SAN FRANCISCO — No one can accuse this year’s edition of the Celtics of lacking excitement. Less than 24 hours after their fifth loss in the past six games, the Celtics were able to slip out of Boston before the snowstorm and conduct a rather spirited and positive practice at the University of San Francisco.
Meanwhile, perhaps a day of reflection and the 50-degree temperatures warmed up guard Kyrie Irving’s disposition Monday after being a man of few words with the media the past few days.
Irving spoke for nearly eight minutes sitting in the front bleachers of War Memorial Gym, just below Bill Russell’s retired college jersey. Irving appeared more positive about the Celtics’ fate, explained his recent surliness, and said his relationship with coach Brad Stevens is strong.
The Celtics on Tuesday face the Golden State Warriors in the first game of a four-game road trip in what could be the most important regular-season swing of the Brad Stevens era. The Celtics have been one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments, and Irving has been the central figure in the chaos.
Irving acknowledged the team did not return from the All-Star Break with a cohesive frame of mind.
“Coming out the All-Star Break, it wasn’t the best type of energy,” he said. “I think it would have been great individually if you were going for yours [numbers]. Like I said, it’s hard in the team environment, especially when you have guys, we’ve got six legit guys that could be primary options on other teams, and when you have that and you’re trying to figure it out, it’s not going to be the best. I try to stay patient and not try to get too high or too low, but obviously I get annoyed pretty quickly.”
Irving’s post-game remarks after Sunday’s 115-104 loss to the Houston Rockets amounted to just 38 words. His media session on Monday was over 1,200 words.
“I get tired of all this [criticism] stuff, just like everybody else,” he said. “It’s a constant battle because media has just gotten outrageous, you know what I mean? I just saw something the other day where he’s the greatest player playing in our game right now, but just seeing somebody question [LeBron James’s] body of work, like my body of work, [Kevin Durant’s] body of work, the team success falls on the best player and whether to call it fair or unfair nobody should ever question what type of winner those guys are, what type of winner I am, or whether or not I have the ‘team first’ mentality. Nobody wants it to be solely about them, but [star players] take most of the responsibility, and so does the head coach. So when you have that and you have a relationship, you have to build with that.”
Speaking of the head coach, Irving reiterated several times last year his admiration for Stevens and how well they worked together. That hasn’t been the case this year, but Irving said his bond with Stevens remains solid.
“It starts with my relationship with Brad, us being on the same page,” he said. “He takes responsibility for our losses and wins, and I take responsibility for our losses and wins, and we share it amongst everyone else because we all have a great hand in making this work. It’s a hard thing to put together.
“We have a year in together, so I would hope after a year we would be closer. But also, he’s never coached any player like me. If you think about Brad’s years of having an established player, but I’m coming from a situation where I was on the No. 1 team competing against Brad, and now I’m on his team, and he’s putting me in his system.
“That’s a big transition for anyone to do, and I think a lot of NBA players don’t realize how it is to get traded or ask for a trade. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my career . . . I’m doing the best I can with the group, because they’re really good guys, and they’ve shown we’re capable of winning at a high level.”
Irving said being a leader and the centerpiece of a potential championship team has been taxing to deal with. He went through a lot of losing early in his career in Cleveland, and then became James’s complement with the Cavaliers for a title team. He wanted his own ship, and this was supposed to be a smoother transition to success because of the talent. Conversely, it’s been turbulent.
“I wouldn’t say [my] most difficult [season]; I just think it’s been challenging in different aspects,” he said.
“This gets overwhelming at times. You have high expectations. You want it all right now, and you have a particular level that I’ve been at for a long time, since I was a kid. I was blessed with a lot of talent to be able to share that, that would be beneficial for the group rather than thinking that I have to compete with everyone else to be the best. Now I am. It’s not that component. It’s what’s going to drive this team? What am I going to do to get the best out of my teammates? That’s the thing. That’s an evolving job every single day.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.