Kyrie Irving’s Knee Injury Is A Blessing In Disguise For Celtics; Here’s Why


Apr 6, 2018

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

The Boston Celtics aren’t winning an NBA title this season, and they likely aren’t going to the NBA Finals, either. Can they win a playoff series, possibly two? We wouldn’t rule it out, given how Boston has gutted out wins all season in the face of mounting injuries — a testament to Brad Stevens’ brilliance.

But there’s a ceiling without Kyrie Irving, who was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason Thursday. The C’s aren’t getting by the Toronto Raptors or LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in a seven-game series without Irving’s transcendent talent. And while Boston did the right thing by shutting Irving down, there still are red flags about his health, namely the bacterial infection doctors found in his knee and the four- to five-month timetable to heal a knee that we were told has “no structural damage.”

OK, that’s enough negativity for today. Because if you look past Thursday’s storm clouds, you’ll find several silver linings.

We’ve already mentioned one: Irving can invest his full energy into returning healthy for the 2018-19 season. If he had returned to this year’s playoffs and led the Celtics on a deep run, who knows what toll it would have taken on his knee? Now, the 26-year-old can set his sights on next season — where he’ll be joined by Gordon Hayward and the same core supporting cast on what could be a serious title contender. (How’s this for a starting five: Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford.)

About that supporting cast: The same scrappy group that’s kept Boston afloat without Irving and Hayward is about to gain valuable postseason experience. Terry Rozier will be asked to run the show at point guard, while 20-year-old Tatum and 21-year-old Brown will be primary scoring options. Marcus Morris and Greg Monroe, who have won a combined two playoff games, will get at least another seven-game series under their belts.

If the C’s can grind out a first-round series win — they’ve gone 12-6 without Irving this season and are fully capable of knocking off a team like the Milwaukee Bucks or Washington Wizards — they’ll get further playoff seasoning, likely against the Cavs. Even if Cleveland blows doors, the experience of trying to hang with “Playoff LeBron” without the safety net of Irving should harden Boston’s role players ahead of a potential 2019 playoff run.

There’s another factor at play here, too. Rozier’s stock has skyrocketed in Irving’s absence, while Tatum, Brown and Morris have blossomed, as well. That gives Danny Ainge more leverage should he include one of those players in a blockbuster deal for a third star. (Kawhi Leonard, anyone?)

The C’s will be in great shape if they run this same roster back next fall (and re-sign Marcus Smart), but they have the assets to make some moves this summer. Irving’s injury, while unfortunate, has allowed Boston to showcase its role players to potential suitors.

In short: The future still is bright on Causeway Street. Patience will be required, as the quest for Banner 18 has been delayed at least a year. But do yourself a favor and enjoy this playoff run, because it should be a sign of better things to come.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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