Shortly after the Celtics completed their blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving last August, it was reported that the All-Star guard was “ecstatic” about coming to Boston.
For those wondering why Irving ever would leave a team that had reached three straight NBA Finals (and ditch a player, LeBron James, who had played in seven consecutive finals), his jubilation was all the more puzzling.
But now, we’re beginning to see Irving’s logic.
Bleacher Report’s Ken Berger published a feature Wednesday detailing Irving’s evolution as a leader since coming to Boston. Much has been made of Irving leaving the Cavs to get out of James’ shadow, and with good reason: An Eastern Conference executive told Berger that James “sucked all the oxygen out of the room” in Cleveland, stifling Irving’s voice.
But just as important to Irving as a change in scenery was joining a team where his voice could thrive. According to Al Horford, that’s exactly what has happened in Boston.
“I think in Cleveland, he was one of the younger guys in the group,” the veteran Celtics forward told Berger. “So as good as he was, he had all the vets in the world that probably gave him all the advice and had everything kind of figured out. He’s in a position now where he’s one of the veterans, and he can come in and establish himself and command the respect that he brings.
“He’s a champion. … He’s more selective with what he says, but when he says it, it commands that respect and attention, and we listen to him.”
Horford couldn’t be more right. The Cavs are the oldest team in the NBA, with an average age of 30.1. Sure, LeBron was a dominant presence, but the 25-year-old Irving still was surrounded by several other elder statesmen whose voices filled Cleveland’s locker room.
It’s a much different story in Boston, however. The C’s boast the league’s fourth-youngest roster (average age: 25.1), and Irving actually is one of the team’s older players, while also one of its most experienced: He’s the only current Celtic to even reach an NBA Finals (much less win one) and with Gordon Hayward sidelined since Opening Night, Irving’s six seasons of NBA experience are tied with Marcus Morris for second-most on the squad, only behind Horford.
That’s all to say Irving appears to have found his perfect match: A group of young, talented players who look to him for leadership (led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) and a head coach (Brad Stevens) who supports his leadership role while also pushing him to get better.
“I think he’s really smart and he knows the narrative, and the great ones can redefine it,” Stevens told Berger.
That same executive told Berger the Celtics and Irving still are in the “honeymoon phase,” and that plenty still can go wrong. But with Boston holding the NBA’s second-best record as of Wednesday, this has all the makings of a healthy marriage.