The disaster that is the post-All-Star break is only worsening for the Boston Celtics, which could be driving their star point guard, Kyrie Irving, to the Big Apple.
Another lackluster effort in a 115-104 loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday is the Celtics’ fifth defeat in six games since coming back from the All-Star festivities. Dating back to Feb. 7, they’ve lost seven of their last 10.
As one of the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference, the fifth-place Celtics have seen their deficit behind the first-place Milwaukee Bucks expand to 10.5 games with no improvements in sight.
Boston and Irving looked disingenuous for large stretches of the game, including on the defensive side of the ball. Rockets star James Harden, who was Irving’s man for most of the night, was given a plethora of easy scoring opportunities on his way to a 42-point night as the Celtics trailed by as many as 20 in the first half.
Irving’s postgame interactions were just as underwhelming as he was the only member of the team to talk — if you want to call it that. The 26-year-old said just 28 words in a media scrum that lasted less than two minutes. It was a clear holding of the tongue for a player whose frustrations are more than ascertainable.
It’s just the latest indication that Irving, the best talent on the underachieving team, is plenty unhappy with the Celtics. He’s been seen barking at teammates on the bench and voicing his displeasure with the team over the past few months. In the meantime, speculation has swirled around Irving’s fit in Boston as Celtics legend Paul Pierce on ESPN admitted that the six-time All-Star can’t be the No. 1 guy on a championship team.
“If you create a system where Kyrie doesn’t have to be the leading scorer, he can be that one-B-guy, you know, that’s a system we saw him be very successful in [alongside LeBron James in Cleveland],” Pierce said. “Now, all the pressure’s on him, all the defense, all the scouting report is just all about Kyrie. You know, that’s tough on a small guard to lead a team to a championship. So, if you can put him in a system to where, maybe, you have that other player who can be that scorer, I think he’s a one-B on a championship team.”
With free agency looming this summer, Irving has an opportunity to find the perfect fit elsewhere. He’s been unwilling to commit his long-term future to the Celtics despite a varying stance on the situation throughout the season.
As frustration continues to mount, thus pushing him closer out the door in Boston, speculation of him joining the New York Knicks is only expected to gain traction once again. Irving grew up less than 20 miles from Madison Square Garden in New Jersey and reportedly wanted to be traded to the Knicks upon his request to be dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers prior to the 2017-18 season.
The Knicks are going to be major players in the free-agent market this summer, though the main prize appears to be Kevin Durant. With two max-salary roster spots expected to be available, however, it would allow New York to sign Irving and supply him with that one-B option Pierce referred to.
New York is starting to accrue the pieces needed to make a move toward contention, even if the franchise is mired in one of the worst seasons in team history. Along with a 2019 draft pick that is going to be in the top four, the Knicks have some promising young assets in the form of point guard Dennis Smith Jr. — acquired in the Kristaps Porzingis trade — center Mitchell Robinson, and center Mitchell Robinson.
A potential acquisition of Irving could see Smith flexed to the 2 in order to make space for Irving. That way he can help support the likes of a Durant in New York, which could only spell bad news for Boston’s chances of staying near the top of the East in the future.