Kyrie Irving’s Final Season With Celtics Would Be Different If Gordon Hayward Returned Stronger And Healthier

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2019 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 06, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

Kyrie Irving’s final season with the Boston Celtics has been filled with drama and frustrations. Whenever the Celtics lost games during the 2018-19 NBA season, the All-Star point guard was frequently caught criticizing his young teammates. However, aside from their young core, it seems like Irving also had some issues with other people in the Celtics organization.

In a recent appearance on The Michael Holley Podcast, Jackie MacMullan of ESPN shared some interesting details about Kyrie Irving’s second year in Boston, including the real status of his relationship with Celtics president of basketball operations and general manager, Danny Ainge. MacMullan revealed that at some point during the 2018-19 NBA season, Irving “soured” and “lost faith” in Ainge.

However, MacMullan believes that things would have been different in Boston if Gordon Hayward had come back “healthier and stronger mentally” in the 2018-19 NBA season.

“I think he would have felt more empowered to stand up to Kyrie when some of that stuff was going on in that locker room,” MacMullan said, as quoted by SB Nation’s Nets Daily. “I think Kyrie would have been more optimistic about what was going on with that team had Gordon been able to flourish because if you go all the way back with that team to preseason — the first preseason they were together (in 2017 before Hayward fractured his tibia on opening night ) — it was unbelievable the way they were playing. They were both so fired up about it.”

If Gordon Hayward had managed to bring back his old self upon returning from injury, the Celtics would have had another All-Star caliber player who could have helped Kyrie Irving handle the pressure of leading Boston to the NBA Finals and ending their title drought. Unfortunately, the man who was once considered as the face of the Utah Jazz’s franchise didn’t show up last season.

After falling short of achieving the team’s goal, Kyrie Irving decided to part ways with the Celtics. In the 2019 NBA free agency, Irving ended up leaving the Celtics to team up with Kevin Durant on the Brooklyn Nets. With the Nets’ successful acquisition of Irving and Durant, the Celtics will have another tough team to face on their road to the NBA Finals in the 2019-20 NBA season.

Some people may be surprised by Kyrie Irving’s decision to leave Boston, but not Ainge. During the introductory press conference of Enes Kanter and Kemba Walker, Ainge revealed that he already had a feeling the Celtics would be losing Irving even before the 2018-19 NBA season officially came to an end.

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The departure of Kyrie Irving deeply hurt the Celtics, especially knowing the trade assets they gave up to acquire him from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2017. However, despite losing Irving and Al Horford in the 2019 NBA free agency, the Celtics refused to undergo another rebuild. Instead of bringing in younger talent, the Celtics decided to surround Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with quality players that could help them remain competitive in the Eastern Conference the following season.

When Kyrie Irving signed with the Nets, the Celtics immediately found his replacement on the free agency market, acquiring Kemba Walker in a sign-and-trade deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Aside from Walker, the Celtics also signed Enes Kanter in the 2019 NBA free agency.