 for 83 (30%), and one measly assist in the finale. It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
‘Coach’ Stevens lost team
Stevens appeared to have a Hall of Fame coaching career ahead of him, particularly after that impressive playoff run in Tatum’s rookie year. Every year was better than the previous year. But in Kyrie’s second year, not only were there issues with trying to figure out Hayward’s role, which appeared to upset players like Brown, Tatum and Rozier, but Kyrie had a few, public spats with Stevens. Unfortunately, Stevens couldn’t do anything as Kyrie held all the cards with his contract up. Even after Kyrie left, Stevens’ coaching voice wasn’t heard and inner turmoil seemed to outweigh their good moments.
‘Prez’ Ainge lost team, too
Ainge was not a typical GM. He was there, every day, home and away. He traveled the world to find players, rather than relying strictly on scouts. But the remnants of getting Kyrie and basically allowing him to blow up everything he and Stevens created, appeared to leave a sour taste with two key guys, Tatum and Brown, and to some extent Marcus Smart. He tried. He brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to talk to the guys, but none of that worked as the Celtics were the opposite of that exciting team from April and May of 2018.
There were other extenuating circumstances, as in botched draft picks, but the Kyrie acquisition ruined what could have been a great thing for Ainge. The Tatum and Brown picks were his. So was smart. But he is working for the Utah Jazz while the fruits of that labor, which we are seeing right now, thanks to some nice deals, including hiring Udoka, have the Celtics back on course as a potentially great team. Remember, there was talk of trading Brown for Bradley Beal and even, God forbid, Ben Simmons.