Over the past couple weeks, there’s been a ton of talk about Kyrie Irving as a leader. A lot of it has been based on a few public interactions between Celtics players and quotes given to the media in postgame.
And while there are definitely some substantiated arguments to be made about his leadership skills and approach, I have a few things I would like to point out.
Look, Kyrie is not that old. He’s 26. Yes, he’s now in his 8th year in the NBA, and that coupled, with his 4-time NBA Finals appearances and 1 title, definitely makes him a veteran of the game. But he’s not Al Horford. He’s not the elderly statesman who’s here to talk to the young guys about how the league works and what to expect, or to give them sage advice about NBA life. While he’ll eventually grow into that role, right now, being the voice of reason to the young guys is Horford’s job.
Kyrie and I are the same age, and while I don’t have millions or dollars nor the skill to play in the NBA, I’ve always related to him as a person. And if you’ve followed him the way I have, you know he’s a lead by example guy. He’s a “show, don’t tell” type of guy. He leads the young guys (who he’s not much older than) by demonstrating how to play in the NBA. does he need to improve his communication with them, and how he addresses his grievances? Of course. And based on what he’s said to the media lately, he’s shown that he’s learning that. (Which is another trait I admire of his—he constantly tries to improve himself and learn.) I’ll take a guy with Kyrie’s passion for winning and willingness to admit his mistakes 10 times out of 10.
Plus, let’s be honest, it’s hard to fault him for finger pointing publicly. He learned a lot of it from LeBron “Subtweet my teammates” James.
Everyone is also stressing this because apparently not everyone believed Kyrie when he said he was coming back next year. But I wholeheartedly believe he is. Watch these games. Kyrie loves this city. He clearly loves this team. And while fingers have been pointed, he’s had some decent points, and he clearly likes his teammates. I don’t think there’s any bad blood on this Celtics team. I think Kyrie is just competitive and ready to win, and got frustrated. But learning to address that properly, most of the time, comes with age. And again, Kyrie is 26. He’s learning.
It’s also interesting that people have expected Kyrie to start pulling a James Harden and just take over games when the team can’t get it together. And while I wouldn’t necessarily hate him doing that (he’s the best PG in the league and I’ll die on that hill), that’s the exact opposite of what an on-court/on-field leader does. If Jalen Brown isn’t flexing on dudes and Tatum is off from 3, Kyrie needs to keep them involved in the games. Sure, get your 25 and help make sure we win, but keeping the young guys involved is how you keep guys happy and progressing. You’ve gotta shoot to get better at shooting and you’ve got to play together to improve chemistry. Then, pick your spots to pull a Harden.
What Kyrie did in the Raptors game was the perfect example. Hitting that 3 at the end to ice the game was awesome. It was an incredible moment. It was Kyrie putting the game in his hands, and I loved it. But prior to that the whole team was touching the ball and contributing. Kyrie and Marcus Smart got Tatum involved, and Young involved, and they still beat the Raptors despite Kawhi playing like a freak.
People also forget that this team is now playing its first season with everyone new being healthy. Brad Stevens has had to figure out how to work in the guys, like Brown and Tatum and Rozier, who got a ton of playing time in the playoffs and second half of the year with both Kyrie and Gordon Hayward hurt. That type of chemistry, especially with a team this talented (shout out Terry for pointing this out) doesn’t happen easily or overnight.
The fact that people don’t have a little more perspective on this is nuts. The C’s are a top 10 team in the NBA, even with these problems.
We’re not even halfway through the season. Stevens will make sure guys are happy with their time, and the C’s will figure things out. And Kyrie will grow as a leader. He’ll learn and improve, like he always had. And the young guys should keep holding the older guys accountable. This team just needs to feel each other out. Acting like this is easy is a problem (looking at you, media). And pretending it wasn’t going to take at least half a season is even crazier.
I’m not worried about Kyrie Irving.
Photo: Getty Images