"Kyrie Irving is leaving Boston..."
This rumor has been softly bandied about this offseason as analysts and fans look ahead towards next season's free agent class, but after Jimmy Butler’s trade request from the Minnesota Timberwolves it has further intensified. Photoshopped images of Irving and Butler in New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets jerseys have been popping up across my timeline, and it’s time for the silliness to stop. Here are a few of the numerous reasons Kyrie will stay in Boston after this year.
Boston will have his bird rights and thus the ability to offer Irving the most money out of any team in the league. For a guy as marketable as Uncle Drew and as driven as the former champion Irving is, money likely won’t be a deal-breaker, but the Celtics have much more than a financial advantage over other suitors for Kyrie.
One of the biggest advantages for Kyrie to staying in Boston is continuing to play under the tutelage of Brad Stevens. The Celtics offensive system under Stevens allowed Kyrie to post the most efficient season of his career. Irving had a true shooting percentage of 61% and the highest PER of his career. And for any griping about Irving having some kind of lesser role, he still posted the second highest point per game total of his young career.
Steven’s also helped Irving round out his game defensively. Kyrie posted the by far the highest defensive win shares total of his career in the 2018-2019 season, even though he only played in 60 games. If he can maintain playing approximately near average defense for Boston, Irving should be competing for a bid on the All-NBA team for just the second time in his career.
One of the teams Butler mentioned in his desired list of teams, and the team garnering the most speculation as the spot where irving and Butler could hypothetically team up, is the long-suffering New York Knicks. Adding New York native Irving to the Knicks young core could be possible next season, as with the impending departure of Joakim Noah and a trade of either Courtney Lee or Tim Hardaway Jr., the Knicks should be able to free up a pair of max slots for Irving and Butler in 2019.
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Unfortunately for New York fans, a Knicks super team with Jimmy Butler and Kristaps Porzingis would have the same purported issues Irving would have with being “the man” in Boston, only with a lesser coach and significantly less stable organizational management. Why would any superstar leave the strong leadership core of owner Wyc Grousbeck, GM Danny Ainge and genius coach Brad Stevens for the ever-rotating management groups assembled under petulant owner James Dolan? In a contract that would be bringing him into his 30’s, why would Irving leave for a Knicks team that has been a graveyard for players as they move past their prime for the last two decades? So that he can join the injury-prone Porzingis and demanding Butler under the brutal New York media spotlight? The Knicks.....
An Irving move with Butler to the Nets faces similar logistical problems, including the presence of D’Angelo Russell and the lack of surefire star talent on the existing roster. They do have a seemingly strong front office under Sean Marks, but they also haven’t finished over .500 since 2013-2014, so there’s still a lot for them to prove. Plus, these moves, and really any other realistic moves for Irving, still face the same problem; they simply don’t improve upon his current situation in Boston. Even moving Irving somewhere with Kawhi Leonard likely wouldn’t be better than the situation Kyrie has with the Celtics, unless he really wanted to swallow his pride and re-unite with LeBron James on the Lakers, which I would say is pretty damn unlikely.
Perhaps the most notable insight into Irving’s upcoming free agency came from Kyrie himself at Celtics Media Day. After posing for pictures with the Celtics fully-healthy starting five that may be slightly pornographic for Boston fans, Irving then discussed the offseason and the future with NBA TV reporter Kristen Ledlow. In his comments, Irving talked about his desire to grow with the young crew Danny Ainge has assembled in Boston, and even more importantly touched on his hope to one day see his #11 jersey hanging in the rafters at the Garden with the other Celtic legends. For a guy as reserved with the media as Irving can be at times, these comments carry some real weight and provide a pretty clear picture of where his head and heart are at the onset of the 2018 season.
Having the full contingent of players on the Celtics this year might not allow Kyrie to chase scoring titles like he could on a lesser team. But, at the end of the day Irving still gets to be the man who will have the ball in his hands when it means the most for a team with the opportunity to compete for a championship for the next decade, why the hell would he leave that? Even better, the petty part in him can now strive to bring a championship to Boston before his old teammate LeBron can bring one to the arch-rival Lakers. So, no, Kyrie Irving is not leaving the Celtics; please miss me with any noise to the contrary. There is no city on this Flat Earth Irving belongs in more than Boston and he knows it.
All stats via https://www.basketball-reference.com/