Former Celtics forward Antoine Walker called into WEEI over the weekend and said Kyrie Irving has not bought into the idea of being a “true Celtic” and struggles with leadership, revisiting his criticisms of Irving’s leadership on Fox Sports 1‘s “First Things First” last Wednesday.
Walker said it was a bad sign Irving had nothing to say after the Celtics were blown out by the Raptors on Feb. 26.
“To have no comments and leave the other players out to dry and leave Marcus Smart’s comment out to dry lets you know how concerned he is about being on the Celtics,” Walker said.
"Kyrie's not a leader. He's a great player, a superstar in this league, I would love to have him on my team, but he's not a leader. Last night, to have no comments and leave Marcus Smart's comment out to dry lets you know his concern about being on the Celtics." —@WalkerAntoine8 pic.twitter.com/1WCmjQiseh
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) February 27, 2019
When Walker joined WEEI host Marc James on Saturday, he said being a “true Celtic” is wrapped in having a desire to play in Boston and committing to winning in Boston.
“I think Kyrie got traded there. I don’t necessarily believe the Celtics was one of his landing spots,” Walker said. “I think he was OK with it because they have some young talent and he was willing to see how it works. He knew he had two years before he could hit the free agent market, so I think he came in with the right attitude, but to be a true Celtic, you’ve got to want to be there.”
Walker spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Celtics after the team drafted him with the sixth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. He was an NBA All-Star three times and was second in total points only to Paul Pierce during his time in Boston.
“I know a lot of guys don’t like to give away what they’re doing in the summer and they like to just play it out, but he hasn’t been definitive in the way to say, ‘Hey look, I’m a Celtic, we’re building something here, we’re building a championship team,'” Walker said. “His comments in the media haven’t been strong, and haven’t been Celtic-like. When you’re a Celtic, you believe that you can win here and get it done.”
Walker elaborated that he thinks Irving is one of the league’s great players, but he pointed toward his well-publicized phone call to LeBron James as evidence that Irving lacks leadership skills. He said that while James has almost always been able to rally his teams around trying to win a championship, Irving has clearly struggled to bring the Celtics roster together.
“Sometimes you have to do little things you may not want to do, as simple as taking five, six guys out to dinner,” Walker said. “Obviously, I’m not with the team, I don’t know what these guys do off the court. But those are some of the little things you may have to do. Going to dinner, getting together with guys privately, getting them on the same page, have a team meeting sometimes without coaches.”
Walker spoke of his championship season with the 2005-2006 Miami Heat, where he played on alongside stars Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal as an example of a locker room that was on the same page. Walker said the team privately used the slogan “15 strong” to remind each player the team was united. Comparatively, Walker said the Celtics do not feel like a “together group,” and it should start with Irving as the player who has won a championship in the past.
“I think with [Irving], he has to understand the microphone is in a different place,” Walker said. “You played four years with LeBron, you got an NBA championship, you were able to be the other star. But LeBron answered those tough questions while you were able to kind of fly under the radar. According to you, the reason you left Cleveland is that you wanted that spotlight. You wanted the tough questions. You wanted to be able to be the guy the team had to look up to. So the way he’s handling himself right now, he’s putting himself in a bad light, unfortunately.”