Kyrie Irving is still getting used to life in Boston. That means learning everything from how to pronounce the names of Massachusetts suburbs to acclimating to his new Celtics teammates like Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.
It’s going to be a learning experience for everyone in Boston, and Irving and the Celtics are asking for patience while the retooling of a 53-win team works itself out on the floor. But count Horford as optimistic that Irving will achieve the kind of personal growth Thomas seemed to seek in leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics veteran spoke at length about Irving and came away impressed by both his potential and the difference in perception Irving will enjoy when not on LeBron James’ team. Horford was interviewed for an ESPN piece about Irving’s first preseason game Monday night against the Charlotte Hornets.
Horford spoke about the first time he saw Irving in practice and how impressive he was to watch up close.
“I was just blown away,” Horford said. “I’ve played against him over the years. You see him on the court, you see some of the moves, you’re impressed like, yeah, he’s an All-Star player. He’s a really good player. But when you see him work at what he does in practice and how easy he’s able to score the ball and handle it and do certain things, it just really blew my mind.
“I don’t think people really understand how good a player he is. He’s gonna showcase that this year. He needs time to get acclimated and to catch up to speed with everything we have. His ability is unreal. I’m very intrigued to see how the season’s gonna develop. He’s gonna be great for us.”
It’s a great quote that certainly lends itself to the thinking that Irving has a lot to give Boston. And he does! Celtics fans should be excited about the team they’ll get to watch this season. The piece hedges that excitement with the idea that the team needs time to mesh and play the kind of basketball they want to this year. But Horford also buys into the narrative that, without LeBron looming, Irving will finally get some recognition for his abilities on the floor.
“I just think that, playing with LeBron, Kyrie probably couldn’t be everything that he possibly could be,” Horford said.
His logic here is not that Kyrie couldn’t play as well, but that LeBron’s stats and presence always loomed over the things Irving did do for the Cavaliers.
“Just because LeBron is such a great player that he just kinda — Kyrie could have a great game and everybody focuses on LeBron because he had a triple-double and he was awesome.
“I just think now, Kyrie will be in a position where people will see him and it’s going to be like, ‘This guy is elite.’ That’s what I sense with him.”
This perception is important, both to Irving and apparently Horford as well. Irving left the Cavaliers in part to prove that he can find success “on his own” so to speak. He’s going to get a lot of help in Boston with Hayward and Horford and the like, but if he wins it all it will be Irving’s team. Right or wrong, it’s a narrative that Horford seems very willing to embrace.