Kyrie Irving is not with the Nets in Boston for Wednesday's 7 p.m. game at TD Garden against the Celtics, but Brad Stevens received plenty of questions before tip-off about the team's point guard from 2017-19.
Out for the seventh straight game as he nurses his right shoulder impingement, Irving misses his return to Boston but he still gets backlash from fans, including signs posted outside the arena calling Irving a "coward."
Stevens, who coached Irving for the past two seasons in Boston and has been with the Celtics since 2013, said during his pregame media availability that the team's lack of success did not fall on the point guard.
"We've said many times that whatever we didn't achieve that we wanted to achieve as a team is on the team," Stevens said. "That's not for one person. That has been very well documented. And I've also said many times that I enjoyed Kyrie and wish him nothing but the best. I think that everybody that was on that team last year will be better because of that experience."
Stevens added that the criticism of Irving -- who averaged 24.1 points, 6.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 32.6 minutes per game over the two-year stint with the Celtics -- is unwarranted.
"I think that is one of the things that, unfortunately, when you're really, really good at something, the level of scrutiny is even higher," Stevens said. "And you know he's one of the best players in the NBA. And the level of scrutiny is unfair, but it comes with the territory of all those guys. And I just think that's why it's so important we constantly remind ourselves how good they are. The way people talked about his time -- I mean, he was second team All-NBA last year. He was ridiculous the year before.
"So he's a heck of a player and he gets to choose where he wants to go play, gets to go home. I think that's something that we all very much respect and we certainly, like I said, we wish him nothing but health and happiness. I just think this is the world we live in. I think that's just part of it. And I don't particularly like it. Even being in the seat where you're getting too much praise is uncomfortable. But we've got to react to something and, unfortunately, we're pretty reactionary."
After the Celtics went 53-29 on the 2016-17 season and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston was pegged as the favorite to reach the NBA Finals upon the August 2017 acquistion of Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas.
However, the Celtics went 55-27 on the 2017-18 season and lost in the Eastern Conference Finals before taking another step back on 2018-19 season by going 49-33 and exiting from the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Irving signed July 7 with the Nets on a four-year deal worth $141 million and started the 2019-20 season by averaging 28.5 points, 7.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 33.8 minutes through the first 11 games.
"Incredible player," Stevens said of Irving. "We won a ton of games here when he was here. We didn't get to where we ultimately wanted to go last year and I think that that, again, leaves a sour taste in everybody's mouth that was a part of that team and it was all on our team. I've said many times that if you're the one that has to put it all together and the team's not as good, that's on me. But I think he's an incredible player and, again, I've said many times what I think about him."