Only One Free Agency Destination Is Worthy Of Kyrie Irving’s Galaxy Brain
Kyrie Irving wants people to know that he’s not like other guys. This became suddenly and abundantly clear to not just basketball fans but the entire country when, in February 2017, Irving declared that the Earth was flat on a podcast with then-Cavaliers teammates Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. Sounding like Slater from Dazed and Confused, Irving said, “I’m telling you it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” This is the obvious place to start, but it’s also really the only place to start.
He proved it again in the summer of 2017 when, following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors in three years, Irving demanded a trade. It was an unprecedented move: not only had his team been to three straight Finals, they had won the title just a year prior, and they still had LeBron James, one of the top three players of all time who showed no signs of meaningfully slowing down. Irving was asking out of the type of winning situation most players spend their entire career without getting to experience.
Again, though, Irving isn’t most players, and although it was unprecedented, it wasn’t incomprehensible. After spending an apprenticeship under LeBron’s controversial style of leadership, and apparently getting really mad that his team won a championship, Irving wanted to be The Man, and the Boston Celtics had not only the pieces to acquire him, they had the infrastructure to allow him to be The Man on a winning team right away: wunderkind coach Brad Stevens and All-Star center/glue guy Al Horford returned after a season in which the Cs finished ahead of Irving’s Cavs in the East and made the Eastern Conference Finals with Isaiah Thomas as their nominal best player. With all that in place plus Irving’s playoff pedigree, the cap space for another max player (eventually Gordon Hayward), and a seemingly never-ending pile of draft assets, the Celtics looked poised to take over as the best team in the East as soon as James began to meaningfully decline, with Kyrie as the face of the franchise.
Unlike James, Kyrie’s approach to being the face of the franchise wasn’t based in subliminal messaging on social media, but rather on proving that being a Flat Earther was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his transcendent mind. Some selected quotes from just 2017 include repeated references to wokeness, energy, intellectualism, and the claim that his favorite music to listen to in high school were the soundtracks to RENT and Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately, fans didn’t get to see whether this type of talk both outside and presumably inside the locker room would propel the Celtics to greatness in 2017–18, as Hayward went down with a broken ankle during the first game of the season and Irving himself ended up on the shelf down the stretch with knee issues. The Celtics took Irving’s old teammates in Cleveland to the distance in the Eastern Conference Finals regardless, setting up a 2018–19 season in which most expected the team to take up the mantel of indefinite Eastern Conference favorite.
Irving’s 2018–19 campaign, though, would prove even more confounding, as his leadership was tested by a roster crunch that saw several Celtics who had been key contributors to that Conference Finals being forced to take on lesser roles. He handled it… interestingly, with perhaps the most telling quote coming after a January 12th loss to the Orlando Magic: “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship level team, what it takes every day. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the Finals?” An odd message to a team that had fallen just one win short of the Finals without him. Indeed, the Celtics would not go as far with him as they had the season before with him hurt, falling in five games to the ascendant Milwaukee Bucks as Irving shot 30% from the floor in four straight losses to close the series.
Now, despite saying before the season that he hoped to see his jersey retired by the Celtics after he retired, Irving appears headed out the door. He is reportedly “ghosting” the team while sources strongly link him to the up-and-coming Brooklyn Nets, the team whose ill-advised and short-sighted trade for former Boston stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett appeared to have Boston in the catbird seat in the East for the foreseeable future just nine months ago. That’s not all that’s changed; Irving has also backed off the Flat Earth comments, explaining them away as a product of his intellectual curiosity and and belief that people should question accepted wisdom, apologized to LeBron for being immature as a member of the Cavs, and admitted that his outspoken criticism of his young teammates in Boston was ill-advised.
