Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he wanted the chance to prove himself as one of the league’s best players without the ever present safety net of LeBron James. Irving actively wanting to leave a situation where his team had gone to three straight Finals and a fourth was more likely than not part of the future was confusing to many.
When he was dealt to Boston, Irving landed in a great spot to prove himself in a sink or swim situation. The Celtics are the Cavs’ top competition in the East and Irving can be the top dog while also having another star alongside in Gordon Hayward — but not one that dominates the ball or locker room the way James does.
The 2017-18 season will be Irving’s chance to spread his wings and not only prove that he’s among the game’s elite, but do so by knocking off his former team and advancing to the Finals without LeBron. There are plenty of skeptics in NBA front offices as to whether Irving can be a superstar that leads a team to the Finals and plays at that elite level consistently. Irving’s issues defensively and the Cavaliers’ horrendous record when LeBron James didn’t play over the past few years are generally pointed to as the key criticisms of Irving’s superstar status.
However, Irving is well regarded as one of the NBA’s best scorers and offensive talents, and Boston’s front office clearly thinks he can take the leap to be a franchise player. If it’s any consolation, so does Irving’s high school coach Kevin Boyle, who offered up his opinion on where his former star pupil’s game is at and what he can do now that he’s his own star to The Vertical’s Michael Lee.
“I think, this season, he will be the MVP and Boston will be in the championship series,” Boyle, now coach at Montverde Academy in Florida, told The Vertical. “That’s crazy, his high school coach is saying this. Some might say that’s somewhat of an outrageous statement, but it’s also smart if it’s right. The last time, I said he’d be the best guard ever from New Jersey, and I was right.”
It would take a pretty exceptional leap from Irving to reach MVP caliber production, even factoring in an increased role without James next to him. Irving’s 25.2 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game last year are nothing to sneeze at and he was efficient with a 58% true shooting percentage, but considering the man he was traded for Isaiah Thomas averaged 28.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game on a 58.5% true shooting percentage and wasn’t even really in the serious MVP conversation, it’s hard to see Irving topping those numbers.
Now, Russell Westbrook and James Harden both have new high-profile teammates alongside, so their counting stats may not be as gaudy as a year ago, but Kevin Durant and LeBron James also figure to have a larger say in the MVP conversation this year than they did last year, and Kawhi Leonard and the “two-way” argument will be lurking as well. Irving could have a very good season in Boston and make Danny Ainge look like a genius, but its hard to see him producing at that MVP level across multiple categories to truly find himself in that discussion.