Growing up around Boston, I worshipped the Boston Celtics.  At the time (I’m instantly dating myself with this informatin), the Celtics were led by the ‘Big Three’–Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale.  They were great players as teammates, but Bird was the best of them.  Parish and McHale?  Each were good individually, but it’s doubtful they’d have made the Hall of Fame if not for Bird elevating their performance. Bird’s unselfishness, leadership, and ability to find opportunities for his teammates to excel made him invaluable far beyond his own production.

Fast forward 30 years and the Celtics have a completely different dynamic.  Meet Kyrie Irving.  Kyrie puts up great statistics, but the team is regressing. The Celtics made the NBA Finals last year and, despite being healthier, they never reached the level they did in 2018.

Other players are hinting that something is wrong.

Kyrie makes scenes in the media and locker room regularly.

His shoot-first attitude which reduces the opportunities for teammates to succeed.

He’s shown he can’t work well with other stars.

He’s the antithesis of a team player.

Now after a season-ending playoff series in which Kyrie displayed all of these negative traits, the Celtics have a choice: to keep him or let him go.

It’s not that hard.  You let him go–and there’s research to back it up.


  1. The behavior can go from bad to worse.  In a 2015 study by Dylan Minor of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that if someone is put around toxic people, there is a 47 higher chance than usual that they would become toxic too.  Dimmock and Gerken in the March 2018 Harvard Business Review found similar results with financial services workers. If you dumped a previously sanctioned employee in with employees with track records of ethical behavior, there was a 37% uptick in the odds of good employees committing misconduct.
  2. Productivity drops. In their research paper, ‘How, When and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel’, Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups’, researchers Will Felps, Terence Mitchell, and Eliza Byington found that productivity can drop as much as 30 to 40 percent with a single negative employee.

    What will the Celtics do with Irving?  Who knows, but if they want to maintain a good team in all aspects, they should drop the high performer that brings them down and find a way to put together the pieces of a team that can win in the long-term.

What’s your company doing with the great player who makes your team underperform or stay average? If your best player is making your team worse, you have a decision to make. I think it will be a slam dunk.

Pete Havel is a speaker, trainer, and consultant on workplace culture and leadership. He speaks and consults for organizations ranging from law enforcement agencies to Fortune 500 companies.  He’s also the author of “The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures,” named as a #1 Hot New Release by Amazon. It’s available at

Pete can be reached at and 214-244-7906.

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