After what has been a rough time to be a Celtics fan I’ve started to really think about what they could possibly do to flip things around. Sure, it’s easy to do what Brad Stevens and Kyrie Irving did yesterday and say their problem is that they just need to play better. It’s also easy for me to sit here, watch these games, and deduce that the issue is the effort level. While both of these things have been true, the effort’s been poor and their play has been even worse, the issue with this team is a lot deeper than that.
It isn’t because they don’t like each other. While I don’t buy the narrative that they hate each other, even if it is true, do you need to get along as people to play good basketball? I’ve been on teams where I don’t like my teammates personally, but at the same time played great basketball with those people. Look at what’s been going on in Golden State for years now. They constantly badger each other and it’s pretty well documented that Draymond Green and Kevin Durant dislike each other. Has that ever stopped them from running through this league? No, it hasn’t. What makes it work is that they’re incredible basketball players and they play picturesque basketball together. The reason we don’t hear about it as much is because they win, and they win a lot. Alternatively, the reason this is being blown up on the Celtics end is because they have the talent, but they’re still losing.
Things like low effort levels, a poor locker room, and all of the other nonsense that has gone on boils down to a couple of things. Leadership and an identity. Kyrie is an all-world talent on the basketball court and I want him here for years to come. At the same time, I think he’s done a terrible job leading this team. He’s taken it upon himself to assume the leadership role when in reality he isn’t fit for it. This isn’t even a knock on Irving. He doesn’t have to be a leader, nobody asked him to be leader, he’s taken it upon himself and has failed thus far. He has a prickly personality, speaks/acts out of emotion, and takes things way too far. Every high seems like the highest peak and every low seems like the lowest valley. He’s so wishy washy and the fact that he’s the one that wants to be looked at as the leader is something that has to change.
In previous years the guy who has led this team has been Al Horford. Even when Isaiah Thomas was here and all things pointed to him being the leader of this team, it was Al. Ask any of the young guys, the OG (as they call him) is who they look up to and he’s been the silent general of this team since he was signed in free agency. During the playoffs last year Al kept all of the guys in check and he was a key factor in why they went so far. Listen to this interview with Jaylen Brown after game 2 of the ECF last season.
“He just is resilient” Brown says, “He’s calm at all times, he handles himself accordingly, and we lean on him in moments like this and he really delivers. He’s been doing it all year and that’s why they pay him the big bucks.”
Imagine going from looking up to this every game and then having to be forcibly led by Kyrie Irving the next season. Part of me wonders if Al has taken a backseat in order to let Irving lead or if Irving’s just trying to take the whole locker room hostage. It just seems like they don’t care about listening to his voice and all they want is for him to shut up. This lack of viable leadership is what has caused them to lose their identity. They all are exhausted mentally and it’s reached the point where it looks like they just don’t care. They’ve had an identity over the years as being a team that plays all 48 minutes like it’s the last time they’ll step on a basketball court. That all starts from the top and to have an identity like that your leadership has to be strong. This season, the leadership has been faulty, the identity is gone, and frustration is sky high.
Kyrie Irving the basketball player…Incredible. Kyrie Irving the leader….Bad. While I’m not sure if it’s viable this late in the year, somebody needs to grab this guy and get in his ear (preferably Al). His whole rollercoaster of emotions style of leadership isn’t effective in the slightest and someone needs to step up and actually lead. I’m looking at Al Horford and I’m looking at him desperately. If he was able to galvanize a bunch of young kids enough for them to almost end up in The Finals he can galvanize this team. Lead by example and take the reigns from Kyrie cause clearly the horsepower of this train is far too much for him to handle.