Mike Krzyzewski was not at all surprised when Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers over the summer, and he’s most definitely not surprised to see the point guard thriving with the Boston Celtics.
When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski learned last summer that one of his former star pupils, Kyrie Irving, had requested to be traded from the Cavaliers, he was not stunned like many others were. He coached Irving at Duke and with Team USA, and he knew there was some part of his game, some part of his style, that had yet to be fully unlocked. He sent Irving a text message in July, telling him that he was there for him if he needed anything. But Krzyzewski also knew that it seemed Irving knew exactly what he wanted.
“What I see happening with him right now is something I thought would happen eventually, and that’s him becoming a great leader,” Krzyzewski said in a phone interview. “He was born to be a great player, but he was also born to be a great leader, and I think that’s one of the reasons he wanted to take this chance. It wasn’t a negative against anybody [in Cleveland]. It was a positive of, ‘Look, I’m only going to do this for so long. I want to be that leader.’ And I applaud him for doing that. And he’s right. He was right in making that decision.”
Irving’s decision certainly appears to be paying dividends now. The Celtics have the best record in the big NBA, and though his numbers aren’t drastically different, the NBA’s third-youngest team scores like a top-eight offense when he’s on the court—putting to bed this notion that he cannot run a high-level attack without LeBron James.
Irving is also putting forth unprecedented effort on the defensive end. He can jump the gun when providing help, rotating over from just one pass away, but he’s making better off-ball switches and doing more to keep up with dribble drivers who get a head of steam.
Above all else, he’s more of a leader by default. The Celtics, again, are the third youngest team in the NBA and lost Gordon Hayward for the season. They have Al Horford, but he’s not the ubiquitous presence LeBron is. Irving is now one of the old heads, and we’ve yet to see anything the reflects poorly upon his transition into more of an alpha role. Whatever Coach K has seen in him for a while is, it seems, starting to bubble toward the surface now.