The Celtics’ $188-million question

By Mark Paulette,

Despite an 8-2 record without Kyrie Irving on the court this season, the Boston Celtics are undoubtedly a better team with their star guard on the court. Sure, the team gets more evenly distributed production sans Kyrie, as the ball tends to not stick with one player for large portions of the shot clock. But don’t confuse regular season success, or even the postseason run of last year, with the game necessary to compete for an NBA title.

When the calendar turns to May, the stars come alive in the NBA. In order for the Celtics to reach their ceiling (likely an NBA Finals berth and a noble loss to the Golden State Warriors) they need Kyrie’s elite talents and ability to take over a game the way few players can. This was never more evident than in last year’s postseason, when the Celtics were up 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals but failed to close out the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs turned to the King, and the C’s had nothing to counter LeBron. Even Kyrie’s staunchest haters (I’m looking in the mirror) can’t deny that series likely would have been different were #11 on the court.

Kyrie is a closer. He’s a killer. He’s a top-10 player in the NBA. But is he the right man to lead the Celtics into the future?

I know, it seems strange to build a case for how much the Celtics need him before posing that question, but hang with me for a second…

To be the best version of the 2018-19 Celtics, the team needs Kyrie. But does that statement extend into the future?

Look again at how the team plays without Kyrie on the court. Two or three different players routinely score 20+ points. The same amount of players rack up 4-to-7 assists, and there’s almost a tangible ‘gelling’ in the team’s play that is not evident when Kyrie is running the point.

It comes with his style of play. As Tim Legler of ESPN explained, when an elite player of Kyrie’s capabilities possesses the ball, especially with the handles he has, it leads to a lot of standing and watching from the other four players as he goes to work.

As I stated earlier, the formula in the NBA is set. To be elite, you need at least one elite-level talent in your squad. But what if the star’s position is wrong in the Celtic’s winning formula?

Maybe what’s best for the Celtics is to have a star that isn’t ball-dominant. That way, you may get more variety in production, while still having the star on the roster to counter the top teams come postseason play.

What star is the right fit? That’s up to Danny Ainge to figure out. But I side with Kyrie’s former teammate, Dahntay Jones, who said, “Kyrie just isn’t the right fit for Boston.”

Ainge remains committed to Kyrie in the public’s eye after informally announcing the pair’s ‘engagement.’ But Danny may come to see that his true soulmate, and key to winning, is not currently wearing #11 for the Green and White.

Mark Paulette is the executive producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine