After a disappointing performance last season ended in an early playoff exit for the Celtics, their Championship hopes coming into the 2019-20 season were significantly damaged.
They lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and the competition in the East is rising with new threats.
Despite all the obstacles, Boston has drastically turned things around. They boast one of the best records in the NBA and currently sit near the top of the Eastern Conference.
So what changed? What’s the difference between this year and last year? According to what several NBA sources told The Athletic’s Jay King, the departure of Kyrie Irving may have a lot to do with it.
Though many factors contributed to the struggles of a Boston team headlined last season by Irving, a long list of Celtics figures have suggested Irving’s presence contributed heavily to an unhealthy locker room atmosphere.
It was the way he carried himself that clashed with Stevens’ ideals and strained an already dangerous locker room mix. The group eventually grew separated enough, sources said, that Brown never approached Irving for a personal chat before responding to Irving’s criticisms through the media. Though Stevens would likely never publicly bash a player, the coach has always preached the value of “energy givers” — those who provide positive vibes on a daily basis. Irving, especially after rumors about his future began surfacing in February, often went the other way, retreating from the team.
In the article, King details the difference in tone between the leadership of Kyrie and, now, under Kemba Walker.
Irving’s absence is far from the only change, but several sources have indicated his departure — and Walker’s arrival — helped flip the atmosphere in the room.
“Night and day,” said one team source.
Said another, “You can feel it at all times.”
Apparently, constant “mood swings,” negative vibes, and general alienation of the team fractured the chemistry and created the locker room. Aside from mini battles against each other through the media, their performance on the court echoed the problems.
In Kemba Walker, we are seeing the opposite effect. His selfless, stable-minded personality is a much better fit for the team, and the difference is, truthfully, night and day.