The Boston Celtics remain a deeply weird team, even despite the departure of Kyrie Irving this summer. Marcus Smart himself called Weird Celtics Twitter a relief at times on Monday, but the strangeness around the franchise goes into the locker room as well.
Last year the Celtics went from championship favorites out of the East to a struggling squad that simply never got it together outside of a postseason sweep against the shorthanded Indiana Pacers. Kyrie Irving was brilliant at times in that series, but the “at times” qualifier is something that haunted his two seasons in Boston and drew countless criticisms of the guard who engineered a trade to Boston two summers ago.
Irving went from a player who promised he’d re-sign in Boston to one teaming up with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, and the reputation he left behind in Boston is far from the championship legacy he hoped to build. But a now-former teammate says the Celtics’ struggles went far beyond just Irving. Marcus Smart appeared on ESPN’s The Jump and set the record straight about Irving and his reputation among teammates.
“He didn’t play up to the standard that he wanted to. But there’s four other guys out there with him, there’s a coach out there. We’re all supposed to be one team so you just can’t put the blame on one guy,” Smart said. “Everyone could have done better, to not just help Kyrie but help the team and help each other.”
Smart said the Celtics struggles were a team effort, and that trying to blame a single person was something that clearly didn’t work for the Celtics as they tried to figure it out for themselves.
“When you start singling those guys out, we’ve seen it ourselves inside the locker room with calling guys out,” Smart said. “And it wasn’t working for us.”
ESPN’s Dave McMenamin described Irving as “misunderstood” based on his time covering the guard in Cleveland. He asked Smart what it was like being his teammate, and Smart called him a “great teammate.”
“I’ve had sit-downs with Kyrie where things for me weren’t going too well and he’s pulling me aside. And it wasn’t even really about basketball. Everybody knows what I’ve been through with my mom, losing her and everything. Kyrie’s one of the first guys to text me, to call and talk. When I got back to Boston, he pulled me to the side and we talked. And as far as basketball, just helping me slow the game down and recognize and understand it more. So as a teammate, I love him for it.”
It’s clear that Smart agrees with the idea that Irving is “misunderstood,” and he tried hard to make sure that viewers know Irving is both a good teammate and a good person. Because though Irving will play for Brooklyn, people in Boston will be talking about Irving and his Celtics years for a long time. Even Kemba Walker, who the Celtics signed to essentially replace Irving in free agency, knows that the two will forever be compared to one another. And Walker is at an advantage in a way, given that he can actually impact what Celtics fans think about him because he’s still playing on the team. But despite the relative unfairness that the comparison may have, Smart wants people to know that Irving’s perception in Boston, and around the league, still isn’t reality.