The Celtics appear to be tumbling toward major changes to the team’s lineup as the NBA’s free agency period approaches June 30 at 6 p.m. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are more than likely on the way out and Danny Ainge is reportedly pursuing free agent and All-Star Kemba Walker to sign a max contract instead.
Before Irving officially walks away, though, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan penned an article spreading the blame for the Celtics’ dysfunction in 2018-19 across the team’s roster.
“If people actually believe Boston’s implosion was all Kyrie Irving’s fault, they weren’t paying attention,” MacMullan writes.
According to MacMullan, trouble appeared on the coaching staff’s radar as early as preseason pickup games, when they saw young players who had succeeded in 2017-18 by making extra passes “jacking up shots and running isolation plays” instead.
MacMullan writes that team sources said Irving was disgruntled when a group of the team’s young players went out in South Beach, Miami, after arriving in the city after 2 a.m. the night before a Jan. 10 game against the Heat. The trouble was that the Celtics had just played the Pacers in Boston on Jan. 9.
“It’s not uncommon for NBA players to go out when they’re on the road,” MacMullan writes. “But Irving was irked teammates decided to do it in the middle of back-to-back games.”
The Celtics lost that game against the Heat 115-99 and featured Marcus Morris, angry that Jaylen Brown did not hustle to the defensive end after a turnover, shoving the 22-year-old forward.
“Reporters clamored to ask Irving about it after the game, but he had disappeared,” MacMullan writes. “After nearly 30 minutes, he was found shooting baskets on Miami’s practice court, hoping some of his teammates who had played so poorly might join him. None of them did.”
Two nights later, dysfunction reared its head once more when Irving appeared visibly upset that Gordon Hayward opted to give Jayson Tatum the last shot against the Orlando Magic. Tatum missed, the Celtics lost by two points, and Irving had words for Hayward as the team exited the court.
MacMullan notes that Irving made reference to the team’s lack of experience in his postgame press conference, and while he did eventually apologize for his reaction to the game’s end “the damage was done, both in his locker room and in the public court of opinion.”
The article also reaffirms the notion that different Celtics grew unhappy with Brad Stevens’s perceived bias toward Gordon Hayward, even as the star struggled to regain confidence coming back from his gruesome ankle injury in 2017. MacMullan writes that Hayward’s teammates were sympathetic to his situation but were unhappy with how much playing time he received, even after Stevens moved Hayward to the bench in November.
These situations were just some of the myriad of reported issues the Celtics had with one another throughout the season. As MacMullan writes, few come so blatantly obvious that Irving’s interest in Boston had ended as when the Celtics placed 100 basketballs in a room for players to sign and then donate to the franchise’s charitable partners at the end of the regular season.
“Everyone signed the balls except Irving,” MacMullan writes. “When pressed to do it, say team sources, he was neither aggressive nor confrontational. He merely said, ‘No, I’m not interested in that.'”