Kyrie Irving is one of the most talented players in the NBA — when he’s healthy, that is. He possesses a handle that few other players can rival. Even better, he has proven himself capable of knocking down shots in even the most high-pressure situations. Just go back and watch his clutch three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals if you need a reminder of Irving’s greatness.
Yet some analysts have also pointed out a more troubling aspect of Kyrie’s game: his often problematic relationships with his coaches. In the wake of Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson’s surprise departure, many commentators have even labeled Irving a coach killer. Here we take a look at Irving’s history of coaches in order to determine whether he deserves the coach killer label.
Kyrie Irving’s NBA career in a nutshell
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Irving with the first pick of the 2011 NBA draft. Irving came into the league as an elite-level starting point guard. He made his first of six total All-Star appearances in just his second season. Ultimately, Irving spent six years with the Cavaliers, winning the NBA Championship alongside LeBron James in 2016.
Following the 2016-2017 season, an unhappy Irving pushed his way out of Cleveland, who traded him to the Boston Celtics. Irving’s two seasons with the Celtics were excellent from an individual standpoint, but the team never managed to gel. Last summer, Irving departed Boston for Brooklyn, where he played only 20 games before being derailed by injury.
Over the course of his 9-season NBA career, Irving has put up consistently impressive numbers. He has career averages of 22.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Despite being a fairly high volume shooter — he averages 17.7 shots per game — Irving’s has shot 46.6% from the field and 39.0% from the three-point line.
History of coaches
So far, Irving has had a whopping seven different coaches in nine years. He has never played for any of those coaches for more than two seasons. Byron Scott coached Irving for his first two years in the league before getting fired. The Cavs then brought back former coach Mike Brown, only to fire him after just a single season.
Brown was replaced by David Blatt, who coached the Cavs for a year and a half before getting fired. Irving then spent a year and a half with Tyron Lue as his coach, before forcing his trade to the Celtics. In Boston, Irving was coached by Celtics’ mastermind Brad Stevens for two seasons.
Then, in Brooklyn, it was Atkinson. After Atkinson’s firing, Jacque Vaughn took over as interim coach, although most analysts agree he will likely be replaced by the start of next season.
Is Kyrie Irving a coach killer?
That recap brings us to the burning question of whether or not Irving is a coach killer. Those who argue yes point to several factors as evidence. First, they cite the unusually large number of coaches he has played for. Then they often bring up an implied potshot that Irving took at Tyron Lue after his trade to the Celtics, when Irving said he had been “unbelievably craving” a coach like Brad Stevens.
Atkinson’s firing only added flames to Irving’s negative reputation. Yet when you look back at the facts, they don’t quite line up with the coach killer argument. Most of the firings made during Irving’s Cleveland years were for other reasons.
Byron Scott failed to improve the team in three years. Mike Brown never should have been rehired. And David Blatt simply didn’t have the superstar experience needed to coach a team with LeBron James on it.
After Blatt, none of Irving’s coaches lost their jobs while he was with the team until Atkinson. Few would argue that Irving wasn’t implicated in Atkinson’s firing to some degree. Many analysts have pointed out that Atkinson simply wasn’t cut out to coach both Irving and fellow Nets superstar Kevin Durant. To call Irving a coach killer ultimately seems a little unjustified.