Two weeks ago, the blockbuster deal between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers was delayed and in jeopardy of being rescinded because of findings after looking at the injured right hip of All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas. After some renegotiation of another draft pick from the C’s, the mega-trade was completed as announced by both teams on Thursday in a joint statement and on Friday, Sept. 2 the C’s along with their front office introduced their new floor general and the other prized acquisition, who the team hopes leads them to the promise land.
Led by General Manager/President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge; Head Coach Brad Stevens, and Chief Executive Officer, and Governor Wyc Grousbeck had a press conference at TD Garden in Boston, MA to introduced their two newest additions in All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who they acquired from the back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers on Aug. 22 for forward Jae Crowder, Thomas, center Ante Zicic, a 2018 First-Round pick via the Brooklyn Nets and a 2020 Second-Round pick via the Miami Heat. They also introduced prized free agent signing Gordon Hayward, who the team signed on July 14.
The festivities got underway with introductory pictures where Irving and Hayward received their new Celtics jerseys. Hayward will continue to dawn the No. 20, which he wore during his first seven seasons with the Utah Jazz, but Irving will go from sporting the No. 2 that he had in his first six years with the Cavs to dawning No. 11.
“Just to say on behalf of the Celtics, since 1946, we’ve been a championship driven organization. We believe we’ve added two players here that are championship quality players on the court, and championship quality people off the court and in the community,” Grousbeck said.
“The more I’ve gotten to know them recently, and the more I’ve watched them over their careers, but even recently getting to know the qualities of their intense desire to be the best they can be on and off the court makes me convinced that there a great fit for “Celtic Pride,” and our drive towards banner 18. So, I personally want to thank Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving for joining the Celtics.”
For Irving, who averaged career-highs of 25.2 points per game, on 47.3 percent from the field, 40.1 percent from three-point range, and 90.5 percent from the charity stripe this past season, this trade presented him a new opportunity to lead a team the top of the NBA mountain, without having four-time MVP LeBron James by his side. It also meant for him a chance to be with an organization that has stability from the top on down. He will also have the assistance of another All-Star in Hayward to do it with.
“Getting the opportunity to be a part of such and illustrious organization such as the Boston Celtics,” Irving said.
“I grew up watching so many different films and I asked Danny when we were at dinner if I could get a few of his VHS tapes from those championship runs that they had.”
Irving went on to say that getting this unique opportunity to be a part of a special organization like the Celtics and for them to do everything possible to acquire him to come to their organization is something to be very thankful and appreciative.
He also said that he looks very much to getting onto the practice court and eventually into real game action to put on full display his array of skills and talents to help lead the C’s to banner No. 18.
Hayward feels that same way, especially being reunited with his former collegiate head coach at Butler University in Stevens, who helped him grow from an unknown First-Round Pick, No. 9 overall in 2010, into All-Star player. A guy who in his first seasons with the Utah Jazz increased his scoring and his overall game each season to where he averaged career-highs of 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, shooting 47.1 percent from the field; 39.8 percent from three-point land, and a career-best 84.4 from the free throw line.
“The people that are here at this organization. The history that they have. Coach Stevens. I think that I kind of scratched the surface of what I can become, and I think being here with the city, and the fans, it’s really exciting to be here. I think it’s going to be a great year, for sure we can all improve and get better,” he said.
Hayward also said about his former college coach, “I don’t know if I would’ve imagined 5:45 a.m. workouts at Brownsburg High School [Brownsburg, IN] we both would be sitting here one day.”
Stevens joked saying that his former player could not even grow a beard when he last saw Hayward.
Hayward also said that Stevens was the first person, who believed in his dream of playing basketball at the pro level and to be reunited with him again is an exciting feeling and that he is chomping at the bit to get in the gym and getting to work.
For both Irving and Hayward as they begin this next chapter in their careers, they will be the headliners and not just parts of a puzzle.
