Five-time All-Star Kyrie Irving hasn’t made any promises to the Boston Celtics. But assistant coach Jay Larranaga knows the team’s leading scorer, who can become a free agent next summer, is “excited” for one of the franchise’s most anticipated seasons in a long while.
“We’re both just anxious for the season to get started,” Larranaga told The Boston Globe‘s Adam Himmelsbach on Thursday. “I think he’s doing great. You read his body language, and I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but he seems really excited for the direction we’re going, and I think he’s very excited to lead us as well.”
The Celtics are coming off a second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearance, this time coming within one game of the NBA Finals while Irving and All-Star forward Gordon Hayward were both injured. With expected improvement for up-and-comers Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier and along with some better health, Boston is now the favorite in the East.
Irving spent this past weekend at Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas, where Larranaga was also an assistant. Though he did not participate in team drills, the injured point guard went through individual workouts with his trainer. Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have consistently said they expect Irving to return from the knee injury that ended his season at some point in August.
“If Kyrie was finished with all of his rehab he would have been on the court competing, but I always love seeing him in those settings interacting with the other players and seeing how much respect he commands from them,” Larranaga told Himmelsbach. “He’s special. He just is. It’s very clear what a charismatic personality he has that people just want to be around, and felt fortunate that we have him on our team.”
Irving and Hayward are operating on similar timelines.
Hayward, who has resumed basketball activities, expects to be playing five-on-five later this month, as well. He did not attend the recent Team USA minicamp, instead sticking with his current rehab regimen. Larranaga told Himmelsbach, however, “it was very obvious that Gordon could be an important part of USA Basketball.”
The Celtics do not begin training camp until the end of September, which would give Irving and Hayward at least four weeks to get into basketball shape before reporting for the start of the season — assuming they continue down the same track.
Irving underwent knee surgery in April, removing screws from a knee that contracted a bacterial infection. He recently told ESPN that he had been on antibiotics for two months and that the time following the infections was “a long, long (expletive) two months.” His season ended because of a left knee injury in mid-March.
Hayward had screws, which were irritating his left ankle, removed in May. The 2017 All-Star broke his ankle on opening night this past season. He enters next year on the second year of a four-year, $128 million contract. Irving can become a free agent once the 2018-19 season concludes.
Read Himmelsbach’s full interview with Larranaga here.
Fred Katz covers the Celtics for MassLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.