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MacMullan: Boston’s disappointment wasn’t all Kyrie Irving’s fault, but ...

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When discussing the possibility of Kyrie Irving-to-Brooklyn, those Nets fans opposed to the move will often point to last year’s disappointment in Boston. The Celtics with a roster of solid young players, veterans like Al Horford and Gordon Heyward, topped off by a superstar in Irving won only 49 games and lost in the second round of the playoffs.

A lot of the post-season fingers got pointed at Irving because despite his second team All-NBA stature, he was seen as lacking in leadership, exhibiting poor body language, pouting and playing an arrogant, iso game.

Jackie MacMullan, ESPN’s Boston-based writer, wrote Friday about those fingers and although Irving isn’t a Net (yet), she painted a more textured picture of Irving in Boston, making it clear that there was a lot of blame to go around.

MacMullan opened by pointing to Irving’s Instagram post from Japan, where he’s been traveling this week. It was very much Kyrie...

And while MacMullan notes that Irving once said, “I’m an actual genius when it comes to the game,” she doesn’t see him as arrogant, but rather “not entirely wrong” about his place in basketball. Then, she recounts Irving’s issues ... how Kyrie-as-superstar didn’t work ... and why.

The talent is unmistakable, the work ethic indisputable and the courage to take a shot in the biggest moment is what drew the Celtics to him in the first place. Yet Kyrie’s awkward attempts at providing forceful leadership proved to be flawed, and ultimately destructive. His journey began as an earnest attempt to fulfill his dream of leading his own team to the pinnacle, but he failed spectacularly, with help from a disjointed collection of talented individuals who simply could not figure out how to collaborate in unison.

This debacle was no solo act.

The team, she wrote, was a mismatch of types and experience. Not to mention that some of the young guns weren’t on the same page as their appointed leader. In the end, she implies, Irving gave up.

Ironically, it was Irving who implored his teammates to share the ball in the infancy of the season. And yet, by season’s end, it was Kyrie who had hijacked the offense.

But she also offers anecdotes in support of Irving’s professionalism in the face of younger teammates’ immaturity.

On Jan. 9, the Celtics blitzed the Indiana Pacers in Boston, then flew out that night to Miami, arriving at the team hotel after 2 a.m. on Thursday. Boston was set to play the Miami Heat that night, but, team sources said, that didn’t stop some of the young players from heading to South Beach, where the clubs stay open well past 5 a.m. It’s not uncommon for NBA players to go out when they’re on the road, but Irving was irked teammates decided to do it in the middle of back-to-back games.

Predictably, the Celtics lost to the Heat, 115-99. A peeved Irving, rather than dressing and answering media questions, disappeared from view.

After nearly 30 minutes, he was found shooting baskets on Miami’s practice court, hoping some of his teammates who had played so poorly might join him.

None of them did.

By the time Irving returned to answer media questions, most of his teammates were gone. Asked to explain why he felt compelled to engage in the postgame session, Irving said, “I just wanted to feel good going into the next game. We’re staying over in Miami, so I’d rather be in here than be out in Miami right now.”

Hardly subtle.

Certainly, Kyrie reacted poorly at times, at one point feeling the need to apologize for critiquing the team’s younger players, MacMullan pointed out. And the lack of chemistry in the locker room was, no doubt, an issue for which he was partly responsible. But MacMullan wrote, so was Jayson Tatum, the team’s wunderkind who fell short of what Boston expected this season.

Bottom line for MacMullan is that Irving simply didn’t like much about Boston and grew disenchanted with the whole experience. Still, she noted, there was confusion in the front office about what Irving wants.

“Even those close to him wonder what he’s searching for. A championship? He had that in Cleveland. League accolades? He was second-team All-NBA this season in Boston. Money? His biggest payday would have come had he stayed put. He leaves more than $49 million on the table once he departs, an accomplished enigma who often defies explanation.”

Now, he’s ready to move on, “probably embarking on a new start in Brooklyn.” Boston is behind him. So are the disappointments.

“I want Kyrie to find happiness,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told MacMullan. “If he does move on, I wish him nothing but good health and success. I saw a lot of great qualities in him.”

Now, if the pundits are right, the conundrum will be Kenny Atkinson’s issue.