None of this is to say that Irving is not an smart guy; Flat Eartherism is dumb, and his promulgation of the conspiracy theory is damaging, but in his case it does seem to speak to degree of genuine intellectual curiosity. However, his behavior and quotes over the past couple years seem to indicate that it’s really, really important to Irving that he be viewed as a public intellectual, that he not be categorized as a basketball player but as a Dr. Manhattan who happens to moonlight as the best tough shot-maker on the planet (perhaps understandably, given the racial undertones of the “dumb jock” stereotypes at the professional level). “Weird” taste in music is an easy shorthand for this, and a modern update of the Socratic paradox might be that a person who spends a lot of time and energy making sure others know how woke they are is likely not nearly as woke as they believe themselves to be.
That being the case, the Nets seem like too simple of a choice for his next landing area, as does another team that’s been tied to him of late, the Los Angeles Lakers. For one thing, basketball media has speculated that Irving would go to New York this offseason for months now, and even if they were seemingly wrong about the team, the narrative is still laid out. Additionally, New York and Los Angeles are, for lack of a better term, normie destinations for basketball players, places where the rich and famous thrive easily due to how many other rich and famous people live there.
This is Irving first chance to freely choose his own path as a professional, without being tied to what his team can get back for him in a trade, and New York and Los Angeles just would not seem to fit the Galaxy Brain image he has been projecting for the past two and a half years. In fact, only one team offers the best combination of winning, off-the-wall decision making, and isolated astral projecting to suit Kyrie Irving, and that’s the Utah Jazz.
In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan, who has long felt himself out of touch with mortals who experience time linearly and can only be in one place at a time, absconds by himself to the red planet Mars after being accused of causing cancer in people close to him. Kyrie Irving, woke philosopher who seems to reside on a plane of consciousness above the average person, is currently being blamed for the Celtics promising future falling apart during this past season and beyond, of being a locker room cancer. The parallels are clear, and the deserts of Utah are as close as an NBA player can get to Mars without strapping on a spacesuit and missing a couple years of his prime.
In addition to the Dr. Manhattan symbolism, Salt Lake City also features a lot of white girls, which is Kyrie’s preference based on his post-2016 Championship celebration. The city is also nearly half Mormon, and a religion that espouses the belief that Jesus Christ once came to America would seem to fit in nicely with Irving’s skepticism of people’s generally accepted worldview. Finally, moving from Boston to Utah would reverse the course of Celtics forward Gordon Hayward, who left the Jazz for Boston, and serve as a public rebuke to the thinking that Boston is a better basketball and living situation than Salt Lake City, a nice bit of comeuppance his old team.
There are compelling basketball reasons for Irving to choose the Jazz as well. The team has faltered in the playoffs for the last few years as point guard Ricky Rubio’s lack of shooting and tight spacing caused by the Twin Towers lineups of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert became untenable against sophisticated, well-prepared defenses, leaving Donovan Mitchell as the only true shot creator and scorer on the team. With Irving in Rubio’s place, the Jazz would have two perimeter players who can get their own shot, and each could spot up off the other’s pick-and-roll with Rudy Gobert, attacking a rotating defense, taking open threes when they present themselves, or swinging the ball to Joe Ingles or Jaw Crowder, either of whom is capable of making the wide-open shots afforded by two teammates as dangerous with the ball as Irving and Mitchell. The Jazz would have to release Favors in order to clear cap space for Irving, but this would allow him to be the piece who guides the team into the 21st century stylistically.
On the other end, Gobert is perhaps the best in the league at covering for his guards’ mistakes, and Irving, who has improved to about league average as a defender over the past two seasons, could theoretically expend more energy on defense knowing that he doesn’t have to carry the offensive load (although that would have theoretically been the case this past season with the Celtics and it didn’t quite work out that way).
The Jazz have been the five seed in the Western Conference for the past two seasons with one shot creator and cramped spacing on offense. With Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson out next season and the Hostno Rockets imploding, the path to the Finals in the West is pretty wide open next year, and Kyrie could help put a Jazz team that’s done everything right for the past five years or so into true contention by making a free agent decision that would prove he does possess a truly unique mind in NBA history.
Or he could go to an OK team in New York. Whether he’s as smart as he’d have fans believe or not, it’s probably a fool’s errand to try to get into the guy’s mind.