Five thoughts about Kyrie Irving’s surprising Celtics announcement
Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving made a somewhat stunning announcement on Thursday, declaring at a fan appreciation event at TD Garden he intends to re-sign with the Celtics next summer. Here are five thoughts about the announcement, the timing, and what it all means.
■ According to a league source, Irving had initiated brief conversations with Celtics officials in recent days in which he indicated he was “pretty confident” he wants to re-sign with the team this summer after opting out of the final year of his current deal. The Celtics believed Irving wanted to be a Celtic, but there hadn’t really been recent in-depth chats about the matter. When the Celtics were almost caught off-guard by the sudden pronouncement, Irving told them he just wanted them to know exactly how he felt.
■ Irving also informed the Celtics he wanted to make his sentiment public. According to a league source, he said he would declare it during his group interview with the media prior to Thursday’s fan event. The scrum was held in front of a green tarp in the visitors’ locker room at TD Garden, and Irving spoke for nearly nine minutes. He talked about his sore ribs and his business aspirations, but he did not mention anything about his future in Boston. (Although, in fairness, he was not asked.) He did not tell the Celtics he had another approach in mind, however.
And while taking part in a brief question-and-answer session monitored by Celtics television analyst Brian Scalabrine, Irving was asked how important it was for him to have his No. 11 retired by the Celtics one day. Irving stood up from a barstool on the court, with a microphone in hand, and said he planned to re-sign with the Celtics.
■ In multiple interviews over the past few weeks, Irving has consistently made it clear he was leaning toward sticking with the Celtics long term. Those statements were a significant shift from the summer, when Irving mostly deflected questions about the possibility. On June 12, while promoting his movie, “Uncle Drew,” Irving sat in a chair in a ballroom at the Boston Harbor Hotel and was asked about his hopes for free agency. It was an opportunity to indicate his interest in the Celtics, even if not declaring his intentions. But Irving kept things vague.
“My hope is that maybe we could limit it to maybe one question a day about what I’m doing next year,” he said. “That’s my hope. But obviously I can’t really control that. But I think you guys can feel my attitude is really just redemption next year. Really integrating myself with our team again and really focus on winning a championship. That’s the only thing I’m really worried about. Until I get to that point, then I can’t really answer any questions. I’m pretty sure management and I will have a talk, but that talk won’t happen now.”
But something seemed to have shifted by September. Some around the organization believe the opening of the team’s gleaming new practice facility had a significant impact. The Celtics’ previous setup, at the Boston Sports Club in Waltham, was essentially an eyesore. Also, in September Irving resumed playing five-on-five pickup games with his Celtics teammates, and perhaps those helped remind him how immensely talented this team is.
■ Last year, Irving rarely seemed truly happy. He bristled when he was asked about LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and at other times he put up a wall when given the chance to be humanized. Then his season ended on March 11 due to his knee troubles and ensuing surgeries, and he was left out of Boston’s run to the brink of the NBA Finals. But he seems to be so much more at peace now. His movie was a success. He worked back from the knee surgeries to remove hardware and clear a dangerous infection and started playing basketball again. He went to North Dakota and took part in a naming ceremony as a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, of which his mother was a descendant. He was able to enter this season, it seemed, with a different kind of calm. And maybe that all factored into his surprising announcement Thursday.
■ If Irving sticks to his word, it will be interesting to see how the Celtics proceed with Terry Rozier. The 24-year-old thrived as Irving’s replacement last season and showed he is capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA. Rozier is set to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, meaning Boston would have the right to match any offer sheet he signs with another team. But with Irving and Hayward on max deals, Al Horford with the chance to opt into the final year of his max contract or sign a new multi-year deal, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum having fast-approaching paydays, there will be financial challenges as the Celtics catapult deep into the luxury tax. Also, Rozier might be more interested to go to a team where he receives the starting spot he deserves. But that will all sort itself out in time. For now, the Celtics are just happy to get some good news on a random October night.