It makes sense that Kyrie Irving is the leader of a Celtics team that makes no sense

Kyrie Irving entered TD Garden on Sunday telling a horde of cameras and the national TV audience at home, “I’m not going to miss any of this s— when I’m done playing.” He left with 39 words in response to nine questions from a media contingent wondering once again where it all went wrong this season.

In between was yet another uninspired effort from Irving and his Boston Celtics, who are 1-5 since the All-Star break and embarking on a four-game West Coast trip that begins in the Bay Area on Tuesday.

There is no joy on the Celtics, and that begins with Irving. The All-Star point guard arrived in Boston appreciative of his good fortune, landing on a roster stocked with players closer to his own age who were capable of growing along with him into a championship contender. It was, as he said, everything he was looking for upon requesting a trade from LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals in his injury-absence only reinforced his belief in the team’s direction, as he declared his longterm commitment to the organization before a crowd of season ticket-holders.

Nobody forced his hand. This was his decision, and he reveled in the attention, building a Nike ad campaign around his desire to have his No. 11 retired alongside Celtics legends in the Garden rafters.

Now, some five months later, he is clearly unhappy. We cannot pretend to wonder what Irving might be dealing with off the court, but in the hours we see him toiling away in his chosen profession, there is no joy. His disdain for the media is understandable, given its desire to twist his honest responses into locker room friction and include his name in every player movement saga around the league.

There is no doubt he has contributed to both, openly criticizing accomplished teammates who haven’t fallen in line behind him and publicly reneging on his pledge to re-sign with the Celtics. His volatility and missteps might be explained away with his age and existence in a generation that is, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver said over the weekend, fraught with anxiety, isolation and unhappiness.

Harder to forgive is Irving’s apparent unwillingness to put in the work to right the ship down the stretch of a wildly disappointing campaign. He said last week that he is tired of “this other B.S. about the regular season” and “can’t wait” for the playoffs, and it showed against the Rockets. His lazy close-out on Chris Paul less than a minute into the third quarter of a game the Celtics trailed by 22 points at halftime, followed by some misplaced finger-pointing and a timeout, was exemplary of Irving’s waning defensive effort and contributions to the team’s general disconnect in the second half of the season.

There has been much discussion about Irving’s leadership on the Celtics. He has welcomed advice from Kobe Bryant and LeBron, whose respective philosophies willingly and passive-aggressively inject “tension” into a locker room as the means to a championship end. Why Irving is steering the Celtics down the same path that led to his unhappiness on the Cavaliers is a question that might take years to answer, but we can agree that, regardless of your philosophy, leading by example is a prerequisite.

Irving has undeniably been Boston’s best player this season. He is enjoying his most efficient and productive season in the eighth year of a career replete with dynamic offensive performances. But what does it say about Irving that he is checking out at the first sign of adversity? According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Irving has “become disengaged and detached from those around the team,” and it doesn’t take an insider to follow the recent timeline of his attitude adjustment in Boston.

It should not be lost on anyone that it was Semi Ojeleye, a second-year second-round pick on the fringe of the rotation, who reportedly demanded the Celtics “wake the f— up” from this funk.

No matter what the statistics say, it’s clear Boston’s effort level has intensified when Irving isn’t in the lineup. Part of that is surely because it has to in order for the Celtics to compete without him, but in order to maximize their potential, Boston needs both Irving and a supporting cast willing to exert that same level of energy together. They have yet to strike that balance, and they are running out of time.

Maybe the losing is the sole source of his frustration, and winning in the playoffs will repair what increasingly seems like a frayed partnership between Irving and the Celtics, but that would not fully explain why he continued calling this a trying season even during his team’s upswings. Maybe this is all performance art, and his public persona is a commentary about how little the media knows what is really going on behind the scenes, but the team’s current status as a road playoff seed begs to differ.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge described the team’s relationship with Irving as an engagement last month, with the goal of consummating their marriage with a contract on July 1. For any number of reasons, though, matches seemingly made in heaven can end in divorce. Sparks never fly, or they flame out, and the Celtics will be the ones left wondering where it all went wrong.

There is a doomsday scenario for the Celtics. They could realistically lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs, leading Irving to walk. He appears to be the key to the Celtics acquiring and keeping Anthony Davis this summer, and a Jayson Tatum-sized gamble without Irving could result in Davis walking away from Boston, too. Al Horford has the option to leave as well. Then, this stunning post-Kevin-Garnett-and-Paul-Pierce rebuild would be all for naught. The team arguably positioned best for the next decade would be starting from scratch, only without a cache of Brooklyn Nets picks.

There is also the potential for a happy ending in Boston, all Robert Kraft jokes aside. The playoffs could solve the issues that have plagued the Celtics, with everyone collectively buying into the original goal of emerging from the East and releasing their insecurities about individual achievement. The season-long effort to rejuvenate Gordon Hayward will also give way to meting out minutes to those who are earning them. They are talented enough to compete with the East’s elite, and there is still a roadmap for the Celtics to reach the Finals, as difficult as they have made it for themselves.

At this point, the most likely outcome seems destined to fall somewhere in the middle. The Celtics are no longer favorites to reach the conference finals for a third straight season, and the odds of losing Irving this summer are tilting closer to a coin flip. If he stays, the free agency departures of Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris will alleviate the internal concern about minutes, Hayward will inch closer to full strength, and if those don’t solve the chemistry issues, there is the arms race for his friend Davis.

Or, if Irving leaves, and Davis never comes, the Celtics would still be left with Tatum, Jaylen Brown and a talented young core with successful playoff experience, a top-tier coach and the opportunity to grow together. It could be worse, but it also would not be the window of contention that Boston imagined.

Irving has every right to leave the Celtics at the altar, and he has earned the ability to choose his next destination. Still, that guarantees him neither happiness nor the absence of media scrutiny. From the outside looking in, he will have left two fairly idyllic basketball situations — the best supporting actor in a LeBron production and the leading man of a talented ensemble cast — in search of a better one.

This is to say nothing of his paradoxical desire to be a basketball superstar free from the fame that comes with it, months after the release of his starring role in a movie based on his Pepsi commercial.

How hard is it, really, to walk past cameras on your way to a game you are paid handsomely to play, and then spend 80 seconds answering questions about it afterward? Maybe it’s harder than we think. Maybe you can’t put a price tag on the toll that fame in the social media age takes on a young man.

Less than a full season after Irving said, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here,” the last legend to have his number retired in Boston’s rafters questioned whether the guy who appeared next in line “can be your best player to win a championship.” If Paul Pierce is saying as much before Irving ever has the chance to prove him wrong, you can imagine what the rest of the league’s talking heads will be saying if the 26-year-old falls well short of playoff expectations on the Celtics. Questions about Irving’s ceiling in a house not built by LeBron will follow him to New York or wherever he goes.

Maybe this is what Irving won’t miss when his playing days are done — people like me setting limits on him when he’s already climbed incredible heights on a mountain of highlights. I’m done trying to figure out why Irving seems so unhappy on a team talented enough to compete for a title. The only thing that makes sense to me now is that Kyrie Irving is the leader of a team that makes no sense.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!