Kyrie Irving’s uniqueness, the quality that makes Knicks coach David Fizdale insist Irving is the one player he would pay to watch, is that there is no telling what stirring move he might put on the opposition next.
Irving proved he can be just as beguiling to his own franchise, surprisingly telling season-ticket holders he will stay with the Celtics.
He did that early this month, before his pre-free agency season began, before his team even formally asked. So much for the year-long drama, so much for the assumption that he would sign with the Knicks.
Actually, it had not been a ridiculous assumption. Irving honestly did have Fizdale, Kristaps Porzingis and Madison Square Garden in a special category.
“Every team was under consideration, but obviously New York held a special place, being from Jersey and envisioning myself as a free agent and ultimately taking a meeting, playing for Fiz, that great young core that they’ve got here with KP,” he said after recording 16 points and five assists in the Celtics’ 103-101 win over the Knicks on Saturday night at the Garden.
“That was a big thing before I made my decision to plan on being back with Boston. Yes, New York was a strong consideration.”
But — and you knew there would be a “but” — it was not the No. 1 consideration. He felt so strongly about playing for the Celtics that he announced his choice long before he was eligible to choose anyplace else.
A pertinent local point is that his situation is the polar opposite of John Tavares’ Islanders saga. Whereas Tavares waited until the last possible minute to decide to leave the Islanders, Irving — despite having grown up in New Jersey as the son of a former Bronx high school star — chose Boston before the clock even started.
The one thing the two episodes have in common is that both star players based their career choices on the chance to win a championship. Teams such as the Knicks, or the Nets for that matter, are really up against it in the chase for superstars. The ultimate Catch- 22 is in play: In order to build a winning team (at least through the free-agent route), you have to have a winning team.
In any sport, the greatest edge Team A has over Team B in the free-agent sweepstakes is proximity to first place. Irving looks around the Celtics’ locker room and sees talent in all sizes and age groups, not the least of which is embodied in Jayson Tatum.
Tatum’s team-high 24 points included a huge fallaway jumper with 21 seconds left, which he made after missing a dunk off Irving’s pass. “He should have made the dunk,” Irving said. “I told him, ‘I can’t dunk it for you, too.’ ”
Only kidding, sort of. The bottom line is, barring a massive change of mind by the point guard, the Knicks must build with the young, energetic players who gave the Celtics a hard time down to the final second. These are Fizdale’s guys. “I think the way I treat them, the way I coach them, I’m all in with this group,” he said.
Irving, meanwhile, is all in with the Celtics. “I think if you were in my position, I think it would be an easy decision for you as well,” he told a reporter. “Thinking about who we have, the future we have set up. For me, it was where I am in age and how I envision my career going and the lineage of guys who have come before me with the Boston Celtics. It’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
And it truly is not all about wins and titles and jerseys in the rafters. It is about his heart, too. Drederick and the late Elizabeth Irving met as undergraduates at Boston University. “So I have a lot of history there as well,” said their son the superstar. “Being from Jersey, I have some history there. But Boston, there’s nothing like it.”