By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There were a lot of issues with the 2018-19 Boston Celtics, but a lack of chemistry was chief among them. Through their many missteps throughout the season, it was clear that the players didn’t really like playing with one another.
Or, they didn’t like playing with one particular player — Kyrie Irving. The point guard tried to take on a leadership role with Boston’s young roster, but in the end, his attempted guidance had split the locker room. The Celtics struggled with the lofty expectations placed on the team, and a free-agent-to-be, Irving was already thinking about leaving for Brooklyn in March. The whole mess ended with an embarrassing five-game loss to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Holding scorn for their leader will not be the case for Boston’s young stars — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — heading into the new season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. The Celtics’ young core absolutely loves playing alongside Kyrie’s replacement, Kemba Walker.
“They love Kemba,” Windhorst said on the latest episode of the Hoop Collective podcast. “They love him. It’s a double-edged thing. Jaylen Brown refused to talk about the past. He was like, ‘That was then, this is now, we are artists painting a new painting.’ … They’re saying how much they like Kemba, but it’s also kind of a way saying, ‘We really didn’t like Kyrie.'”
We’ll see how much early chemistry the Celtics have when training camp gets underway next week, but it certainly helps that Walker, Brown, Tatum and Marcus Smart played together for Team USA during the FIBA World Cup — albeit to some disappointing results. And, as crazy as it sounds, it should help that the players actually like to play with their leader on the floor when games start to count.
It’s unfair to blame everything that went wrong with last year’s Celtics on Irving, but if this year’s Celtics show some chemistry — and more importantly, passion — from the jump, it’ll be hard not to circle back last year’s blame train to the moody point guard.