Kyrie Irving is set to return to Boston twice next season, but will he even play???
In the 2020 season, the Celtics are set to face off against their former all-star point guard Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets four times. Two of those games will be played in the TD Garden in front of nearly 20,000 Celtics fans who will most likely be looking to boo the 6x NBA all-star in his return.
Former Celtics' guard Kyrie Irving. Photo via Matthew J. Lee
However, an important thing to consider before the first big game on November 27th is whether or not Irving will even play. His history over the last couple of seasons suggests that he may not.
When LeBron James returned after his time in Miami, the two seemed to be a perfect match and despite some moments here and there, their chemistry grew better over the years. They were so good together, in fact, that many could argue if not for a couple of big injuries for Irving, Cleveland may have gotten more than just their one 2016 NBA Finals championship.
Walking back to the locker room after getting beaten by Kevin Durant and the stacked Golden State Warriors in just 5 games of the 2017 NBA Finals, LeBron told Kyrie Irving "we'll be back." With both players having time left on their contract that future seemed realistic. For this reason, the NBA, the fans, and even the Cavaliers themselves were shocked by the news that the then 25-year-old point guard wanted out of his time in Cleveland and demanded a trade elsewhere.
With Irving wanting to be "the guy" on his own team and create his own legacy by avoiding the sidekick role, the Cavaliers fulfilled his request by shipping him to the Boston Celtics in exchange for then all-star point guard Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn first-round draft pick. It was a blockbuster deal that changed the landscape of the Eastern Conference. Joining Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and the Celtics' newest acquisitions Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Kyrie was on a contender while also getting his opportunity to lead a team as the number one guy.
In their first game of the 2017-2018 season, the Boston Celtics would face off against the defending Eastern Conference champions in the Quicken Loans Arena. The game was a big one for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest was how Kyrie Irving's immediate return to Cleveland, Ohio would pan out in the wake of his mysterious trade request. Nationally broadcasted as the first game of the NBA season it did not go well for Irving (as many expected) or the Celtics.
In addition to the absolutely horrible and gruesome ankle injury of Gordon Hayward, Irving's reception from the fans in Cleveland was not a good one. Starting at just the team introductions, Kyrie was booed like crazy as he stepped onto the floor for his first regular-season game in a Boston Celtics uniform. Throughout the first quarter, the fans would boo Irving almost every single time he touched the ball. After the Hayward injury, most of the booing stopped most likely out of respect for the situation.
The Celtics went down big on the scoreboard but managed to pull together a comeback late in the game. Irving missed the potential game-tying three at the buzzer, but he did finish with 22 points, 10 assists and 3 steals while leading the Celtics to a heartful comeback that just came up short.
Flash forward two whole seasons later and we all know what ended up happening with Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics. As it turned out, Kyrie Irving was not really capable of leading a team either on the court or in the locker despite his phenomenal talent and unmatched offensive skill set. As a result, in July it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be signing a deal to join the Brooklyn Nets along with future NBA Hall of Famer and one of the league's top players Kevin Durant.
Celtics fans were very much disappointed in Irving and his time in Boston.
He's a very talented player, but through his comments to the media and what seems like an egotistical attitude, Kyrie managed to upset a lot of Celtics' fans with his drama and antics. Maybe to top it all off was the fact that he was quoted on many occasions as committed to Boston for the long term.
Before last season, he stood in the TD Garden in front of the Celtics and their fans and told them he planned on re-signing with the team in free agency next summer.
This was a month before the now-infamous commerical that Irving filmed with his father in the TD Garden. In the minute-long commercial, the two play one on one on the famed parquet floor. It ends with Irving saying his father is the reason he wore #11 for Boston and that he himself wants to be the reason no one else will, implying that his jersey number would be retired for the Celtics in the future.
After all of this as well as a dramatic and disappointing season in Boston, Irving signed with the Nets and will now fill a very similar role to the one he had tried to avoid when he left Cleveland. However, Durant will be unavailable to play for all of next season due to an injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. As a result, Irving will be forced to be "the guy" for at least one more season, and with his return to Boston set for November 27th, Celtics fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Though many Boston fans were ready for Irving to leave after all the drama last season and are happily moving on towards their newest All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker, Irving certainly left an unforgettable imprint in the minds of Boston sports fans. His #11 jersey is definitely not hanging in the rafters but he will have his name in the history books of the Boston Celtics for all the wrong reasons.
What is sure to be a sold-out crowd when the Brooklyn Nets show up the night before Thanksgiving will undoubtedly be a pissed off on as well. As arguably the most passionate sports fan base in the country, the last thing you want to hear as a working athlete is that the entirety of a Boston sports crowd will be focused on you for one night and one night only. I feel like Irving is very much aware of this and for this reason (before anyone gets their hopes up) it's important to ask ourselves one question: will Kyrie Irving even play???
In his two seasons in Boston, Irving "coincidentally" only played that one game in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena in the 2017 season opener. Including the pre-season and not the postseason, the Celtics and the Cavaliers have faced off a total of four times in Cleveland since 2017.
In their second game back in Cleveland (which took place in the preseason), Irving sat out for rest purposes. This is understandable for a star player in the pre-season, but in the regular season, it didn't look any better.
When the Celtics were set to go back to Cleveland again on February 5th of 2019, Irving sat out in order to rest a hip injury that he had already returned from. Just a few weeks later on March 26th Kyrie again sat out due to "load management" against the Cavaliers while the Celtics were in the middle of a four-game losing streak.
Maybe the moderate boos he received in Cleveland were (understandably so) too much of an unpleasant experience for Kyrie Irving. If that's the case, I would not play in Boston either if I was him as I can almost guarantee it will be ten times worse than his return to Quicken Loans Arena.
However, after everything that happened last year, I can't deny that it would be the most exciting and eventful game of the regular season for Boston.
For that reason, I hope Irving does play just for the competitive element of it alone.
For me personally, I'm not going to be someone booing Irving when he comes back as I'm pretty much over all of it, but something tells me I'm in the minority there. I guess we're just going to have to wait and see when the Brooklyn Nets make their first of two appearances in Boston next season on November 27th.
But what do you think? Will Kyrie Irving play in Boston next year? How do you think the Garden will react if he does? And how are you going to react? Let me know in the comments down below.