Former Celtics guard Kyrie Irving on Friday will likely make his first appearance at TD Garden since leaving Boston to sign with Brooklyn in July 2019. Irving missed both games in Boston last season because of injury.
When the Nets played in Boston in November 2019, their first appearance here since acquiring Irving, constant chants of “Where is Kyrie?” and “Kyrie sucks” flowed through the Garden.
This time, of course, there will be no vitriol because there will be no fans, and the setting will be the same when these teams meet again in a regular-season matchup on Christmas Day. Don’t expect the Celtics to poke Irving with any fake crowd noise, either.
Irving played for the Celtics from 2017-19. His first season was cut short by knee surgery and his second season, which was accompanied by NBA title hopes, ended with a grisly five-game loss to the Bucks in the conference semifinals.
After vowing at a preseason event for season ticket-holders in the summer of 2018 that he intended to re-sign with Boston at season’s end, and after filming a Nike commercial at TD Garden in which Irving all but proclaimed that he wanted to be a Celtic for life, he ultimately decided to join close friend Kevin Durant and sign with the Nets.
But Durant missed last season with an Achilles’ injury and Irving was limited to 20 games because of a shoulder impingement. He underwent season-ending surgery in March.
“It’s not the first time I had a significant injury where I’ve been out a long period of time,” Irving said this week. “So, I’ve had to build myself back up quite a few times in my career, getting hit down in the 2015 Finals with my fractured kneecap and then just having minor injuries and couldn’t really avoid the injury bug, just being able to play at a high level for a system at a time. And it was very disappointing. Having disappointing seasons the last few years hasn’t necessarily been the best reflection that I wanted to put out.”
Irving remains in the spotlight even when he is not playing, however, and both his comments and his lack of them created mild controversies during this offseason.
The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson and in September hired Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash as their coach. While appearing on Durant’s podcast in October, Irving said he did not think the team really had a head coach, and that he and Durant were capable of stepping into that role, too.
Irving was trying to express that it would be a collaborative effort, but the optics were not great. This week he walked back those comments and praised the job Nash has done coaching the team.
Nash, meanwhile, made it clear that it is indeed a group effort.
“While coaches have been working hard for months preparing our methodology and how to implement it, we do confer with players constantly,” Nash said. “You have to find that balance, you have to make sure that our ideas and philosophies resonate with the players and make sure they fit together in an appropriate manner. So, we constantly seek their opinion and their comfort level with things we’re implementing.”
Irving initially boycotted the media for several weeks as players returned to begin preparations for this season. He issued a press release in which he said he intended to decline to speak to reporters this season, despite the fact that he is contractually obligated to participate in interviews.
Then when he was fined by the NBA he pushed back further with an Instagram post, saying he does not talk to “pawns.” He relented on Monday, however, taking part in a lengthy and wide-ranging Zoom session with reporters.
Irving and Durant are now healthy, though, and their play could quickly flip any offseason distractions or concerns into afterthoughts as Brooklyn takes aim at the top of the Eastern Conference.