After a disappointing season with the Celtics, much has been made of pending free agent Kyrie Irving joining the New York Knicks. However, they should be cautious of signing Irving unless Kevin Durant demands it.
When Kyrie Irving was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics in the 2017-18 offseason, it looked like he would have his own team and be able to create something of his own. He joined a team fresh off an Eastern Conference berth that also added Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum that summer. Irving was supposed to be the man that took them to the next level and delivered banner number 18 for the green, something that has eluded the New York Knicks for nearly 50 years.
However, his first season with the team ended abruptly as he needed surgery on his left knee caused by an infection from his patellar fracture in the 2015 NBA finals. Boston had lost both Kyrie and Hayward that season and still managed to take LeBron James and the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Headlined by the stellar play of backup point guard Terry Rozier and rookie Tatum, Boston had a coherent group and identity which allowed them to make a deep run even without their leader in Irving. Their playoff run sparked the rising sentiment that Boston was better off without Iring, and that next season will tell it all.
Indeed it did. Boston had a rollercoaster of a season despite remaining relatively healthy. Kyrie had his clashes with the media, the team struggled to adapt to having both Kyrie and Hayward, fans grew restless, and team chemistry was close to zero. Things looked up for Boston in the playoffs, however, with their 4-0 sweep of the Indiana Pacers in Round 1. It looked like the playoffs was just what this team needed to get over the hump, but their playoff fairytale was in for a challenge. Boston blew out the first seeded Milwaukee Bucks 112-90 in Game 1 behind Kyrie’s 26 points and 11 assists. The games that ensued were another story as Boston lost the series by dropping the next four games pretty single-handedly.
Irving shot a staggering 30 percent from the field, 19 percent from three, and totaled a combined 14 turnovers in those games. His body language in Game 5 with his team on the brink of elimination, suggested that he already had one foot out of the door and knew it would be his last game as a Celtic. He left to the locker room before the game ended and was hazy about his future when pressed by the media.
Following Game 5, Ian Begley of SNY reported that Kyrie Irving would strongly consider joining the New York Knicks this summer in free agency. Having grown up in West Orange, New Jersey and attending St. Patrick’s High School in Elizabeth, New York is close to home for Kyrie and playing as Knick would offer the opportunity to be the hometown hero that restored the franchise to glory. When Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers, New York was one of the teams who were on his list of preferred destinations for those very reasons.
In this situation, the Knicks do not have to mortgage assets for Kyrie, as he is an impending free agent this offseason and the Knicks have enough cap space for two max slots. According to Begley, the team’s two top targets are Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, but that does not mean they will not go hard for Irving.
Durant and Irving are close friends and shared many intimate moments during All-Star Weekend, giving light to a potential scenario where those two team up together in New York. If Kevin Durant makes it a demand that the Knicks must sign Kyrie Irving, they should do so without question. However, if Durant does not specify Irving as a deal-breaker in his commitment, the Knicks should be cautious of signing him.
Irving is in the prime of his career from an age perspective at 27 years old, but his extensive injury history gives reason to pause. He has only played 70 games in a season three times and has never played more than 75. Irving will demand a four-year max contract despite enduring multiple season-ending injuries and surgeries on his knees. At his age and undergoing these injuries, it is hard to believe that injuries will not continue to plague him as he gets older.
Irving is one of the quickest and most dynamic players in the league, and his craftiness around the rim is dependent on his athleticism. With all the knee injuries he has encountered throughout his career, it brings about a scary situation on what will happen when his knees fail him. We have seen knee injuries derail many promising NBA careers, and those with consistent knee problems have seen their careers sidelined earlier than expected. The Knicks should be hesitant of locking themselves into four years of paying max money to a player who has suffered the extent of injuries Kyrie has.
Irving’s struggles with the Celtics and their young group of players also give a reason for the Knicks to be skeptical of his fit. During the regular season, Kyrie was prone to blaming the younger players such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum for the team’s lack of success. There would be multiple situations on the court where he would be animated and frustrated by his younger teammates.
The Knicks are not a veteran-laden roster and are one of the youngest teams in the league. With a core centered around three rookies in Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and second-year players Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Damyean Dotson, the Knicks are short of experience. Whether or not the team adds more experienced veterans in the offseason, one of their selling points to free agents will be their young core. Irving’s feelings towards his younger teammates will not stop short if he decides to join the young Knicks.
Not to mention, Irving’s temperament is also a bad match for the media and frenzy that comes with being a star in New York. Irving has repeatedly been provoked by media in Boston and has gone on the record that he does not like the coverage that surrounds him. He does not want to be treated like a celebrity and only wants to play basketball. However, as much as he tries to distance himself from that type of lifestyle, it will follow him if he commits to New York.
Being the face of a New York sports team is different from being the star of any other franchise. New York is home to the most polarizing media in the country, and little incidents tend to be overblown. The scrutiny that comes with being a star in New York is something that only a few can handle, and Irving has not proven able to do so. Irving’s handling of the media should not be a deal-breaker for the Knicks, but it illuminates the potential complications that may arise if Kyrie does join New York.
There is no disputing that Irving is a star and one of the best players in the league. He is one of the most entertaining players to watch and truly has immense talent. However, if anything was shown by the debacle vs. Milwaukee in round 2, it is that Kyrie cannot be the best player on a title contender, and the Knicks should recognize this when targeting him in free agency.
Irving thrived being the second man behind LeBron James in Cleveland. He roasted defenders and tore defenses apart as their attention was solely on James, giving Irving more room to operate. Being the first option in Boston, it became evident that Kyrie struggles at times being the face of attention from defenses, and that he needs someone else to help carry the load. The Knicks’ dream scenario would be pairing Kevin Durant with Kyrie Irving this offseason, but if that dream does not come to fruition, they should be hesitant on offering Irving a four-year max contract deal.