Kyrie Irving: Potential Entering Prime of Career ‘Almost Scares Me’

“If there’s something stagnant in your life or you feel like you can’t get past that next moment, then obviously you need to change certain things in your life, and that’s all I felt,” Celtics PG Kyrie Irving told Stadium NBA Insider Shams Charania during an exclusive interview with Stadium.

“It’s an ongoing challenge.”

Throughout his career, Irving has constantly been evolving and growing. He appears to have had an image of his NBA legacy in mind since he got to Cleveland. He is constantly in search of making that image a reality.

“Basketball has enabled me to learn a lot of life lessons, but it also has taken a lot of time from me figuring out who I am,” Irving said to Charania. “You can’t lose yourself in figuring how great you want to be as a basketball player if you don’t dedicate that alone time to figuring out who you are.”

Irving rapidly developed into one of the premier talents in the league, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his first season and getting an All-Star appearance in his second. The arrival of LeBron James elevated Irving’s presence outside of Cleveland as the team got more national exposure. Irving won the All-Star Game MVP award in 2014 and was named to an All-NBA team in 2015. His evolution as a player seemed complete after his heroics in the 2016 postseason.

The Cavaliers were on the brink of a second straight Finals loss to the Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals. Down 3-1, they faced historically impossible odds to come back. James had put up his usual brilliant numbers, but he needed somebody else to create pressure on Golden State’s defense. Irving answered the call.

In Game 5, Irving went 17-of-24 from the field en route to a 41-point effort to keep Cleveland’s season alive. After blowing out the Warriors in the next game, Irving saved his best shot for last in the waning moments of Game 7.

The NBA is ultimately a make-or-miss league. There’s an argument to be made that Irving’s shot at the end of Game 7 was the most important in Cavaliers’ history. James won Finals MVP due to his ridiculous numbers, but Irving had the knockout punch. His transformation in the final three games was instrumental to Cleveland winning the title.

Kyrie Irving in the 2016 NBA Finals First Four Games Final Three Games
Points Per Game 25.0 30.0
FG % 42.7 52.3
3-pt % 30.0 52.9
Assists Per Game 4.3 3.3
Rebounds Per Game 3.5 4.3
Basketball-Reference Game Score

(Average = 10, Outstanding = 40)

17.0 21.9

 

The following season, the Cavaliers lost to the Warriors in five games. Irving had great numbers over the series, but Cleveland was undermanned with Kevin Durant now in the fold for Golden State. And a bizarre series of events followed that Finals loss.

Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, with widespread speculation that he had issues playing with James. After winning a championship, appearing in three straight Finals and securing a long-term extension, it seemed Irving would want to continue to be part of the Cavaliers’ organization. It was clear he felt his evolution was not complete and his overarching career goals were still ahead of him.

“I knew that there was a part of my career that I envisioned myself being in and I knew that challenge was not going to come being where I was,” Irving told Charania. “I also knew that I needed to focus on me and in order to do so, I needed my change.”

The Cavaliers sent Irving to the Celtics, which reportedly wasn’t one of his preferred teams. Suddenly, there was shift in Irving’s role on the basketball court.

“I went from one of the oldest teams to now being on one of the youngest,” Irving told Charania. “I went from being one of the youngest guys on the team to now being one of the guys with some of the most experience in the league.”

That shift has allowed Irving to develop his leadership skills, something he may have faced difficulty exploring in Cleveland with James at the forefront.

“Leadership is very lonely at times because the amount of pressure,” Irving told Charania. “When you’re identified as that leader, sometimes you want it, sometimes you don’t.”

Irving took the next step in his development as a leader by announcing his intentions to re-sign with the Celtics during the offseason. He told Shams that he considered going elsewhere, but ultimately decided Boston was the right place for him. The Knicks were reportedly the favorites to land Irving if he left Boston.

“I had a lot of considerations going elsewhere, you want to keep your options, you want to think about the future,” Irving said to Charania. “But at the end of the day, I started honing in on what meant the most to me and that was having a future here in Boston.”

The Celtics have perennially been an organization chasing championships, and Danny Ainge’s most recent attempt to construct a long-term championship contender has Irving excited for the future. Boston has gone through every avenue possible to assemble a team capable of competing for multiple titles, part of an organizational culture that has dominated the NBA since the 1960s. Irving told Charania this culture was the biggest selling point to his staying in Boston.

Player Acquired Method Year Acquired
Marcus Smart Draft 2014
Terry Rozier Draft 2015
Al Horford Free Agency 2016
Jaylen Brown Draft 2016
Jayson Tatum Draft 2017
Gordon Hayward Free Agency 2017
Kyrie Irving Trade 2017

 

“It’s being connected to an incredible culture that has existed way before me and will exist after me, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Irving said to Charania. “It’s the next challenge in my career and I need to handle it face on.”

Irving has a long list of accolades at age 26, but he still feels there’s a lot left to accomplish. He appears to have chosen Boston as the place to continue his evolution and come closer to reaching his overarching career goals. He’s currently an All-Star, an All-NBA player and a champion, but that list of achievements appears to be the tip of the iceberg as Irving enters his prime.

“I hope I didn’t hit my peak at 26. It almost scares me in terms of the potential of what it could look like of me at the start of my prime,” Irving told Charania. “I was doing it as a kid, and now I’m growing into who I’m supposed to be.

“It’s something I’m excited about and I can’t wait for everyone to see.”