By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics season is over, and now the attention turns to the future of Kyrie Irving.
It certainly sounds like that future will be somewhere other than Boston, which surprisingly, may be best for both parties. It will lead to some darker days for Boston, but the Irving experiment has not worked out. The Celtics traded for Irving two summers ago with the hope that he would become a cornerstone player, the next great Celtic in a long line of great Celtics. He was supposed to become the leader he’s always wanted to be but couldn’t in the shadow of LeBron James. He was supposed to eventually lead the Celtics to an NBA title. Heck, he even did a commercial about having his No. 11 in the rafters some day.
It has fizzled out in grand fashion. After a summer spent dreaming of 60+ wins and a dance with the Warriors in the NBA Finals, the Celtics played uninspiring basketball throughout the regular season. They never meshed and spent more time fighting with each other than caring about their play on the floor. Personal goals were put ahead of the team, an the incessant bickering between Irving and Boston’s young players — and coach, and role players, and just about everyone else — was proof that this was no team at all, just a collection of talent that thought they could coast off their natural abilities.
Kyrie was not the leader anyone hoped he would be. And in the playoffs, he wasn’t even the player anyone thought he would be. Irving spent the end of the regular season telling everyone not to worry, he would be on the floor this postseason and that would be the difference between a spunky run to the Conference Finals and a trip to the Finals. Instead, Irving shot 30 percent in Boston’s four blowout losses to the Bucks, and now we head into an offseason of uncertainty.
No one really expected Irving to give away his offseason intentions in the moments after Wednesday night’s 116-91 defeat in Milwaukee. He said he just wanted to get home and decompress with his family. But when asked if Boston is still a viable option after he opts out of the final year of his deal and becomes a free agent, Irving didn’t even mention the Celtics. Instead, he praised the Bucks.
“Truth be told, it’s no time to be disappointed,” he said of the five-game defeat to the Bucks. “You take your lesson, you take the ass-whopping that they handed us and you move on. It’s a basketball journey, obviously, you want to keep playing but they put a halt to that and they deserved the series, and they played like they wanted it. I’m looking forward to seeing them go to the Eastern Conference Finals and playing their next opponent. It was a great opponent for me to play against for the rest of my career because I know I won’t forget something like this; the taste of feeling defeat in this type of style, being down 1-4. I haven’t felt.
“For me, it’s just moving onto the next thing and just seeing where that ends up,” he concluded.
Throughout the frustrating season, Irving praising the opposition happened a lot more than him praising his own team.
A lot can change between now and July 1. Danny Ainge has a lot of decisions to make, and needs to figure out where this all went wrong. Everyone is to blame, and everyone should be held accountable. But Irving was brought in to lead like a superstar, and he did the exact opposite.
Still, Ainge will likely spent the next seven-plus weeks trying to convince Irving to take a max contract and stay in Boston, something most Celtics fans will cringe over. But the Celtics have no cap space to add a max contract, unless they give it to Irving. Maybe he’s not the best option for their future, but right now, he could be their only option if they want to compete for a title — or at least pretend to compete for one. If he bolts, the Celtics future becomes pretty murky and will likely mean an extended stay in the middle of the conference — better known as NBA purgatory.
We’re in for a summer of the unknown. Two years ago, Ainge took a team that went to the Conference Finals and jettisoned all but four players in the offseason. Imagine what Ainge may do after one of the most disappointing seasons in Celtics history.
But it all starts with Kyrie, and whether or not he wants back in Boston. Or whether or not the Celtics want him back. The season ended much too early for anyone’s liking, and now that wait until July 1 will feel even longer.