It was a big day for Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. With Irving set to enter free agency next summer, speculation about his future was already running rampant, with one of the more popular theories featuring him teaming up with Jimmy Butler or Kevin Durant in New York when he hits the market in the 2019 offseason.
But Irving unexpectedly put all that conjecture to rest on Friday when he announced his intention to re-sign with the Celtics on a long-term deal when the time comes. He even went so far as to say he wants to see his jersey retired in TD Garden, while managing to get in yet another dig at his former team in Cleveland.
That’s done nothing to quell the rumors about him teaming up with another superstar, however, as the latest rumors contend that he’s spoken to his former Olympic teammate Anthony Davis about the possibility of joining him in Boston. That’s certainly a lofty goal, but Irving and the Celtics aren’t ones to shy away from lofty goals.
For instance, team president Danny Ainge has no reservations about where he thinks Irving’s ceiling as is a player. Here’s what he told Joe Vardon of The Athletic after news broke of Irving’s verbal commitment to the franchise:
“I see a more mature Kyrie than even just last year. I think he feels more comfortable with everything in his life and the organization and where he is as a player. I think he’s anxious to be a leader, not anxious to just lead the team in scoring or be the most efficient player on our team, but I think he really wants to hold the guys to a high standard.”
“I don’t know to what extent, but it has accelerated our timeline to the point where Kyrie is one of those players that can be the best player in the gym on any given day against any given team,” Ainge said. “He can be the best player in the world. He can add a lot of juice to your team and his teammates a lot of confidence.”
Make no mistake, Irving is a phenomenal player, arguably one of the best one-on-one scorers in the game today. But the consensus among most league experts is that his limitations as a defender and distributor keep him out of the same echelon as the NBA’s other elite all-around talents, his former teammate LeBron James being chief among, whose shadow Irving specifically tried to leave behind when he went to Boston.
Still, a comment like that from Ainge is both a great motivational tactic and ego massage as the Celtics head into a potentially franchise-altering year. Irving and the rest of the Celtics consider themselves the most legitimate threat to the Warriors, as do many of the Warriors. They’ll need Irving at the absolute peak of his powers this season – along with many other factors – for that to be the case.