BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year, but Danny Ainge nevertheless decided to completely revamp his roster in an effort to truly contend for an NBA title.
On Friday, Ainge and the Celtics introduced the two key cogs in that effort: Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.
Hayward joined the Celtics as a free agent, choosing to leave Utah to reunite with his collegiate coach, Brad Stevens.
“The people that are here at this organization, the people that they have, Coach Stevens, I think I’ve kind of scratched the surface of what I can become,” Hayward said. “And I think being here with the city and the fans, it’s really exciting to be here.”
Irving joined the Celtics after requesting a trade out of Cleveland, where he played in three straight NBA Finals and won a championship in 2016. The Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, and after a bit of a delay, Miami’s second-round pick in 2020 in order to acquire Irving. (At Friday’s press conference, Ainge chose to keep the trade discussions he had with Cleveland private.)
Irving did not get into details about what it was that made him want to leave the Cavaliers.
“It was an unbelievable journey and an unbelievable ride, but I knew that I wasn’t going to come up here to specifically point at individuals, specifically point at issues, because that’s not important to me at all,” Irving said.
Hayward said that Thomas was an important member of the Celtics when it came to convincing him to sign with Boston.
“I.T. did a tremendous job as far as helping recruit me here to Boston,” Hayward said. “He was somebody that I was definitely excited about playing with. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the truth. But I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it is a business. Things can happen, things can change.”
Irving said there’s no pressure on him to be the man to carry the Celtics individually the way Thomas did.
“Is there ever such thing as one person carrying a whole team? I don’t think so,” Irving said. “There are a lot of moving parts and you have to depend on those moving parts to do their job at the ultimate ability. It’s our job to bring the best out of one another every single day. … There’s no such thing as putting a team on your shoulders.”
Irving was asked about what he saw in Stevens as an opponent that made him eager to play for the coach. Stevens reminded Irving of a time when the two worked together in the past.
“I coached you in a game where we gave up 197 points,” Stevens said.
“You know that just goes back to playing both ends of the floor, Coach,” Irving replied.
Both Irving and Hayward spoke about how Stevens himself was a draw to play for the Celtics.
“In college your college coach is somewhat more like a father figure. You’re younger, you lean on them a lot, and now I’m a father and I have two little girls of my own,” Hayward said. “I always say that Coach Stevens was the first person — I always had a dream to play in the NBA, but he was the first person to tell me that I could get there some day.”
Irving also added that he’s always had an appreciation for the Celtics organization.
“Getting an opportunity to be a part of such an illustrious organization as the Boston Celtics … I grew up watching so many films. I asked Danny if I could get a few of his VHS tapes from his championship runs,” Irving said. “When you have the unique opportunity o fhaving special people and being a part of an organization like this … I’m grateful. I can’t wait to get on the floor to maximize my potential. I just want to be with those incredible coaches and incredible minds, and I felt like in doing that, Boston came right at the exact time and it was meant to be that way. I trust in that, and I’m glad to be here.”
Hayward noted with a laugh that he and Irving had a chance to be teammates in the past, but LeBron James wasn’t quite on the same page.
“I think the first thing is like destiny. We both have March 23 birthdays so it was bound to happen at some point in time,” Hayward said. “[In 2013] I actually went to Cleveland on a visit when I was a restricted free agent, and Kyrie came in and said how much fun it would be if I was on the team and kind of recruited me to go there. Then LeBron came and then kind of squashed that whole thing. It came full circle and here we are now.”
Irving shared his appreciation of Hayward’s game.
“This is a bad dude to the left of me,” Irving said of Hayward. “He’s a bad dude.”
Irving said he has not spoken with LeBron James since the trade took place, but he expressed a gratefulness for his time playing alongside James.
“No. I haven’t spoken to him. My intent, like I said, was for my best intentions and to look back at the amount of ground we covered in the last three-year span or even before that because we had a prior relationship, and to really realize how special that was and how much growth happened,” Irving said, noting that he learned a lot from James. “I’ve had the unique opportunity to play with one of the greats, and it was awesome. At times it was all over just like it was with any other team. When you look back and you’re eternally grateful for the moments that you’ve had and you’ve shared, you’re able to put peace with that journey and start anew. This was a very, very challenging decision at first. But after a while when you understand and you have that confidence in yourself to understand the magnitude of what you can accomplish and what you can potentially do with other great people, and now that I’m sitting there it just echoes with being very appreciative [for Cleveland and LeBron].”
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens reports