What’s the next step for Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving in his quest to bring an NBA championship to Boston?
Retired Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant has an idea.
“The next move for him is figuring out how to get the most out of the pieces around him,” Bryant said Thursday at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “That’s really hard, right? And understanding how do you find an emotional connection with each player, figure out what their fears are, and help turn those fears into strengths. To do that, you have to put time in.”
Bryant said he’s not referring to time spent in the gym but, rather, time spent listening to teammates, stressing the importance of conversations off the court, for example, at “breakfast, lunch, [and] dinner.” Bryant said he came this realization when six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan told him the same thing after he and the Lakers lost to the Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals.
“He said, ‘Listen, you have all the individual tools. Now you have to figure out how to connect with each one of those guys and bring the best out of those guys,'” Bryant relayed. “It’s not about just passing them the ball and saying, ‘That’s what makes guys better.’ That’s not it. You have to figure out how to touch the right buttons to make them want to be the best versions of themselves. How do you do that?
“That was my challenge in ’09 and 2010. I was able to figure it out. And that’s what Kyrie has to figure out.”
Irving and the Celtics have fallen short of their lofty preseason expectations, as they close the regular season battling for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. There have been several moments indicative of internal strife throughout the season, from a players-only meeting to Irving’s phone call to former teammate LeBron James to Marcus Morris shoving Jaylen Brown during a game. Despite the frustration — and repeated losses to inferior teams — Irving still seems confident things will turn around once the postseason begins.
Should he heed Bryant’s advice and the Celtics’ season ends with a title, it’s possible the pair will have similar exchange to the one the two shared three years ago. When Irving’s former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, Bryant said Irving FaceTimed him from the visitors’ locker room at Oracle Arena.
“Kyrie’s in the locker room celebrating on FaceTime, like, ‘Dude, it worked! Your advice worked.’ He’s completely freaking out,” Bryant said. “I was really, really proud of him. I’d say Kyrie’s probably the [mentee] I’m closest to.”
“SiriusXM’s Town Hall with Kobe Bryant” airs nationwide Friday at 3 p.m. on the SiriusXM NBA Radio channel.