BOSTON (CBS) — Through 58 games of the season, things have not gone as planned for the Boston Celtics. After a 55-27 record last year and a run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, expectations were obviously sky-high for a Celtics team that was set to re-add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the floor.
But with a 37-21 record thus far, the season has clearly not played out to most people’s expectations. In a sitdown interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Irving explained why it’s been a tough go for the Celtics this season.
“It’s been a trying year for us,” Irving said. “Because we basically have a bunch of young men in our locker room that feel like they’re capable of doing a lot more than what they’re doing. And that’s OK. But there’s a maturity that you have to have, a professionalism you have to showcase every single day, and that’s what the great ones do.
“I initially didn’t play the minutes I wanted to play” Irving continued. “You know, I’m 26 years old heading into my prime, like, why do I have to wait for anybody? Terry Rozier, he played in the playoffs, he did extremely well. Coming back, that’s a natural competition that me and him have. Like, it is what it is. No one wants to say it, but I will.
“It’s part of their growth. When you have winning in mind, you just gotta understand that you gotta do what it takes, but you gotta understand your teammates.”
Irving said he’ll take it upon his shoulders to continue to try to elevate all of his teammates’ play.
“You obviously have expectations to live up to individually, but as a team, you know, it’s a lot to figure out all in one year,” Irving said. “You know, bringing a lot more talent. You know, we didn’t just fill in pieces here and there; we filled in pieces with great players. So a lot has changed since the beginning of the season, but overall I just want to win. And I’m going to dedicate myself every single day, and if I gotta bring everybody else up with me, then that’s just what I have to do.”
When it comes to leadership, Irving said he himself has gone through some growth this year. After initially seeking outside advice, he decided to trust in himself and try to lead in a more natural way.
“At the end of the day, I’ve always had the tools,” Irving said. “Now it’s just about going out there and just doing it and proving it and being myself. That’s the best version of me.”
Irving was also asked about his midseason call to LeBron James, a call which was an apology of sorts for being a young player who didn’t necessarily take well to LeBron’s leadership style in Cleveland. Just as he did at the time when talking to reporters, Irving gave himself credit for making that call.
“I think that, you know, it takes a very, very strong individual to replay a lot of the experiences that you’ve had,” Irving said of his call to LeBron. “You know, a lot of anger that you had built up where you didn’t address the situation and you allowed it to fester, and then it was just combustion. Like it just came out and then you realize, like, hey, man, I didn’t have to deal with that the same way I dealt with that. I didn’t have to go about it that same way. Now mind you, I have no regrets in terms of any decisions that I made going about my individual journey and what I want and what I want and foresee for my career. And yeah, apologizing, that was a step for me, just to move forward in my life.”
As for his future, Irving has seemingly wavered on his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics after the season. That’s led to lots of speculation, rumors, and chatter from the national media. Irving said that part can’t be avoided, but stressed how important it will be to keep that chatter from disrupting the Celtics’ goal of winning a championship.
“Well the talks don’t stop. The talk follows the great players in the league, and I’m appreciative and grateful to be one of those great players in our league now. I’ve worked my way to get here, and honestly, all that goes with the free agent talk is really a distraction,” Irving told Nichols. “A lot of people don’t realize on the outside that a lot of things that are said get into the locker rooms. Like a lot of things that are put in headlines get into locker rooms. Like, media has broken up locker rooms. Like, it’s been done before. Like, you say something that’s misinterpreted, and instead of addressing it with the person or individual, like human interaction, you read it on your phone, or you read it in text. Someone says, ‘Hey did you see what this person said about you?’ and it’s your teammate. And you’re like, wait, I didn’t hear that, and then you hold back, you don’t say anything to him, and then throughout the season it ends up coming out again. And it’s just like, man, that’s not the way life is supposed to go.
“It’s a unique position but I’m appreciative that I can have this understanding now. It’s fun, but at the same time, goodness, it’s energy-taxing.”