Celtics' future shaky with wounded Irving

NEW YORK • The Boston Celtics, whose season began with a devastating injury, will enter the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs with news of another. Kyrie Irving, their All-Star point guard, requires another operation on his left knee and will miss the post-season.

The team, who had been hopeful that Irving would return to the line-up at some point in the play-offs after undergoing knee surgery last month, announced that he was scheduled for a second procedure to remove two screws from the knee and that he would need four to five months to recover. Tests have revealed a bacterial infection at the site of the screws.

With just over a week remaining in the regular season, the Celtics (53-25) have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but Irving's absence is a massive blow to hopes of a title challenge.

Irving, in his first season with the Celtics, averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists a game while shooting 49.1 per cent from the field.

His play had helped make up for the loss of Gordon Hayward, an All-Star forward who suffered a grisly ankle injury on the first day of the regular season.

With Irving out, the play-offs could be wide open. The Toronto Raptors are poised to be the top-seeded team. The Cleveland Cavaliers, after several bumpy stretches, are surging once again.

In the absences of Irving, Hayward and Marcus Smart (out for the first round with a right thumb surgery), Boston realistically have little chance of making the kind of deep play-off run they had hoped.

But, in the long term, Irving's latest injury also casts doubt on the project the Celtics have been building around him. The team will have to decide whether to offer Irving a max contract next summer. And offering a five-year deal worth close to US$200 million (S$263.3 million) to someone with Irving's injury history is not a sure thing. This is Irving's seventh season, and he has missed more than 15 games in four of them - and more than 20 three times.

With Boston wounded, teams at the bottom of the East will now be doing their best to draw the Celtics.

That is just the first of many ripple effects of Irving's latest surgery - effects that will last until next summer, and potentially far beyond that.

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'Celtics' future shaky with wounded Irving'. Print Edition | Subscribe