By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Kyrie Irving was all smiles has he addressed the media in Brooklyn on Friday. That was not always the case in his final year with the Boston Celtics.
Irving was extremely candid when he took the podium for Nets Media Day, and opened up about his disappointing end in Boston. Irving said he went through a period of depression last year due to the death of his grandfather, and it affected him on the court.
Irving was pegged to be the leader of Boston’s young team last season, and in the end, admitted that he failed on that front.
“I didn’t give them everything I could during the season,” he admitted. “In terms of being a leader and bringing everyone together, I failed.”
That is quite the admission from Irving, though he made sure to point out that he wasn’t the only one to blame for Boston’s disappointing end to last season. In all, it’s everything you’d expect out of a Kyrie press conference — or at least the ones where he actually talks.
Irving, a New Jersey native, said being closer to his family was the major factor as to why he left Boston for Brooklyn, and a lot changed in his life in the nine months that followed his proclamation to Celtics season ticket holders that he would re-sign with the team in the offseason.
Throughout the process, he also made it pretty clear that Boston’s young players share a lot of the responsibilities for the team’s failures last season.
“Around that time, it felt incredible in terms of the energy that we were building, especially for the future in Boston,” he said of his proclamation that he would re-sign with the C’s. “It was something I couldn’t explain at the time because, personally, I wasn’t acknowledging the things surrounding my life as well, and how to lead this group of guys that I was traded to – I wasn’t drafted by Boston and had no type of affiliation with Boston before I left Cleveland. Boston was a surprise team with Wyc [Grousbeck] and Danny [Ainge] that took a chance at trading for me. When they did, and the way our first season happened and also the way the end of the season happened, having so much youth and exuberance and goals set personally, I think that some of the actual knowledge to needed to be had to be a championship team takes more than just two years. It takes more than just the environment that you feel comfortable in.”
Woah, someone tell Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to duck. But Irving quickly shifted back to himself, and when things started to take a turn for him, personally.
“When I said I would re-sign if you guys will have me, the crowd was immense. I loved Boston and loved the Boston fans. Then, two weeks later, things got really rocky for me. After the Phoenix game, I went to my grandfather’s memorial. He passed on Oct. 23 and after he passed, basketball was the last thing on my mind,” he admitted. “The joy was sucked out of me and there was a facial expression I carried throughout the year. I didn’t let anyone get close to me and it bothered me. I didn’t take necessary steps to get counseling or therapy to deal with someone that close to me dying. I responded in ways that were uncharacteristic.
“Like I said, I had to acknowledge that fact, and I had to acknowledge that fact to the organization first, because that was our internal bond and trust that we had. I talked to Danny and told him I wanted to re-sign, but through the year, it became more and more clear that my relationships within my home life have way higher precedent than the organization or anyone,” Irving explained. “I barely got to talk to my grandfather before he passed because of basketball. So you tell me if you’d want to go to work every single day knowing you just lost someone close to you, doing a job every single day that everyone from the outside or internally is protecting you for — like, ‘hey, just be a basketball player.’
“Throughout that year it just became rocky and a lot of the battles I thought I could battle through in a team environment, I wasn’t ready for,” he said. “I failed those guys in a sense I didn’t give them everything I could have during the season, especially with the amount of pieces we had. My relationships with them personally were great, but in terms of me being a leader in that environment and bringing them together, I failed. It’s a huge learning experience to slow down and acknowledge I’m human in this.”
Irving said he has reached out to the Celtics and still cares about his former bosses and teammates. But he made it crystal clear why the Celtics lost in the second round last postseason, and were never going to live up to the lofty expectations they carried into the season.
“All those guys just want to be great. We were all internally trying to be great, and I don’t think we were trying to be great as a team to meet at the top. That happens in team environments all the time, whether they want to admit it or not,” he said. “None of that crap matters. Everyone has a role to play and you see the most experienced teams win the championship because they all buy in and sacrifice. It’s the oldest teams that make it every year because they don’t have to deal with the same youthful expectations that are unrealistic for players who really have to earn different things in this league to be at that level — including myself.”
There is a lot to digest in all of that, as there usually is when Irving wants to get his point across. Along with his admission of guilt was his own account of what went wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. It would have been pretty disappointing if Irving didn’t blame Boston’s young players, as they’ve been blaming him much of this offseason.
Irving seems happy to be in Brooklyn, excited to be close to home and paired with Kevin Durant. He said the team is building and won’t place expectations on the squad, so he’s already taken one lesson from his failed days in Boston.
It’s unclear what the Nets or Celtics will be this season. But whenever the two teams square off, it’s going to be must-see TV — during and after the contests.