Has Kyrie Irving followed LeBron James’ footsteps in a way that proved detrimental to the Boston Celtics?
Stadium’s Jeff Goodman suggested as much Monday on NBC Sports Boston’s “Arbella Early Edition,” saying the the Boston Celtics point guard treated teammate Jayson Tatum as a “little brother” in Boston, much like James did to him when they played together for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Goodman believes the 27-year-old Irving’s imitation of James stifled the 21-year-old Tatum’s growth during his second NBA season.
“I just think that (Tatum) was held back by Kyrie,” Goodman said. “I really do. I feel like Kyrie treated Tatum like LeBron treated Kyrie to some extent. You’re my little brother. This is where you’re going to be. We’re not gonna let you spread your wings too much. We’ll let you spread them, but you’re still a piece here. If Tatum were allowed — and he will be this year — we’re going to see. This kid is going to be a perennial All-Star in this league.”
Tatum’s per-game averages of 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 2018-19 were slight improvements over the numbers he posted during his rookie season, but he didn’t take the great a leap forward many expected. Exactly why that’s the case remains a subject of debate, but Tatum’s failure to launch into the ranks of the NBA elite coincided with a Celtics season that began with great promise but ultimately disappointed.
Irving was 22 years old and entering his fourth NBA season in 2014 when James sensationally returned to Cleveland at age 30. They played together for the next three years, reaching the NBA Finals each campaign and winning one championship, before Irving requested a trade in 2017 in order to escape James’ shadow and lead a team on his own.
Irving called James earlier this season to apologize for his mindset and behavior prior to his departure from Cleveland. All signs point to Irving departing the Celtics this summer, leaving Tatum as a potential next face of the franchise.
If Tatum enjoys a breakout season in 2019-20, we’ll have to congratulate Goodman for his sharp instincts.