Speculation swirled this summer that former USA Basketball teammates Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler want to join forces in 2019 free agency, possibly on the New York Knicks. Butler added fuel to that fire last week, listing the Knicks among his preferred destinations when he requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Except, Irving has spent the last few days pouring water on the whole idea.
In an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan on Friday and subsequent sessions with reporters at Monday’s media day festivities, Irving has given every indication that he intends to re-sign with the Boston Celtics when he enters free agency next summer, the most straightforward of which was this:
How will Kyrie Irving make his looming free agency decision? Wherever he’s the happiest. “I believe Boston is the place for me,” he told me with a big smile on his face. 🏀 #NBAMediaDay
— Kristen Ledlow (@KristenLedlow) September 24, 2018
“I believe” is no doubt a qualifier, giving Irving an easy out if he changes his mind, and a lot can change over the course of one season — especially for a guy who asked off a perennially contending Cleveland Cavaliers team, may or may not believe the Earth is flat and openly speaks about seeking new experiences — but Irving is sure talking like a guy who plans on sticking around for a while.
Kyrie Irving envisions his future with the Boston Celtics
From Irving’s conversation with MacMullan on Friday:
Pressed if he would be disappointed if they didn’t win a championship, Irving responded, “Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes.”
What makes him so sure?
“Because of who we have,” Irving answered, “and what we’re establishing here, not just for this season, but hopefully for the next few years, something that’s pretty special.”
That “hopefully for the next few years” sentiment was echoed on media day in Irving’s response to another question about how his Celtics stack up against the two-time defending champion Warriors:
Kyrie Irving’s money quote: “You just think about now and you think about the future, and it’s like, man, this is something special to be a part of.” pic.twitter.com/KxNKxll7mj
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) September 24, 2018
“You just think about now and you think about the future,” he said, “and it’s like, man, this is something special to be a part of.”
“The future.” That was the question hovering over everyone’s mind entering media day in Boston, and while nobody in the local media directly asked him about his plans, it seems as though MacMullan’s interview and the mere fact that Irving envisions a future on the Celtics is good enough for everyone.
Irving imagines his No. 11 retired in Boston
“My job is to really cement myself as the leader of the Boston Celtics, along with our other great players, and really relish in that opportunity,” Irving said when asked by Boston’s own content team about why he decided to go on the record with MacMullan. “Obviously, it’s everyone else’s job to look forward to my future before I can. I just really thought it was important to make sure it’s known that this franchise is really built for the next few years of being at the top tier of teams in the league, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? What more could you ask for from an organization to really elevate your game? You want to be in that same lineage of guys who have come before you. There are times when I think about having No. 11 in the rafters one day, and that’s a dream, so why not?”
Irving said he recently played in front of Bill Russell during a basketball run that Jamal Crawford set up in Seattle. He felt awed by the opportunity to continue the tradition that Russell had established.
Commitment is a two-way street
In the past, Irving has made clear that his decision not to broach a four-year extension with the Celtics this summer was financially motivated, since he stands to make some $90 million more guaranteed if he signs a five-year max contract next summer instead. His vague references about concentrating on the 2018-19 season before considering his options next summer, however, were far more vague in the past than they were when speaking about his potential future in Boston on Monday.
Irving does run a couple risks by not signing an extension now. First, he is coming off a second season-ending knee surgery, this time to correct the kneecap he had repaired in the 2015 NBA Finals. While he insisted to MacMullan that his health is “better” than it was any point last season, a third such incident would raise a serious red flag in negotiations, even for a 26-year-old five-time All-Star.
There is a chance, albeit a microscopic one, that the Celtics could decide their financial resources are better left to backup point guard Terry Rozier, who steered the team’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in May. Boston already has Gordon Hayward and Al Horford signed to max contracts. Jaylen Brown is eligible for a rookie extension next year, and Jayson Tatum comes due for one in 2020. Not everyone will get maxed out, and any concerns about Irving’s future could force Boston to reconsider.
For his part, Irving doesn’t sound concerned.
“I had one of the best statistical seasons of my career, and it was crazy how I did it because of the amount of distractions that were going on outside of it,” he said of his first post-trade year. “You realize: What if I add a little happiness to playing basketball instead of worrying about what goes on outside of this? Maybe we see what that looks like. That’s a scary sight, and I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Boston fans again and being out there in front of the league.”
Irving downplays Jimmy Butler rumor
As for those pesky Butler rumors, Irving told MacMullan on Friday that he had indeed talked to his former USA Basketball teammate about the possibility of playing together in the future. But that was two years ago. Things change. It’s probably important to keep that in mind when considering how closely tied Irving appears to be with the Celtics right now, because 2019 is an NBA lifetime away. This time last year, Butler was telling Minnesota media, “I think everything is going to work out just fine.”
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Tiger’s win is the greatest comeback in sports history
• White Sox star says what many think about umpire
• Charles Robinson: Latest flag on Packers’ Matthews may be worst yet
• Rams’ Gurley really isn’t a fan of Thursday games