Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving both will face pressure this season after reportedly agreeing to max contracts with the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, respectively.
Walker will be tasked with reestablishing Boston as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender after chemistry issues led to unmet expectations for the organization in 2018-19, while Irving — one of the main culprits of the Celtics’ recent downfall — will need to show he’s capable of leading a young, up-and-coming roster without causing problems in the locker room.
So, who will have the bigger impact in 2019-20?
Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman debated that subject Tuesday on ESPN’s “First Take,” and Smith believes Walker is the choice despite the former Charlotte Hornets star being in the “eye of the storm” upon landing with Boston.
“I think it’s going to be Kemba, because I think that even though Kyrie has arrived in Brooklyn and they’ve got a lot of talent — Boston does, too — but in light of who Kemba is and what he brings to the table and the kind of year that Boston has had, I think the eye of the storm is really going to be on him,” Smith said. “Not to say it’s not going to be in Brooklyn, as well. Not to say that I don’t expect Kyrie to put on a show. But I think that the system (the Nets) have in place — (general manager) Sean Marks, (head coach) Kenny Atkinson — the way those players are going to be utilized, I actually think that Kyrie Irving is going to be asked to do less than Kemba Walker is going to be asked to do in Boston.
“Even with (Jayson) Tatum, even with Jaylen Brown. It’s not just about points. It’s about assists, it’s about leadership, it’s about running the team, it’s about changing a culture, it’s about getting back to some of the things that may have worked for you a couple of years ago. I think because of all those components — I’m not talking about numbers in terms of the biggest impact. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying Kemba’s going to average more points than Kyrie, or something like that. I’m saying that when you talk about a culture, I think the culture in Brooklyn has already been established with Marks and Atkinson. I think clearly (the Celtics) want Kemba to reinstill a new culture in Boston, and that’s why I think he’s going to have a bigger impact.”
The Nets certainly appear to be trending upward, especially after nabbing both Irving and Kevin Durant on the open market, although the latter might not play this season thanks to the ruptured Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics, meanwhile, have been trending in the other direction for the past several months, with Al Horford’s departure in free agency only compounding Boston’s issues.
But each organization’s short- and long-term success (or lack thereof) likely will be tied to the performance of Walker and Irving moving forward, making this a fascinating topic to argue about in the months leading up to the 2019-20 NBA campaign.