It’s time to hit reset. Kyrie Irving’s first year with the Boston Celtics was, by most standards, a rousing success. Were it not for an unfortunate infection in his knee, he might have been leading his young team on a deep playoff run. None of that matters now. The knee infection is gone. NBA training camps will be here before we know it. With the way last season went down, it’s best for Irving to hit a soft reset on his Celtics career. He needs to treat this as a great opportunity to assert his alpha-status for the team and his conference. He is facing immense pressure to perform this year. Irving is set to enter free agency next year and will want to look good for potential suitors.
How the pressure began
Gordon Hayward going down five minutes into his first game as a Celtic with a season-ending injury was not in the plans last year. None of the myriad injuries were. Of course, injuries are an impossible thing to predict. Regardless, many of these players will be playing their first extended minutes together this season. Irving is sure to be right near the top in minutes per game for the team. He will have to learn to lead these players quickly. Last season, he worked with the majority of them, yes, but rotations will be different. He will have a more bona fide star operating next to him in Hayward.
Where we are now
Now that the Celtics are the official top team in the conference, it will also put more pressure on Irving to perform and to lead. The Toronto Raptors are a threat, but Irving’s legacy will be determined in how he handles the big games this year and in the next few years. His shot versus the Golden State Warriors a few years ago will live on forever. Those Cleveland Cavaliers teams were unquestionably LeBron James’s teams. Irving needs to win in the conference and win big. He needs to hit some game winners in tough playoff games and to sink the hopes of opposing teams and fans.
Basically, he needs to ascend to the upper echelon of star players in this league. Right now, he’s known for one play and his handles. He’s had some amazing solo scoring efforts over the years, but none are as memorable as that single shot. He needs to build a resume of shots and legendary games to etch his name into league history. This pressure will be on him every year until he becomes the star we all think he is or can be.
Fork in the road
Irving is at a crossroads in his career. He may soon be on his way out of Boston if reports are to be believed. Even if he only stays this year, he needs to use this year to show that he is a true leader. The young core in Boston will look to him, Hayward, and Al Horford as the example; if he shows out like a killer this year, it can only help his legacy by helping build the legend of other players.