BOSTON, MA — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens refuses to blame Kyrie Irving for last year’s failed season.
“I like Kyrie and I wish him well,” said Stevens, speaking at a fundraiser in Boston at the Celtics practice facility. “Last year’s season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but that’s not on one person. That’s the responsibility of the whole group. It’s a team sport, everybody’s involved in that. There’s no way we should ever look at it any different.”
The Celtics were preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but struggled to build any continuity and were ultimately eliminated in the second round by the Bucks.
Irving was considered the linchpin of the organization, and he received the brunt of the blame when the team failed to meet expectations. At season’s end, Irving opted out of his contract and signed with the Nets.
“He had a second-team All NBA season here,” Stevens said. “When you think about that and you look at his stats, he had as good a season as he’s had in his career—and he has the right, like every other free agent, to go choose their own destination.
“Maybe [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick was way ahead of us when he said, ‘We’re on to Cincinnati.’ We’re on to this year and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve moved past last year, but last year was no fault of Kyrie. It was no fault of anybody individually on that team. It was a fault of the Celtics as a whole.”
Stevens spoke at the Hoop Dreams fundraiser organized by anti-poverty agency Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), and he shared with Sports Illustrated what makes the non-profit agency—which raised over $100,000 last night for programs that will benefit at-risk youth—so meaningful in the city of Boston.
“I’ve been so impressed with ABCD and several other organizations that work extremely hard to help our at-risk youth,” Stevens told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve had a blast getting to know kids from all over this area in a variety of settings. Just the like the reputation of this region, these kids are tough, bright and prideful.”
Stevens, who has players with Team USA in China, also touched on this summer’s FIBA World Cup roster. The roster includes Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and is coached by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
“It’s great for all these guys,” Stevens said. “For Kemba, it’s a chance to lead a young group. And for these other guys, it’s a chance to represent their country but also get real, live competitive work at this time of the year. They’ll play in venues that have cheered loudly for them and against them, like 52,000 in Melbourne, and they’ll play against teams that have been playing together since they were kids and are now in their 30s. It’s a tremendous experience for them, let alone to be coached by Pop and to play with that group of guys.”
Team USA narrowly escaped with a win against Turkey on Tuesday, winning 93-92 in a game played in Shanghai. Tatum’s pass to Bucks star Khris Middleton set up the game-winning free throws, but he slipped and rolled his ankle after making the pass. He'll miss two games.
“He’ll be OK,” Stevens said. “And hopefully he’s back by the medal round.”
Stevens also touched on Walker, who was the Celtics' major free-agent acquisition after a tremendous eight seasons in Charlotte with the Hornets.
“The way I feel about Kemba, even through his UConn days, is that he plays with a smile,” Stevens said. “There is a contagiousness to him that will be fun. There is a lot on his plate, and we’ve had really good point guards—[Rajon] Rondo, Isaiah [Thomas], who was incredible and had that year in 2016-17 that was ridiculous, and Kyrie was second team All-NBA this year and would’ve been All-NBA last year if he hadn’t got hurt at the end. Our point guards are asked to do a lot, but we’re awfully glad Kemba is here.”