Storyline: Kyrie Irving Free Agency

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Kyrie Irving made headlines last week, commenting “I don’t owe anybody sh–” regarding his supposed obligation to remain in Boston when he hits free agency. Two days later, Irving decimated the Oklahoma City Thunder to lead the Celtics to a home win on Sunday. Did Kyrie’s comments negatively affect the team, or was that not an issue? Al Horford: I know things are being said in the media, but we’re not talking with each other about the off-season or about what’s going to happen with the team next season. We’re enjoying this journey we’re in together. At the end of the day, that’s all we’re concerned with. We’re trying to compete for a championship.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Marc Stein: “There are some people around the league who watched the events of last week when Kyrie said what he said and have watched all month as Kyrie and LeBron have seemingly lobbed Valentine’s back and forth to each other about how much they miss each other. Now, there is a sense that what if the Lakers could Anthony Davis AND Kyrie? And they’re the ones who steal Kyrie Irving away from the Celtics and not the Knicks … There are people who believe that is the grand Laker plan.“
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Boston, for its part, remains cautiously optimistic about keeping Irving, though the events of the past week — Irving’s comments, New York opening up a second maximum salary slot — have shaken them. But Boston is always confident. That is Ainge’s default mindset. The league at large is much less confident, but it is hard to say who knows what, and with what level of reliability. The postseason could be really telling for so many of this summer’s headliner free agents.

They all are keenly aware of what Irving’s done and said this season, and explaining it isn’t so easy. Several agreed that, when the Bryant-Irving relationship was explained to them by The Athletic, perhaps Irving is just living out the advice from his idol. “Yeah, I guess,” Al Horford said. “You know, sometimes, some drastic things need to happen, some things need to be said.” Added Marcus Smart: “I can tell you that what he’s doing, it’s working. Causing conflict, if that’s what he’s doing, it’s working.”

But the Celtics remain quietly confident that they are on the same page with Irving, maintaining constant communication with the All-Star guard. “A partnership,” is how one source described the Celtics relationship with Irving, who has been frustrated—like many inside Boston’s locker room—by the uneven play this season but has been positive, publicly and privately, about the direction of the franchise. The root of his frustration, a former teammate of Irving’s told SI.com, could have little to do with Boston at all. Irving hates the narrative that other players (Kevin Durant in New York; Davis in Boston) can influence his decision, the ex-teammate said. He gets frustrated when he feels people are trying to manipulate him. In his mind, it doesn’t matter if it’s Davis or James—he’s going to do whatever he wants to do, and to assume otherwise is disrespectful.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

Boston’s plan to pursue Davis remains unaffected by whatever decision Irving might make in summer free agency, league sources said. Irving, 26, had previously said he planned to re-sign with the Celtics in the summer but has recently wavered in public on that promise. While the Celtics can’t be positive on Irving’s forthcoming decision in July, they do remain confident that he’ll choose to stay in Boston, sources said. The Celtics also believe that a deal for Davis would help solidify his confidence in re-signing with the organization, sources said.

Speaking to reporters in New York, where Irving, should he decline Boston’s five-year, $189 million offer in free agency, could wind up, maybe with Warriors star Kevin Durant, Irving said “ask me July 1” when asked about his past commitment to the Celtics. Guess what? James approved of Irving’s comments Friday. “He handled it great,” James said. “His post interview was great as well. Just a lot of things that’s going on in our league right now, and the one thing you want to focus on is getting that team to place where he wanted it to be, and that’s competing for a championship.”

On Jan. 16, Irving said he called James to, in his words, apologize “for “being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold.” Irving, a proclaimed leader on the Celtics now, said he was dealing with the same things from Boston’s younger players that James saw from Irving and other youngsters in Cleveland. Sources said the pains Irving’s experienced with some teammates is a reason he’s considering leaving the Celtics.

The Knicks’ surprising blockbuster trade of Porzingis to the Mavericks essentially wiped clean New York’s payroll, putting them in prime position to sign two superstars, with Kevin Durant and Irving as the primary targets. Thursday evening’s rumor mill suggested that Davis believes Irving will sign with the Knicks. Don’t put too much stock in that, however. For one thing, front-office sources around the league believe that’s a smokescreen scare tactic as Davis’ agent tries to push him to the Lakers. Uncertainty about what the Celtics might offer works heavily in the Lakers’ favor.

Hey Chris, can you see Kyrie joining LeBron in LA? Chris Fedor: Before answering, let me direct you to my recent piece where I asked numerous Cavaliers this very question. The consensus from them: It’s Irving. He’s wired different. He can be moody. What he thinks now may not be the same in three weeks or even three months. He likes to keep people guessing and is always looking for the next challenge. While I wouldn’t completely rule out Irving and James reuniting in Los Angeles, it’s tough to see LA being Irving’s top choice this summer. Think about why he wanted out of Cleveland. The status quo hasn’t changed.

Chris, you know LeBron James and you know Kyrie Irving. Can you see him seriously considering the Lakers at this point? Chris Haynes: “I can’t, because you’ve gotta hold him to his word. [He’s] the one that came out unprompted and said he’s gonna be a Celtic next year. So I haven’t heard anything on the grapevine that suggests Kyrie – this is the first I’ve heard that he could be thinking about joining the Lakers. But I wouldn’t put it past – all these teams have an obligation to check on all the free agents and gauge their interest, so I definitely think the Lakers and a number of other teams will do their due diligence but I gotta take Kyrie by his word. He said he’s gonna be a Celtic.

Chtis Haynes: It’s different when a player, because we hear it all the time, when players say, ‘I would love to be here. This is home to me. I’ve grown up and became a leader here.’ But to say, ‘I’m coming back,’ that’s a little too far to turn back on right now. So that would be news to me…as far as his ties to the Lakers. I expect him to be back [with the Celtics].”

Smith continued: “And so now we have a situation where I know nothing about this. I haven’t asked. I’m just referring to a text I received last night. I will never say who it is. Never. But it says, ‘Hey, a bit easier to come to LA now.’ And you have people in the NBA that are now believing if indeed the Boston Celtics, loaded with talent, Danny Ainge being the genius that he is as an executive, knowing that he has enough talent not to stick with Kyrie … All of the sudden there’s another guy that’s gonna be on the free agent market this summer. It’s gonna be Kyrie Irving.”

Up in the land of Kyrie, Knicks coach David Fizdale gave his strongest case yet that the Knicks have become an attractive free-agent destination after 25 games on the job. The Knicks are closing in on having cap space for a maximum salary this summer but have work to do. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, a Northern Jersey product, was considered their best chance until he proclaimed he will re-sign, but that is no guarantee after the Celtics’ sluggish start. Irving’s backup, Terry Rozier, is also a restricted free agent, and the two of them may not be able to coexist long term. The Knicks like Rozier a lot, according to a source.

The Knicks are closing in on having cap space for a maximum salary this summer but have work to do. Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, a Northern Jersey product, was considered their best chance until he proclaimed he will re-sign, but that is no guarantee after the Celtics’ sluggish start. Irving’s backup, Terry Rozier, is also a restricted free agent, and the two of them may not be able to coexist long term. The Knicks like Rozier a lot, according to a source.

Irving, 26, and from nearby West Orange, N.J., is the type of electrifying floor leader the Knicks have coveted since Walt Frazier. Or at least since Mark Jackson was competing for playing time with Irving’s godfather, Rod Strickland. In their wildest dreams, the Knicks envision a lineup featuring – drum roll, please — Irving, a healthy Porzingis and Kevin Durant. (We did say dream.) If you thought LeBron’s home debut on Saturday in Los Angeles was a big deal, just image the hysteria next October if the Knicks pull that one off. “Kyrie can play anywhere and deal with any type of pressure,” Strickland said over the telephone.

Kyrie Irving publicly committed earlier this month to re-signing with the Celtics, but the All-Star point guard admits he would have given “strong consideration” to joining up with David Fizdale, Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks as a free agent next summer. “I mean, every team was under consideration, but obviously New York held a special place for me,” Irving said after Boston edged the Knicks, 103-101, Saturday night at the Garden. “Just being from [New] Jersey and envisioning myself as a free agent and ultimately taking a meeting and playing for Fiz and the great young core they have here, thinking about playing with KP, that was a big thing before I made my decision to sign back — or, I don’t want to get in trouble, to plan on re-signing back — with Boston. “But yeah, of course, New York was a strong consideration.”

