Kemba Walker Will be a Better Celtic than Kyrie Irving
As expected, Kyrie Irving left the Boston Celtics this off-season and signed a four-year, $152 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets. This decision comes just eight months after Irving stood up in front of an entire arena full of Celtics fans and told them that he planned on re-signing with the team.
— ESPN (@espn) October 4, 2018
After that October announcement in front of the Boston faithful, reports came out that there was tension between the younger guys on the team and Irving. It was reported that a team meeting was held and it was clear the Celtics were facing internal struggles that needed to be addressed.
On top of all of this, the Celtics were struggling and not living up to the expectations set for them prior to the beginning of the season.
The Celtics would eventually lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks four games to one. Irving shot 25/83 (30%) in the final four games of the series, all of which were losses for Boston. When asked about his poor shooting performances in a press conference after Game 4, Irving responded with, “Who cares?” which, as you might have guessed, did not sit well with Boston fans.
It was clear that Kyrie Irving’s time in Boston was coming to a close.
Who’s Next for the Celtics?
Was Terry Rozier going to step into a starting role for the Boston? Was Danny Ainge going to try and sign Ricky Rubio? Rumors swirled around the organization regarding who the next starting point guard for the franchise would be. Suddenly, it was reported that the Celtics were a “stealth suitor” for Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker.
Boston was apparently more than just a stealth suitor and ended up signing Walker to four-year, $141 million contract. The Boston Celtics had found their replacement point guard, and they might have just signed a better one.
When it comes down to talent, Kyrie Irving has the upper hand. Last season, Irving had higher averages in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and free throw percentage. While Kemba Walker might have been in the same statistical ballpark as Irving, it was clear that the former Duke standout had the better season on paper.
Irving is also a much more decorated player than Walker. Irving is a six-time NBA All-Star and also has a championship to his name. Walker has yet to experience the playoffs, while Irving has made playoff appearances in four out of his eight seasons in the league.
Fitting into the Celtics’ System
Statistics do not tell the entire story though. Walker fits the Celtics system better than Irving ever did during his time with the team. Irving wanted to be a leader, but was unable to build those up around him. He was focused on himself, his legacy, and how his image alone was portrayed. His statistics were the only thing that mattered to him and he hoped that his strong performances would translate into wins. Irving quickly became toxic in the Celtics locker room when he realized that the system was not going to be 100% centered on him.
Walker, on the other hand, has already shown that he is much more of a team player. Coming from a small market like Charlotte, the former UCONN Husky is not nearly as egocentric as Irving. It was said that Walker was already looking to the younger guys on the team for playoff guidance since he, himself, has yet to experience a playoff run.
Kemba told me today that he’ll be asking guys like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum what it takes to be successful in the postseason. He’s humble. He acknowledges they’ve been there, and he hasn’t. He wants to learn.
— Marc D'Amico (@Marc_DAmico) July 17, 2019
While this might be a very small gesture, it tells a lot about Kemba Walker and where the Boston Celtics are headed. For Walker to ask 21-year-old Jayson Tatum and 22-year-old Jaylen Brown about what it’s like to be in the playoffs tells a lot about who he is as a player. Kyrie Irving’s ego would tell him that it was impossible to learn something from a teammate who has been in the NBA for just two years. Irving came into the rotation this season and immediately wanted things to be done his way. The team had taken LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without him the year prior, but Irving’s ego was just too big to accept things being done differently.
The Road Ahead for the Celtics
Walker will work with the young talent on this team to once again create a stable environment in Boston. This Boston team has so much young talent. Jaylen Brown. Jayson Tatum. Carsen Edwards. Robert Williams. Romeo Langford. These young guys are looking for an NBA veteran to guide them and work alongside them, rather than against them. Walker is just the player to do just that.
Over the past five to seven years, Boston Celtics basketball has thrived off of not having a go-to superstar. The team is their superstar. Kyrie Irving might be a better player, but Kemba Walker will be a better Celtic.
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Cover photo via: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images