Friday, May 10, 2019

Indecision Is Always the Wrong Decision

One of the surest ways to be unhappy is to never quite know what one wants, because then whatever one gets doesn't quite suit. It has seemed to me for some time that what many Bostonians see as Kyrie Irving's emotional erraticism (to be polite) stems from the fact the for-now Celtics guard just doesn't know what he really wants from basketball.

Irving wanted to be top banana on an NBA team, so he left Cleveland for Boston. Then being top banana has made him feel very uncomfortable. because it comes with increased public interest. He wants to be a mentor to young players, yet also wants said youngsters to defer to established stars such as himself. And in strict basketball terms, he isn't at all certain how or even if he fits on the team where he thought he could be the hero. There are many things to criticize about Irving's ruinous performance in the Celtics' dispiriting playoff loss to the Bucks, but we should never be shocked if an NBA guard at a loss for ideas reverts to the "shoot more, they'll drop eventually" bromide. It's a confession of basketball intellectual bankruptcy.

As for the future, it's possibilities seem to have put Irving in a perpetual quandary. Does he want to stay in Boston, sign with the Knicks as a free agent, became player-coach of the Lakers? Who knows. All one can tell from Irving's words on this or any other basketball subject is that he doesn't know himself.

This is very bad news for the Celtics, because until Irving figures out what he wants, they can't begin to decide what they want.

It may be tempting for distraught Celtics fans to urge Danny Ainge to let or even force Irving out of town, but this would be imprudent if Kyrie wants to stay. In the sport with the fewest players, teams dump their best ones at their own risk. James Harden has a, shall we say, checkered playoff history, but everyone including the Houston Rockets knows they'd be crazy to get rid of him. Irving isn't nearly as good as Harden, but the same principle applies.

Here's where the indecision kicks in. Suppose Irving wants to stay all summer long, and the Celtics operate on that assumption, then he gets to training camp and once again only sees the downsides of his situation. We know the answer. The 2019-2020 season would be a duplicate of the unhappy to the max 3016-2019 season. And there's no way to guard against that, because Irving's restless mind would be equally sincere in both wanting and not wanting to be a Celtic.

There is Irving's alleged fantasy of signing with the Knicks as a free agent, where he would be joined by Kevin Durant and maybe even Zion Williamson to form another NBA superteam. Probably that's a nice daydream for Irving, but it's totally dependent on Durant to make it come true. If he re-ups with the Warriors, Irving would be left in New York as the star on a bad team, not a good one like the Celtics. He'd have to take 30 shots a game just to keep interested. He'd be unhappy.

For comic relief, there's always the notion (and a restless mind like Irving's has many notions) that he could reunite with LeBron out in LA. The Lakers are currently the brightest, smelliest dumpster fire in the NBA. Adding Irving to the mix would be pouring jet fuel and plutonium to the flames. It would lead to some memorable Charles Barkley monologues though.

Well, Irving's gonna do what he's gonna do. Then he's gonna try and undo whatever it was he did. He's indecisive by nature. What about Ainge's indecision, the kind that afflicts normally decisive people when they realize all their options are bad ones?

If the Celtics lose Irving, they will have less talent than they have now. They will be a  team dependent on 1. A return to the form of yesteryear by Gordon Hayward., 2. Defiance of the NBA actuarial tables by Al Horford and 3. The blossoming of Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum into All-Stars. Not a percentage bet, that.

(I omit the possibility of swinging a trade to rent Anthony Davis for the last year of his contract because while it could happen, I believe it would have happened back in January if it was a probable deal).

But of course, if Ainge strives to keep Kyrie in green for the foreseeable future, he will have the same old Irving for whom the grass is always greener wherever he isn't. Irving will say the right things, then some wrong ones. He will be great one game and not so great the next two. The truth is, while a gifted player, Irving is just not consistent enough to be top banana of an NBA team. That's in pure basketball terms, no comment on Irving's personality at all.

It MIGHT make the Celtics the NBA powerhouse it was assumed they were last fall if Ainge were to bite the bullet, trade the Celtics' promising youth and mighty depth to get Davis and THEN got Irving to stay. Irving as outside scorer second banana has a fine track record -- in Cleveland. But it might not, too. After all, it was his dislike of being Best Supporting Player that led Irving to Boston in the first place.

So many conditional tenses and ifs, mights and maybes in this essay. Indecision has a bad effect on English prose, too. I'm glad I wasn't born with Irving's brand of restlessness. It's not a formula for happiness.

I'm triple glad I'm not Ainge right now. All I can advise the Celts' decision maker is a trite observation that has nothing to do with basketball metrics and a lot to do with basketball teams.

Unhappy people almost never make those around them feel happy.


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