If they do, the Celtics will be one of the obvious suitors, with Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Robert Williams and/or a number of future picks including a possible top-five selection to dangle. Even if Tatum’s off the table, Boston would be able to field a competitive offer. Several league sources have said they believe Davis could end up either with the Celtics or Lakers if the Pelicans were to move him. If he landed with the Celtics, he’d be reunited with former Team USA teammate Irving. The two have already spoken about what it would be like to play together in Boston, according to a league source.

According to a league source, Irving had initiated brief conversations with Celtics officials in recent days in which he indicated he was “pretty confident” he wants to re-sign with the team this summer after opting out of the final year of his current deal. The Celtics believed Irving wanted to be a Celtic, but there hadn’t really been recent in-depth chats about the matter. When the Celtics were almost caught off-guard by the sudden pronouncement, Irving told them he just wanted them to know exactly how he felt.

Irving also informed the Celtics he wanted to make his sentiment public. According to a league source, he said he would declare it during his group interview with the media prior to Thursday’s fan event. The scrum was held in front of a green tarp in the visitors’ locker room at TD Garden, and Irving spoke for nearly nine minutes. He talked about his sore ribs and his business aspirations, but he did not mention anything about his future in Boston. (Although, in fairness, he was not asked.) He did not tell the Celtics he had another approach in mind, however.

And finally, Irving touched on his impending free agency this summer. “To be in a position to even be considered a franchise free agent is pretty awesome,” he said. “At this point in my career, it’s not so much about the money, it’s not so much about the extra curricular things, it’s like OK, where am I happy? Where am I most comfortable? Who’s going to give me that [atmosphere] where I would love to grow as a human being? I spent more time with my teammates than I do with my family and you want to be in a place where thinking about starting over again, obviously that’s what the thing you think about.

Of course, Irving did not commit to Boston, did not sign any mega-deal, did not make anything official. But for Knicks fans dreaming of Irving as one of their max players next summer, it was a blow. “Who wouldn’t want to be part of [Boston’s future], honestly?” Irving told ESPN in a sitdown with him and Gordon Hayward. “The future is very, very bright in Boston. Even if I ever think about that thought of going elsewhere, it’s like, what are you thinking? We’re pretty f’in good here. We’re pretty f’in good not just for this year but for years to come. I’m looking forward to that.”

Ainge is getting no additional pleasure from the fact Irving is talking more about his future in Boston beyond this season in recent interviews. This after being fairly coy about his plans after he does as expected and opts out of his deal next summer to sign a more lucrative and lengthy contract. “I don’t think that’s ever a change of tune,” Ainge said. “I’ve talked to Kyrie a lot. Maybe he’s changed his tune with you (media), but he has been very positive from the day he got here. I talk to Kyrie all the time, his representation. I think Kyrie is very happy here in Boston, always has been. That will hopefully make this a place he wants to stay much longer once the season ends.”
5 months ago via ESPN

Irving said he’s aware that he’s been linked to Jimmy Butler in persistent free-agent rumors regarding a mutual desire to play together in New York, but he said he’s had no such discussions with Butler. In fact, he said, the last time he talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spitballing session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them. “And that,” Irving laughed, “was in 2016.”
5 months ago via ESPN

“I’m accepting it’s going to be a constant story,” Irving shrugs. “It’s a point in my professional career where it is a big-time decision. I’ve been away from Cleveland officially for a year now, and I’m finally getting acclimated in Boston. “Last year it was almost like a trial. There was a lot going on. It was overwhelming at times, to be honest. The focus needed to be directed on getting better and helping my new team win a championship, instead of focusing on all the outside noise (regarding his departure from Cleveland) that affected me personally.”

Teammates have noted that Irving sometimes hunts out more difficult finishes than he needs as a way of testing his limits. While working out, Irving also tries to push himself — for example, he will play 1-on-1 games where he can only finish with his left hand off the glass. The idea of taking on more challenging leadership responsibilities, which the Celtics empower everyone to do, excites him. “How much it sharpens your focus to have to lead young guys, and how much joy he takes in doing that — that’s fun for him because it’s not easy and he knows it’s not easy,” said the source. “And so he’s intrigued by the cerebral aspect of leadership, that he has to talk to this guy differently than he speaks to that guy.”
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February 21, 2019 | 9:31 pm EST Update