Kyrie Irving’s exit comes full-circle as Celtics reach new heights without star

Tomase: Kyrie’s greatest contribution to Celtics was abandoning them originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Now that he’s gone and officially out of our lives for the rest of this season and hopefully forever, Kyrie Irving will not be quoted in this column.

We endured his Boston ramblings for two years that felt like a life sentence, serving only to establish that he is the faultless star of his own narrative, dispensing wisdom to those tragically unwilling or unable to grasp its depths. Genius can be so lonely.

Irving eventually drowns his fanbases in word soup, and the moment you realize he’s not actually drawing on his experience as a champion but is in fact speaking narcissistic gibberish, that’s when it’s time to sit down, take a couple of deep breaths, and accept that the Matrix has you.

Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House light up Kyrie after Celtics sweep Nets

But guess what? Not our problem anymore! Let Brooklyn’s fans lament a future in which this destroyer of franchises looks in the mirror and sees not an agent of chaos, but a princeling with the power to shape the roster. Good luck to Nets superstar Kevin Durant, coach (for now) Steve Nash, and owner Joseph Tsai. It’s only going to get worse until the inevitable acrimonious breakup. Trust us. We know.

On Monday night, the Celtics completed a shocking, thrilling and karmically fulfilling sweep of the Nets. It came just one year after Irving and Co. blew doors, taking out the Celtics in five games and hastening a significant leadership shuffle. Out went Danny Ainge, up went Brad Stevens, and in came Ime Udoka.

No one could’ve predicted the latter pair would oversee a legitimate NBA Finals run just a year later. Irving’s departure in 2019 had supposedly precluded that possibility effectively forever, with the countdown clocks on superstar Jayson Tatum and All-Star Jaylen Brown ticking inexorably towards midnight and an ugly organizational reset.

But instead of devastating the Celtics, Irving’s departure actually saved them. Notoriously mercurial and unreliable, Irving is not meant to be the face of a functional franchise, and in the sliding-doors world where he remains in Boston, consider everything that changes.

This would be Irving’s team instead of Tatum’s, and it’s now clear the growing pains the latter experienced while learning to lead have made him The Man. It felt cathartic to watch him drill multiple shots over Irving in the second half on Monday, his former teammate incapable of offering even token resistance, as if Tatum were announcing, “This is my time, and by the way you are very small.”

Had Irving stayed, Tatum’s running mate probably wouldn’t even be here. It’s easy to envision the C’s trading Brown for someone like Anthony Davis, another high-maintenance, low-happiness superstar who would’ve helped make the Celtics as joyful as a parole hearing.

For three years we’ve cursed his name, but it’s time to let that go, because the Celtics could’ve only done this without him.

John Tomase on Kyrie Irving

Irving’s presence would’ve also blocked Marcus Smart from becoming the league’s most tenacious point guard and the first backcourt player to win Defensive Player of the Year since Gary Payton nearly 30 years ago.

There’s also little chance that forward Al Horford would have returned, since it took a salary dump of Irving’s replacement, Kemba Walker, to bring the big man back to Boston. All Horford has done since is turn back the clock at age 35 as he guns for his first title. Let the record show that his late putback effectively sealed Monday’s victory.

That’s only half of the equation, however. Then there’s the on-court component. Irving is particularly ill-suited to play in Udoka’s switching defensive system, since he doesn’t always, you know, try.

He’s also frequently unavailable, this year because he refused to get vaccinated, but in prior seasons for myriad injuries. Now in his 11th season, he has only topped 60 games four times; In retrospect, we should’ve read between the lines when he only played 11 games at Duke before becoming the No. 2 overall pick anyway.

Then there’s his personality. Irving is plagued by a restlessness that caused him first to divorce LeBron James in Cleveland, then to wave goodbye to Boston, and now to commit to the Nets even as he speaks of the future without mentioning Nash. Irving thinks he’s a building block, but he’s actually a brick of TNT.

And now he’s on vacation. Watching the Celtics play with energy and passion while the discombobulated Nets alternated between argumentative and morose just reinforced how badly the Celtics needed a fresh start.

They got one the day Irving reneged on his promise to stay. For three years we’ve cursed his name, but it’s time to let that go, because the Celtics could’ve only done this without him.

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