Jackie MacMullan revealed in a piece published Tuesday on ESPN.com that Kyrie Irving told Danny Ainge he was leaving the Celtics during his exit interview following Boston’s second-round playoff loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
On Thursday, Ainge was asked on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” whether that timeline was accurate, prompting the Celtics’ president of basketball operations to add some context regarding his end-of-season discussion with Irving, who ultimately signed with the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.
“Talking about last year’s team is getting about as boring to me as talking about the 2016 presidential election. So I think that I’d rather not address those issues, but I will say that I have said before that Kyrie was forthright,” Ainge explained. “His version and my version might be a little bit different, but it’s pretty close and I think that I hold no grudges against Kyrie. Kyrie, he didn’t slam the door on a potential return, but he did let me know that he would prefer to go home. Those were the words that he used and so we for sure had an inkling, but he didn’t slam the door on the possibility of returning to Boston.”
Irving famously said before last season he planned to re-sign with Boston. The All-Star point guard obviously didn’t fulfill that promise, even insisting last week it was an “easy decision” to sign with Brooklyn.
Things worked out for the Celtics, as they subsequently signed Kemba Walker and no longer have to deal with the headaches that accompany Irving, whose leadership was questioned ad nauseam throughout Boston’s underwhelming 2018-19 campaign. Plus, Irving’s tenure with the Nets isn’t exactly off to the smoothest start.
No wonder Ainge doesn’t hold any grudges. The Celtics might be better off in the long run thanks to Irving’s departure, however abrupt it was or wasn’t.