The 2018-19 NBA season was a disappointing one for the Boston Celtics. Some might suggest that is an understatement. Coming off a 2018 playoff run that ended two games shy of an NBA Finals appearance, the season should have been easier.
Superstar Kyrie Irving and former All-Star Gordon Hayward were healthy after suffering injuries that kept them out of Boston’s line up for the 2018 playoff run.
However, neither player ever really settled back into head coach Brad Stevens’ rotation. Hayward showed glimpses of his former self as the season wore on but his three-point shooting was just 33% down 6% from his last full season in Utah and he only managed 11.5ppg in just over 25 minutes in 2018/19 for Boston.
Boston management should have expected a slow recovery as Hayward dislocated his ankle and broke his leg six-plus minutes into the 2017/18 season.
It appears that Boston management was more interested in playing the 29-year-old small forward who earned $31.2 million this past season.
As for Kyrie Irving, he had a very productive year. He shot 48% from the field, 40% from the three points arc, he averaged 23.8ppg and 6.9 appg.
Yet, Irving was not happy in Boston and so while his stat line says one thing it hides the fact that the point guard who was before this past season interested in resigning and staying in Boston clearly couldn’t wait for the playoffs to end in 2019 and opt-out of his contract.
In 2018/19 though, Irving rumbled out loud and to the media that his teammates “don’t know how to win”.
It was an odd statement because the only difference between the fourth-place Celtics in the East in 2019 and their Conference Finals appearance in 2018 is that Irving and Gordon were healthy and playing in 2019.
Now that Irving has signed to play for the Brooklyn Nets here’s a look at three questions for him going into the 2019/20 season:
#3 Can Kyrie Irving leave his locker room issues behind?
In all of professional sports, certain players have exhibited tremendous talent but have also been just as much trouble sometimes more than they are worth. The NBA has seen its fair share of trouble makers on and off the court amongst the player ranks.
In the past players like J. R. Ryder, Dennis Rodman, and even more recently players like DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler have been more than a handful for management to control, contain, or even keep focused on just playing the sport in which they can perform at high levels for great pay.
Kyrie Irving is now entering this category. The Cleveland Cavaliers had made three consecutive NBA Finals from 2015-2017 when Irving demanded a traded which landed him in Boston.
If you believe then Cavalier's general manager David Griffen who stated in a podcast, the Good N with host Jeff Goodman, that Irving wanted the ball and would be “second fiddle to the greatest player of his generation”.
If true, it's odd that Irving, with two years left on his deal felt restrained by LeBron James after appearing in three consecutive NBA Finals and winning once. However, players have made seemingly stranger decisions than this.
His desire to leave Cleveland wrecked the Cavaliers who got nothing from Isaiah Thomas, who was the point guard they got in return.
It was the Nets 2018 first-round draft pick that gave the Cavaliers any value in the deal for Irving as by mid-season 2018, which wound up being Cleveland's fourth straight year in the NBA Finals, saw the team make several deals to fix a broken roster that wound up fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Also, if David Griffen is right, LeBron James opted to leave Cleveland after the 2018 playoffs for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Irving might have had two more years in Cleveland as the go-to guy and would have qualified for a super-max deal in Cleveland.
His quality of play was great in Boston in 2018/19 but his constant calling out his teammates, his concern about being the go-to guy and perceived indifference in the second round playoffs series with Milwaukee leave many wondering about Irving being a locker room cancer.
He ruined the Cavaliers by asking for a trade, created locker room tension with his Boston teammates instead of showing leadership and is now onto his third team in three years, the Brooklyn Nets.
#2 Does Irving fit Brooklyn Nets' style of play?
The Brooklyn Nets head coach may have to change somethings with Kyrie Irving as his lead point guard now. Brooklyn had an outstanding 2018/19 NBA season at least by their standards.
First, they made the playoffs and it seems a victory over eventual 2019 NBA champions, Toronto Raptors, sparked an 8-18 Nets team into winning nine of their next 10 games.
The Nets were a playoff team sixth in the East. If you spent any time watching them play, you saw a young team that played hard.
Even when they made too many mistakes they kept playing and if you didn’t know the score they never seemed to be out of any game. They were fun to watch.
The Nets also used the pick and roll to free up D’Angelo Russell's mid-range game and decision making.
Kyrie Irving is a different type of point guard. Irving is a score first, break his man down off of the dribble type of guard in the half-court.
Like Russell, who was signed and traded to Golden State, Irving is highly productive but is more of a player who works well in isolation type plays.
It’s a concern in a league that has gone more to ball movement and seeking out good quick shots. Irving has the kind of ball handles and crossover moves that should be most effective at the back end of the shot clock (seven seconds or less) to bail his team out of offensive sets that are not executed to plan.
Interestingly enough, Russell and Irving had similar stats in 2018/19 Russell averaged 21.1ppg to Irvings 23.8 ppg and 7apg to Irvings 6.9apg.
However, Boston was the better team averaging 26apg (14th in the NBA) as a team while Brooklyn averaged 23.6apg (15th in the NBA).
What Kyrie Irving may also bring to the Brooklyn Nets as their new point guard is a dedication to pushing the ball up court in the fast break as Boston with Irving averaged 16.2 fast break points per game in 2018/19 for seventh in the NBA while Brooklyn was 22nd averaging just 11.6 per game.
#3 Can Kyrie Irving be the leader the Brooklyn Nets need him to be?
The answer is yes and if Kevin Durant can play at all in 2020 there is no doubt Brooklyn is a better team.
He is a multiple-time All-Star, an NBA Champion and has appeared in three NBA Finals. He is a point guard still in his prime who can deliver big games at will seemingly. He recorded 18 games of 30 or more points and 29 with 25 or more points in 2018/19.
The issue is will Irving learn from his time in Boston and help nurture his young Nets teammates or try to embarrass them every time they make mistakes?
Will he draw upon his experience to lead and take responsibility as a former NBA Champion and multiple time NBA Finals competitor to lift Brooklyn to new heights or will he sulk, and display indifference when things go wrong like he did this year in Boston?
Should Irving comport himself with the grace and poise of the champion he is, Brooklyn is a playoff team again in 2020.
How far they progress into the playoff season is hard to determine as the East is much different from 2019. The Raptors are seemingly weakened by the departures of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Philadelphia is different with no Jimmy Butler or J.J.Redick but Milwaukee is much the same team that won 60 games in 2019.
Boston is likely to contend in 2020 and if Indiana has a healthy Victor Oladipo they should be problematic to play as well. Brooklyn won 42 games in 2019 expect them to win around 45-47 in 2020 with Irving running the offense.
For the time being, when the NBA season starts in October of 2019, the Brooklyn Nets are Irving's team to lead and the ball will be in his hands.
At the age of 27, this is his time to prove that he is indeed a franchise player with the mental strength and composure to handle the stress and strain the ups and downs of a grueling NBA season taking his Brooklyn Nets to places they have never been in the NBA. Fans are ready for it. Many experts claim he’s capable of it. Well, the time is now for Kyrie Irving to show once and for all he is the man.