Winning locker rooms have energy — players are laughing and joking with each other, they talk about plans or places to eat, they throw jokes in as media members interview the guy in the next locker stall over.
The Celtics locker room is quiet. Seemingly every night, according to reports.
The chemistry problems are evident on the court, particularly defensively, as the Celtics have dropped 5-of-6 out of the All-Star break. The issues may start with the guy at the top of the pecking order, Kyrie Irving, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.
Sources around the team told me that Irving’s persona has changed, too: He’s become disengaged and detached from those around the team. There is talk that Irving’s friendships on the team start and end with Tatum, with whom he shares an agent. Two sources peg Irving’s change in demeanor to early February, around the time he was asked about the possibility of joining the New York Knicks next season. That’s when Irving infamously said he’d make the best decision for his family and that he didn’t “owe anybody s***.”
Irving joins Kevin Durant and a long line of NBA players who do not like the volume of public speculation around their futures. Which is both understandable and part of the job in today’s NBA. Like it or not. Irving forced his way out of LeBron James‘ shadow in Cleveland but doesn’t seem to like the direct spotlight on him now.
Irving has not been able to lead this Celtics team, one that was a preseason favorite to win the conference and now may not even have home court in the first round of the playoffs (Boston is the five seed, 2.5 back of four seed Philadelphia, and 3 back of the three seed Pacers). All the blame does not fall on Irving — Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, Al Horford and every player in green gets a share of the blame — but if you’re the leader it’s your job to help break through this.
Irving seems more like a guy with one foot out the door.
That may not happen, and as O’Connor suggests he could sign a one-plus-one with the Celtics if they can secure Anthony Davis via trade. One way or another, the Celtics roster is going to look very different next season.