Hey Kyrie: Don’t play in the All-Star Game
Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving was right when he said earlier this season that he is talented enough to do anything he wants any time he takes the court. We all know that Irving can break ankles and bend the rules of physics with a basketball, but everyone needs boundaries. Just because you’re capable of doing something doesn’t mean you should.
The injured Irving probably could play in the NBA All-Star Game Sunday, but he absolutely shouldn’t, for his own good and for that of the Green.
Irving was voted an All-Star starter, but the idea of him playing in the game eight days after a knee injury should be a nonstarter. He should join the rest of the spectators at the Spectrum Center. There’s nothing to gain from him playing and too much to lose. Cue Allen Iverson voice: We’re talking about the All-Star Game, not a game, the All-Star Game, a meaningless exhibition.
Merely entertaining the notion of Irving stepping on the court in Charlotte, N.C., is absurd. Irving, who suffered a right knee strain last Saturday and missed the last two games, is too important to the Celtics’ cause and has too much of an injury history to risk returning to the court for a glorified layup line between Team LeBron and Team Giannis.
No matter how judicious Irving may intend to be, the virtuoso way he’s wired is to own the moment. If he shows up on the court with his fellow All-Stars, he’s going to want to show out. That could lead to him being out of action. The Celtics can ill afford that as they chase priority seeding the final 24 games of the season.
The Celtics are in a precarious position with Irving and his wishes. They don’t want to do anything to upset him and diminish the chances of him following through on his preseason proclamation to re-sign, a pledge that has gotten more flexible than a pipe cleaner by the month. So, even if the Celtics didn’t think Irving playing in the All-Star Game was a good idea, they wouldn’t tell him or us.
That’s why you have Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens tiptoeing around the issue and providing their tacit imprimatur. The two contorted themselves into the tortured logic that Irving playing in the game is actually a good idea because it allows him to get up and down the court in an, ahem, competitive setting before he rejoins the Celtics to prep for next Thursday’s showdown with the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the NBA’s best record.
They bent their basketball will and their principles to Kyrie. Call me old-fashioned, but the next NBA game Irving plays in should be one that counts in the standings.
The lure of playing in the All-Star Game is understandable for Irving. All-Star Weekend is the event of the NBA social calendar. It’s fertile ground for brand building and super-team building. (Anthony Davis just happens to be one of Irving’s All-Star teammates.) The game is fun and provides one of basketball’s grand stages. Irving gets to be on LeBron James’s team again and doesn’t have to lead.
Plus, he’s required to be in Charlotte for the NBA festivities anyway. Irving is an honorary coach for the Jayson Tatum-led USA team in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night. While it would seem that Irving would want to take a break from trying to cajole a bunch of young guys into playing the way he demands, he can’t.
Ainge said Wednesday in his weekly interview with “Toucher & Rich” on 98.5 The Sports Hub that Irving has family headed to Charlotte and business interests to attend to there as well.
Ainge assured the Parishioners of the Parquet that Irving would head to the basketball bacchanalia with a trainer and a physical therapist and that he would “be doing basketball things in some of his free time.” The basketball things need to stop when the game starts.
Really, the responsibility here is Irving’s. The Celtics are in kowtow-to-Kyrie mode. The discretion exercised should be his own.
His focus this season is winning a championship with the Celtics. That’s what he said earlier this month when he was interrogated in New York about his pending free agent status and commitment to Boston.
“Obviously, we had goals coming into this season, and the primary goal is to win a championship, so that’s where my focus is,” Irving said Feb. 1.
If that’s true, then, as a precaution, skipping the All-Star Game is the only way to go.
As a six-time All-Star, it’s not as if Irving has anything to prove here. He has been an All-Star standout in his previous five appearances. He won the game MVP in 2014 with a 31-point, 14-assist performance. He has averaged 18.4 points and 9.2 assists while shooting 58.5 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from 3-point range in the no-defense affair.
Contrary to short-sighted belief, the Celtics require a healthy Kyrie.
The Celtics start the second half with a three-game road trip bookended by visits to Eastern Conference eminence rivals Milwaukee and Toronto. Their first 10 games post-All-Star break include eight playoff contenders and a four-game West Coast sojourn with trips to play the Warriors and LeBron’s Lakers.
Irving’s sine qua non status for the Celtics has been called into question recently because they won their last two games without him in impressive fashion, pushing their record in his absence this season to 9-2. This is even sillier than him playing in the All-Star Game.
The Celtics haven’t beaten anyone of note without Irving, except the Sixers, who have a basketball mental block when it comes to Boston. The Green might play more familiar, free-flowing, and egalitarian basketball sans Irving, but that style comes with an artificial cap that stops short of the NBA Finals.
It’s precisely because of Irving’s importance to this team that he shouldn’t risk playing in an extraneous exhibition that makes pickup-basketball defensive intensity look like the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons.
No one with the Celtics is going to tell Irving he shouldn’t play in the All-Star Game. No one should have to.