Former Cleveland Cavaliers big Kendrick Perkins recently detailed how Kyrie Irving, a former teammate of his, has changed when it comes to leadership with the Boston Celtics.
Kyrie Irving was a tremendous player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and I will never forget his amazing shot that was so clutch in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, where Cleveland eventually won its only championship in franchise history, as they came back from a 3-1 deficit over the Golden State Warriors.
Irving had 22.2 points on 51.2% effective field goal shooting, along with 5.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game in six seasons with Cleveland (per Basketball Reference), and he was the second-best player on Cleveland in three of the four years (2014-2017)of LeBron James‘ second tenure with the Cavs, proving to be an outstanding closer in the postseason, in particular.
Nonetheless, Irving is now on the Boston Celtics, and is there after a rough ending with the Cavaliers, as he reportedly requested to be traded in the summer of 2017 in what had to be a complete shock, and was eventually traded to Boston before the 2017-18 season, which seemed to be especially crushing to James, along with Kevin Love and others.
When Irving was a key member of Cleveland, though, it appeared that he was not nearly the leadership presence he has proven to be with Boston, especially during 2018-19, based on what a former teammate of Irving’s on the Cavaliers in 2015, Kendrick Perkins (who won the 2008 NBA Finals with the Celtics), said in an appearance on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo,” (h/t Cavaliers Nation’s Omar Guerrero).
In the above video, Perkins would go on to detail how now on the Celtics, compared to when he was on the Cavs, Irving is “different,” and has now “taken on the leadership role.”
Irving was not one of the vocal leaders Perkins mentioned in the above video when the two were teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now, based on what Perkins said, it appears Irving has taken on more of a leadership role in Boston.
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His leadership style has seemingly proven to be different than LeBron’s, based on the Kobe Bryant influence on Irving, though, for the record.
That said leadership role “came into question multiple times this season,” however, as the aforementioned Guerrero noted, as the C’s underachieved some this year with them only getting the four seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Regardless, the Celtics, who are one of the deeper and more talented teams in the NBA, are fresh off a first-round series sweep of the Indiana Pacers, and it seems that Boston is coming together at the right time.
Yes, the Pacers badly missed star guard Victor Oladipo, who reportedly suffered a season-ending ruptured right quad tendon in late January, in that series against Irving and the C’s, but a sweep of hard-nosed Indiana was still relatively unexpected, and Irving clearly shined.
Irving is having arguably his best NBA season this year, as he posted 23.8 points on 55.7% effective field goal shooting, had a career-best 6.9 assists and tied a career-best with 1.5 steals per game (per Basketball Reference).
This marked the first year in which Irving had a positive defensive box plus-minus as well, really showing he was bought-in from the jump this year, too, because he’s always been a fully-capable defender.
Based on what Perkins sees now from Irving as a primary leadership presence, where he was not before in Cleveland, it appears that Irving is now locked into winning even more than ever, as he’s definitely no longer a second fiddle guy, whereas before that was the case with him on the same squad as James.
If I were on the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, Boston’s next opponent in the postseason, I’d be having trouble sleeping with Irving and a surging Celtics’ squad coming up next.