As mentioned earlier, Irving was Robin to James’ Batman, and Hayward grew into being the No. 1 option in the Jazz offensive attack.
They both left situations that most pro athletes pray and work to be a part of. There are not a lot of people that would ever leave the side of LeBron James unless they were traded by the organization or not re-signed. Particularly going back to his time with the Heat, James has been in the last seven Finals in a row.
Irving mentioned at the press conference that he has not spoken to LBJ since he went to Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert asking to be dealt, but he did talk about the special bond he, James, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Iman Shumpert did develop especially over the past three seasons, will remain with him forever.
“I’d be sitting up here telling you guys a lie if I didn’t tell you how much I learned from that guy,” he said.
“The perfection of the craft comes in a variety of forms, and you watch, and you ask a lot of the great players, ‘What does it take to be great?’ I’ve had the unique opportunity to play with one of the greats, and it was awesome…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 piece with that journey, and start anew. This was a 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 actually can accomplish, and potentially can do with other great people.”
In Hayward’s case, he just left a team in the Jazz that won 50 games for the first time since 2010; made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, and advanced past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010 when they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games. On top of that, he was with a group of players in Rodney Hood, Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Dante Exum and Joe Ingles that was really building something, and they just acquired Ricky Rubio to be their new starting lead guard.
For both All-Stars, they are expected to be the top guns in not just leading the Celtics offensively, but being the so-called leaders who set the tone for the rest of the squadron from the practice court to how they take care business on gameday. How they handle wins and losses, and how they bring it when it comes to the postseason.
For Irving, he had the best example to learn all of this from in James, who had that weight of expectation right from the jump of his NBA career and he has lived up to that hype from the outside and from inside the Cavs and Heat.
It is something that Irving said the prior Friday that he has grown to understand, even in the early stages of his career where he and the Cavs lost more than they won, and then in the last three years where they made it to The Finals the last three seasons in succession, and winning it all as mentioned earlier in 2016. Irving said that he appreciates what he learned in his first six seasons in Northeast Ohio and welcomes that weight of expectations that come with being a part of the Celtics.
“It took a few things for me to go through in Cleveland for me to understand that. Of learning the hard way,” he said. “But, we’re all human beings, and I think we all been through a few hard times to where it’s changed 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, and honestly being in an environment that conducive to my potential.”
With the dust settling, the Boston Celtics will a different mix with the headliners now being Irving, Hayward, and Al Horford, with the supporting cast of Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, and No. 3 overall pick in this past June’s draft Jayson Tatum.
This is a very talented team on paper. As well all know though, games are not won paper. They are won on the hardwood, and for this team to get into a position to be a team that wins a great deal in the regular season, and in the postseason, it takes time and commitment from the players to the coaching staff. Getting this collection of talent to live up and surpass that 53-win group from this past season will be up to Stevens.
“Each team its own entity, and even when we’ve had more guys back, and more continuity the last couple of years, you still go into the season, and you have to work on all the important things that add up to ultimately giving yourself just the chance to win,” Stevens said.
“It can only happen if your best players are guys that want to really be a part of something special as a group, and appreciate and value what everybody brings to the table. We’re starting off with a great foundation, and I think with these guys [Irving, and Hayward], and Al, and with some of our young players, it’s going to be a fun growth process.”
The Celtics will have an opportunity to show how ready they are to take on the challenge of garnering banner No. 18 from via that hard work and commitment right from the jump when they and Irving travel to meet his former squadron to open the season when they travel to Cleveland to meet up with the Cavs on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. on TNT.
Information, statistics, and quotations are courtesy of the 9/1/17 11:30 a.m. introductory press conference of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward by the Celtics on NBATV, via Celtics.com; 9/2/17 6 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime,” with Casey Stern, and Mike Fratello; www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/4249/gordon-hayward; www.espn.com/nba/player/stats/_/id/6442/kyrie-irving, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Hayward; and http://en.n.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Utah_Jazz_seasons.