Will Kyrie embrace being the Nets' No. 3 guy, like Kemba in Boston?
By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON – Kemba Walker, on the mend from left knee soreness, spent about an hour running up and down with his Boston Celtics teammates on Thursday, but don’t get too excited Green Teamers.
There’s still no sense of when he’ll actually do that in a game, in part because he’s still working towards strengthening his leg.
And then there’s the wildcard in all this which doubles as the new buzzwords of choice in the NBA – health and safety protocols – which has the potential to torpedo any planned return by Walker regardless of how he’s feeling.
But there’s one thing we do know about his return.
When he’s back in the lineup, he will be the undisputed No. 3 option for the Celtics.
Yes, a four-time All-Star who was a starter in last year’s All-Star game, will be the option after the option after the option, for Boston.
And you know what?
There is not a single thing about Walker’s time in Boston that leads one to believe this will be an issue.
I distinctly remember conversations him and I had during his early tenure in Boston when he talked about Jayson Tatum being a “special, special player” well before the All-Star recognition.
He gushed about Jaylen Brown being so under-rated and when given an opportunity, would blossom into an amazing talent.
And long before their ascension, the 30-year-old Walker was at peace with his role in the eventual pecking order, knowing that embracing that role would allow him to do what he never accomplished in Charlotte – win a lot of games.
As much as his first season was marred by more injuries than usual, Walker enjoyed the kind of success that for so many years had alluded him.
Because of that, the Celtics are going to be a strong, formidable squad once the playoffs arrive.
They are on the short list of teams in the East whose aspirations of making a deep playoff are not some foolish fairy tale.
And that list also includes the Brooklyn Nets who blew up their roster this week, and for good reason.
Once the dust settled, they were left with James Harden, acquired from Houston who comes with a lot of baggage, most notably off-the-chart expectations that short of an NBA title will make this season a failure for Brooklyn.
Yes, James Harden from Houston who has been the NBA’s scoring champion each of the last three seasons.
Yes, James Harden teaming up with Kevin Durant, a dynamic duo that has claimed seven of the league’s last 11 scoring titles.
And then when you add Kyrie Irving to the mix … wait, hold up!
How exactly is that gonna work?
Because as talented as Irving is, he will be no better than Brooklyn’s version of Kemba Walker – his team’s Alfred Pennyworth to Brooklyn’s new Batman (Kevin Durant) and Robin (James Harden).
Is he really gonna accept being the third option, something he has never been asked to do?
When the Cleveland Cavs added Kevin Love to a squad that featured Irving and LeBron James, Irving was the undisputed No. 2 guy in that triumvirate.
But with Durant and Harden on board, that’s not happening.
Sure, there may be nights when Irving scores more points or dishes out more assists. But if this new Big Three lives up to the goal of winning a title now, Irving can’t be the second-best player.
Because he’s the only guy among the trio who has shown himself to be an exceptional non-face-of-the-franchise player.
Some forget that Harden began his NBA career coming off the bench in Oklahoma City, playing in the shadows of Durant and Russell Westbrook.
We forget because he has spent nearly a decade in Houston establishing himself as more than just one of the game’s best scorers of this generation but one of the best scorers to ever play in the league.
Ditto for Durant who has shown no signs of looking like anything other than the most dominant, unstoppable scoring force in the NBA.
Which brings us back to Kyrie Irving, who is an exceptionally talented baller with the best handles of anyone in the game.
When he decides to call it a career, he’s a lock to go into the Hall of Fame.
But what he will be asked to do in Brooklyn with the addition of Harden, is something that has never been asked of him before.
And by all accounts, he has shown absolutely no desire or willingness to make the kind of concessions and sacrifices needed to make this work.
Off the court, you won’t find many players who are as giving and as committed to as many worthy causes, as Kyrie Irving.
And he likes to do this stuff with very little fanfare or attention. I remember having a hell of time getting him to talk about donating his jersey to a group that auctioned it off to raise money for an improved water filtration system in Kenya.
It was a selfless act that speaks to where his heart is at when it comes to helping others, while staying primarily in the background.
That is the Kyrie Irving that those close to him know and love, someone who doesn’t hesitate in doing for others.
But those same folks know the Kyrie Irving on the basketball court … different dude, entirely.
He has grown accustomed to being the center of attention or at worse, the next in line to be the center of attention.
You can’t dangle the desire to win a title in front of him if you’re trying to get him to change his ways.
He’s already got one of those.
The Nets are hoping just the chance to play with two other, upper-echelon, Hall of Fame-bound players such as himself will be enough for him to embrace where he stands in the pecking order in Brooklyn.
Kemba Walker has accepted the reality that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are on a different level right now, and that the best thing for him and the Celtics is to be the best third option he can be and abide by the cliché of staying so you don't have to get ready.
Kemba gets it.
Not so much.