Reimer: Listen to ex-NBA and Blue Devils greats –– Kyrie must go

Alex Reimer
May 09, 2019 - 12:53 pm

Those who played basketball at the highest level blame Kyrie Irving for the Celtics’ pathetic season and think the team would be better off without him. We should listen to their wisdom.

Throughout the entire season, and especially over the last week, multiple ex-NBA greats have ripped Irving for his lack of leadership and poisonous attitude. Back in March, Charles Barkley called the mercurial point guard “one of the most miserable people” he’s ever seen. By this point, Irving had already passive-aggressively called out his younger teammates on several occasions, such as when he revealed he phoned LeBron James to elicit advice on how to deal with impatient underlings.

“I felt the best person to call was him because he’s been in this situation,” Irving told reporters following a thrilling win over the Raptors, which speaks to just how messed up the team was. “He’s been there with me, where I’ve been the young guy of being the 22-year-old kid wanting everything, wanting everything right now.”

The translation was obvious: Kyrie believed this was his team, regardless of the success they achieved without him last season. He played sidekick to LeBron for years and was ready for his solo act. And if that meant pushing Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown aside, so be it. They must wait their turn. 

That’s not to say the young guys are blameless for the slog of misery we’ve been forced to endure, which mercifully ended Wednesday with the Bucks’ 116-91 Game 5 victory. Tatum, who spent his offseason working out with Kobe Bryant, fell in love taking long two-point shots –– and missing lots of them. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan says the Celtics were not thrilled with Tatum’s attitude when he came into camp, and the discontent appeared to carry over through the season. The formerly rising sophomore averaged just 12 points per game against the Bucks and shot 36.7 percent from the floor.

Brown also admittedly struggled with his reduced role and Rozier, well, let’s allow him to speak for himself.  

“I don't give a f--- what nobody say, I sacrificed the most out of anybody,” he told Yahoo! Sports Wednesday. “Everybody was running around with their heads cut off, like chickens. Coach was in a tough position, one of the toughest positions, dealing with all these guys with attitudes, all that (expletive). Guys that's All-Stars, guys getting paid a lot of money, guys trying to get paid. It's tough.”

Sounds like he had a blast. 

But make no mistake: Irving set the tone for the team. Rozier acknowledged that in February, telling NBC Sports Boston they play uptight when Kyrie is in a negative headspace, which appeared to be most of the time. From “I don’t owe anybody (expletive)” to “who cares?,” Irving seemed bitter and agitated. 

The tense atmosphere around the team carried over to the court, where the Celtics never fought through adversity. The defining moment of their dreadful campaign came late in the third quarter Wednesday, when Milwaukee grabbed five consecutive offensive boards.

But at that point, the season was already over. Irving shot the Celtics out of it early, going 5-for-16 from the floor in the first half. His nadir arrived midway through the second quarter, when he airballed a three and then played lifeless defense on Khris Middleton on the opposing block, leading to an easy basket. 

The Bucks continuously destroyed Irving Wednesday, whether it was Giannis in the lane or George Hill charging to the hoop. Irving’s defense was worse than his shooting, which is saying something, since he went 25-of-83 from the field over the Celtics’ four consecutive losses to close things out. 

Irving, who entered the series with the best NBA playoff winning percentage ever, failed this spring. Duke compadre Jay Williams called Irving’s effort an “atrocity” on “First Take” this week –– and that wasn’t even the worst thing a fellow Blue Devil said about him.

Grant Hill ripped into Irving as well, saying he can’t make it in Boston. “It’s not just his play … it’s his leadership, his press conferences,” Hill explained on TV Wednesday. “He’s been indifferent, he’s been disengaged … and with certain franchises, you just can’t do that. Boston is one of them. There’s an expectation there of success, working hard, and having integrity in how you approach things. Kyrie didn’t live up to that as their marquee guy. When you talk about Larry Bird, (John) Havlicek, (Bill) Russell, and in recent years, KG and Paul Pierce. He didn’t fall in line with the rest of those greats.”

Wow. So not only did Irving struggle from the outside, but he didn’t approach the game with integrity, according to a fellow Dukie.

That stings.

Then again, Irving is probably used to hearing ad hominem attacks from his peers. Jalen Rose declared Irving's teammates probably can’t wait for him to leave town. “They’ll pack his bags for him,” Rose said on ESPN.

Barkley, unsurprisingly, also said Irving should play elsewhere. "I think that it’s not a good mix there,” he said.

The Celtics are far worse on paper with Irving, and a core of seemingly rattled young players, tentative Gordon Hayward and Al Horford is not inspiring. But then again, neither was watching the Celtics give up on their season Wednesday. As Mike Gorman put it: "They often played like they met on the bus on the way over. It was hard to watch."

When you've lost Mike Gorman, it's time for a clean slate. Heed the advice of those who know best: Irving must go.