For the first time in years, Kyrie Irving is approaching true happiness
CANTON — The Celtics’ confidence in keeping Kyrie Irving will be tepid. The anticipation for his long-term future will build during this season that will already be bulging with storylines, filled with anticipation of seeing Irving healthy and free.
He didn’t seem free in his final few years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, that’s why he wanted out. And last season, Irving admitted he was limited by the health of his left knee and questions about his decisions to bolt the Cavaliers and seek a respite with another club.
It’s common training camp practice for every player to declare themselves fully healthy, say they took 1,000 shots a day, admit they were dealing with an undisclosed nagging injury the previous season, or improved on every aspect of their game. But for Irving, he actually meant that this season will offer peace and tranquility, an opportunity to concentrate on ball with a completely healthy knee, without having to publicize any movies or be asked numerous questions about his relationship with LeBron James.
For the first time in years, Irving may be approaching something that has been unattainable throughout his career: true happiness.
And if he does reach that place, that could be good news for Celtics fans regarding his decision whether to stay in Boston past this season.
“I’m finally here in Boston for a year, I’m not going through an emotional kind of roller coaster,” Irving said Monday at the team’s media day. “I don’t necessarily have to deal with the questions about the trade anymore, now the next question is ‘What’s free agency like?’ You get traded and now it’s free agency and it’s like, ‘Wooh.’
“I’m just appreciative of the opportunity to finally be comfortable. That’s the biggest thing and I’m happy. It’s settling. It’s peaceful. I used to be nervous to come up here and talk to you guys because I was wondering what you guys would ask me. But at this point, I really don’t care.”
It’s not that the 26-year-old Irving has an issue with the Boston media, but he felt bombarded last year with questions about LeBron James and why he would leave such a winning situation. But it wasn’t cohesive for him. And it wasn’t peaceful.
Irving feels serenity so far as he and his teammates prepare for the biggest Celtics season in 11 years. He thrives under pressure, so he doesn’t consider high expectations to be stressful or strenuous, he’ll embrace the team’s lofty goals because his mind is focused on nothing but basketball. No movie scripts. No LeBron questions. No knee issues.
“You have to be realistic,” he said. “I’ve had the game taken away from me a couple of times throughout my career, through unfortunate events, uncontrollable things and I think that you just become a lot more maniacal about the game and you’re grateful for the opportunity to play the game that you love and you start realizing that you have to do a lot more of the little things you did before, so the weight room, your diet, and taking care of your mind and your spirit.
“As long as your mind and body is on the same accord, you’re pretty solid and last year it wasn’t [for me]. It wasn’t at all. I had one of the best statistical seasons of my career and it was like crazy how I did it because of the amount of distractions that were going on outside of it.”
Once again, we were to the coherent theme of Irving’s season: happiness.
“You realize that what if I add a little happiness to playing basketball instead of worrying what’s going on outside of this?” he said.
“Maybe we’ll see what that looks like. It’s a scary sight and I can’t wait.”
Irving spent his summer looking for competitive, NBA-level basketball runs when he was cleared to play after his two knee surgeries. He found one over a period of two weeks in Seattle organized by NBA veteran Jamal Crawford. At those sessions, he got an opportunity to meet Celtics legend Bill Russell, who happened to stop by to watch some action.
Irving also stopped in Miami to play pickup with Kevin Durant and other NBA players, realizing he needed to reacclimate himself to NBA speed as the season approached.
Regardless of the return of Gordon Hayward and emergence of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Irving remains the Celtics’ central figure, the most proven and accomplished of any player on the roster. He will be the focus of opposing teams. It will be his responsibility to determine when to score and when to delegate.
The stakes are high because Boston is the prohibitive favorites to reach the NBA Finals and anything short of that will be a disappointment and Irving will take a brunt of the responsibility.
“I think we have the talent to compete with [the two-time champion Golden State Warriors],” Irving said. “Obviously the quote of me saying I feel like we can beat them in a seven-game series, because I really do feel like that. But we won’t know until we put in the work, we sacrifice the amount of time and we commit ourselves to bring a quality team before we can even echo a championship team. It will take time. I’m willing to be patient. I’m willing to put in the work and help all our guys.
“Man, this is something special to be a part of.”