Maybe it’s not going to be all that difficult to pry Kyrie Irving out of Boston.
Judging from comments he made before Friday’s shootaround at Madison Square Garden, Irving may not be as committed to the Celtics as people thought at the beginning of this season.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s best for me and my career, and that’s just where it stands,” Irving said when asked if he has wavered from his commitment to stay in Boston long term. “Right now, my focus is on this season and winning a championship with the Celtics.”
Irving can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent in July.
On Thursday, the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis, which has led to speculation that they will offer one of their two max contract slots this summer to Irving, a New Jersey native.
Irving — who had 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the Celtics’ 113-99 victory over the Knicks on Friday night — said of the Porzingis trade: "I respect the Knicks organization. Obviously, they are making moves to position themselves for this upcoming summer. So I wish them the best.”
In October, Irving committed to staying with the Celtics long term in front of thousands of fans at a team event. He backed that up with a Nike commercial shot at TD Garden in which he said he wanted to have his number in the rafters.
A few things have changed in Boston since October, though. Irving has publicly criticized some of his teammates, notably Gordon Hayward, whose recovery from a broken ankle has taken longer than expected. The team also has not been the dominant club many projected it would be. The Celtics (33-19) are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously, things this season haven’t gone as I planned,” Irving said. “That’s part of being on a team where you’re still trying to figure things out. I’m always going to be mature about that, professional, come and do my job every single day and see what happens. That’s what it comes down to.”
Irving said that when he made comments about finishing his career in Boston, he was swept up in the enthusiasm of starting a new season. “I think it was just the excitement, feeling emotionally invested coming off an injury last season, trying to prove something,” he said. “I was trying to be very much of a team-oriented player, which I am naturally.”
Irving said Boston is still “at the head of that race” of where he wants to play next season, but he is not making promises to anyone this time.
“At the end of the day, I spent the last eight years trying to do what everyone else wanted me to do in terms of making my decisions and trying to validate through the media, other personnel, managers, anybody in this business,” Irving said. “And I don’t owe anybody [expletive].”