Kyrie Irving didn’t try to hide his giddiness Friday when he was introduced as the newest addition of a Boston Celtics franchise he grew up watching.
“It’s about to be crazy, G,” Irving said in the ear of fellow new Celtics teammate Gordon Hayward as they sat on the dais two days after Boston’s blockbuster trade with the Cavaliers was completed.
Boston sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks to Cleveland for Irving. Hayward signed as a free agent in July.
Hayward and Irving smiled and bantered like old friends as they posed for pictures holding their new Celtics jerseys.
But not lost on Irving is that he’s joining one of the league’s most-storied teams because of his trade request from the team that drafted him and made him an NBA champion.
Irving acknowledged he wanted to leave the Cavaliers and his partnership the past three seasons with LeBron James. But he said the decision was about maximizing his own potential and not because of any specific issue with the Cavs or any individual.
Irving said he hasn’t spoken to James since the trade, but is grateful for the time he spent alongside a player he called one of the game’s greats.
Being in Boston, Irving said, allows him to “be with a group of individuals that I can grow with.”
“That is not a knock on anything that has transpired in my six years because it was an unbelievable experience,” he said.
Irving described going through an adjustment period in Cleveland and taking him awhile to reconcile his experiences on the court with how he was evolving off of it.
“Of learning the hard way,” Irving said. “But we’re all human beings and I think we’ve all been through a few hard times to where it changes the landscape of what you think and what you feel. It was my time to do what was best for me in terms of my intentions. And that’s going after something bigger than myself.”
Hayward said getting a chance to reunite with Brad Stevens, who was his college coach at Butler, played a big part in his decision to choose the Celtics in free agency.
“A lot has changed since we last were together,” Hayward said. “I don’t know if I would have imagined 5:45 a.m. workouts at Brownsburg (Indiana) High School, we’d both be sitting here one day. I think both of us have grown.”
For Hayward, that’s meant developing into one of the NBA’s elite young talents and becoming a first-time All-Star last season.
Boston is hoping Hayward and Irving will help settle a roster that has just four players from last season’s team that won 53 games and edged the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference’s top seed before losing to them in the conference finals.
Included in the 11-player purge is its top scorer in Thomas, arguably its best defender in Avery Bradley, and maybe its second-best defender in Jae Crowder.
They’ve replaced them with Irving – a four-time All-Star, Olympic and NBA champion – who Ainge believes is just beginning to enter his prime, and an evolving Hayward. Together Ainge hopes they can form a championship core along with Al Horford, the marquee acquisition of last offseason, and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
It’s the most massive upheaval the Celtics have undergone since Ainge brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce and form what became the Big Three that won the franchise its 17th championship in 2008.
It helps crystalize what the goal is, Stevens said.
“We all know in Boston what we’re shooting for,” he said.
Irving began Friday’s conference by taking a moment to acknowledge Thomas and Crowder, as well as those affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Thomas’ sister died in April on the eve of the playoffs last season, and Crowder’s mother died the night of the trade.
“That’s a hard situation to go through, especially when it gets wrapped up in all this,” Irving said.
With just a handful of weeks left before Boston convenes its new group for training camp, both Irving and Hayward are eager to begin their journey together.
It was a partnership that almost happened in 2013, when Hayward visited Cleveland as a restricted free agent.
“Then LeBron came, and it kind of squashed that whole thing,” Hayward said.
Now they have another chance.
“It’s like destiny – with both have March 23 birthdays,” Hayward said. “So it was bound to happen at some point in time.”