Despite the Boston Celtics’ recent struggles, it sure seems there’s a much friendlier vibe on Causeway Street.
A big reason for that was the club’s needed (and forced) change in leadership atop the roster. Out was Kyrie Irving, who ended his up-and-down Celtics tenure when he signed with the Brooklyn Nets. Replacing him was the affable, if not quite as talented Kemba Walker.
For all of Irving’s physical gifts, it’s clear in hindsight he wasn’t a good fit. Over the course of last season, it became evident even in the moment. And when things got real bad — like when Boston was run out of the NBA playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks — responsibility was nowhere to be found from Irving. The same Irving, mind you, who has developed a habit of publicly questioning his teammates and coaches.
With Irving, though, that aspect of the Celtics is much different this season. And for Celtics blossoming star Jaylen Brown, Walker is a big reason for that. Brown, in fact, got a first-hand look at Walker’s leadership over the summer at the FIBA World Cup where a Walker-led team flopped on the international stage. The former Charlotte Hornets star took his lumps, however, and never deflected blame at his teammates or coaches.
That stood out to Brown.
“Obviously we had goals that we didn’t live up to,” Brown said on a podcast with ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. “We wanted to win and we didn’t. Kemba was one of the leaders of that team, so he had to take a majority of the flak. How he handled it was great. He didn’t point fingers, he didn’t blame others. To be honest, he just said that ‘We’re going to be all right. We’re going to learn from this, and things happen for a reason.’ He said things that were more uplifting than what you usually see. Maybe somebody goes into a corner and doesn’t talk to nobody, know what I mean? Instead of hanging out with their teammates, they start hanging out more with their agents or people, their friends, their entourage.”
This seems like a very good time to revisit a story from last March. With the Celtics marred in a miserable stretch including five losses in six games, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported this about Irving:
“Sources around the team told me that Irving’s persona has changed, too: He’s become disengaged and detached from those around the team,” O’Connor wrote.
(That’s not the only example of such behavior, either. There’s also this one.)
As for Walker, he obviously takes a different approach.
“Kemba, we still hung out, we still played cards because we were all in China,” Brown continued. “Nothing changed even though the times got more pressure and more difficult. When things get a little difficult and you hit adversity, that’s when you see someone’s true makeup and character. The whole world was against us, literally, and Kemba remained the same guy.”
The Celtics need that kind of mentality now more than they have all season. Boston has lost six of eight games entering Monday night’s tilt with the Lakers. The good news for the Celtics? Walker is back in the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with a knee injury. As is Brown after missing a couple games with a dinged-up thumb.
Thumbnail photo via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Images