‘It’s an every-day job’: Kyrie Irving’s leadership evolution
WASHINGTON — Early in Kyrie Irving’s career he was focused on points and assists and wins, but he was not necessarily always focused on guiding those around him. Now in his eighth season, Irving says he has embraced a leadership role with these Celtics.
“It’s an every-day job,” Irving said Wednesday. “It’s part of kind of the next step of evolution for me in my career, of just learning what that means for me and what type of leader I want to be. I’ve reached out to a few people, just asked questions, learning more about how to kind of manage being in a group like this.”
When Irving was asked to name the people he had consulted about leadership, he smiled and declined, saying only that he likes having “an older board of people I like to go to.”
Irving said that the greatest lessons he has learned in these discussions is the importance of patience.
“Even for myself, I think at this point in my career it’s not necessarily about my skills or my talent, it’s more about how do I echo greatness to our group every single day and figure out what that looks like for us?” Irving said. “That’s been the biggest challenge for me, is just being patient on that end, really learning my teammates.”
Irving said he reached out for a bit of guidance at the start of the season but emphasized that it is most important when times are a bit tougher, likely referring to Boston’s 10-10 start.
“It’s easy to go out and score 27 points, go get it and nothing else really matters and you’re just caring about yourself,” Irving said. “When you have to care about a whole entire group, really depend on just learning who you’re playing with every single day, who is coaching you, that relationship, that’s far more important to me now than it was just being able to be the young guy fourth year in the league, fifth year or whatever, trying to get a bunch of points and assists and be in the top standings.”
Celtics forward Al Horford said he has noticed a difference in Irving’s leadership compared with last season, which was his first in Boston.
“I think that last season this was new for him,” Horford said. “He was getting to know our guys; he was getting to know what we were about. And yeah, he wasn’t as engaged as he is now. Like, now it’s night and day. He was still trying to lead us and things like that, but it’s way different and it’s for the better of the group.”
Rest for Horford
Horford will likely miss a few more games because of pain in his left knee. Coach Brad Stevens said Horford has been officially diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome, a common ailment for athletes also known as “runner’s knee.” The primary treatment is rest and physical therapy.
Horford, who has missed the last three games (including Wednesday night against the Wizards) with the ailment, last played on Dec. 6 against the Knicks. Horford and Stevens both said the team is erring on the side of caution and hoping the knee will heal during this stretch so it is not an issue throughout the season.
“We’ve been working through it for a while now, but now that we can really focus on it, just continue to do a lot of strength work around the quad and hips, things to do to help me with the knee. And the soft tissue work,” Horford said Wednesday morning “Just trying to focus on those things to put me in the best position for when I’m ready to come back.”
The Celtics are in the midst of their weakest stretch of opponents this season, with their next four (including the Wizards) having a combined record of 34-72.
“He’s going to be out a little bit, but not too long, and just to strengthen and get feeling a lot better,” said Stevens. “A little bit similar to [Marcus] Morris last year, and make sure that he feels great instead of going back and forth like this.”
Last season, Morris missed the first eight games because of left knee pain, and it remained a bit of a nuisance even after he returned, as he sat out 11 of 13 games during a December stretch.
“This is something that I don’t think any of us want it to linger or continue,” Horford said, “and I think that as much as I want to be on the floor, I do see the big picture. So this is the time to do it.”
Jaylen Brown was a late scratch on Wednesday, missing the game because of illness, and Gordon Hayward missed his second consecutive game, also because of illness. Hayward did not travel here with the team.
Irving, who missed Monday’s game against the Pelicans because of a sore shoulder, was cleared to play against the Wizards. Irving said the injury is not serious and that he did not need any medical testing, but he is not quite 100 percent.
“It’s not too often you get a day to just rest,” he said, “so I’ll take it.”
Aron Baynes returned on Wednesday night after missing three games with a sprained left ankle and had 3 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in 16 minutes.