New Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade for many reasons, but not one of them was basketball.
At least, that’s Irving told Boston reporters during his introductory press conference Friday.
“It was my time to do what was best for me, and that’s going after something bigger than myself — and honestly, being in an environment that’s conducive to my potential,” he said.
Irving requested a trade in July, shortly after making his third straight Finals appearance as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a brief holdup, his wish was ultimately granted. In return, the Cavs received Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks, including Brooklyn’s 2018 first-rounder.
Irving, 25, took more shots than anyone on the Cavs last season — including resident super-duper star LeBron James. Irving averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists. He was winning, and winning a lot.
So his trade request came as a major surprise to most.
But for Irving, it seems to have been the result of just growing up, perhaps growing into someone new.
“When you get drafted into this great league, when you think about, I was finishing my first year of college (at Duke).” he said. “And then life hits. You go to different hotels, different places, different cities, and you have to adjust. It took me a little while to do that.”
Irving was 19 years old when the Cavs made him the No. 1 overall selection in the 2011 draft.
“On the court, it’s incredible, but you have to start figuring out what’s important to you off the floor, and how it’s conducive to your development (as an NBA player),” he said Friday. “Once you do that, it all starts to make sense. It took a few things for me to go through in Cleveland to understand that.”
When Irving first came to the Cavs, he was the franchise’s new savior. That happened just one summer removed from James’ free-agent departure to the Miami Heat. Most, including Irving, figured James would never return.
At first, Irving was injury-prone and a little inconsistent. The Cavs had lots of promise, but losing. He took it hard, but remained proud to be the face of the franchise.
When he was eligible for a contract extension in the summer of 2014, Irving didn’t blink. He signed it the very minute he could. Then James unexpectadly announced his was “coming home.” The face of the franchise changed. The Cavs’ mission changed. Irving would win more and suddenly start playing for titles.
But he was no longer the king of Cleveland basketball. The fans and media and would now place the majority of their focus on the star from their hometown, who draws perhaps more attention than any other athlete in all of sports.
Irving was still important. He just wasn’t LeBron.
Irving never said any of that. He never really even hinted at it. He says he and LeBron still share “a brotherhood.” But despite all the shots, all the success and all the financial security, he still wanted out.
“I’m learning the hard way,” he said Friday of his NBA journey. “But we’re all human beings and we’ve all been through hard times that have changed the landscape of what you think and what you feel.”
Irving tried to clarify.
“I think that statement is pretty self-explanatory, because it’s pretty direct in terms of my intent,” he said. “And that is to be happy and be with a group of individuals that I can grow with.”
Along with Irving, the Celtics’ new hopes will be pinned on fellow All-Star forward Gordon Hayward, an offseason free-agent signee — as well as youngsters such as second-year man Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum, drafted third overall.
These are just some of the individuals Irving spoke of, and now seems thrilled to join.
“That’s not a knock on anything that transpired in my six years (in Cleveland), because it was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “To think about what we accomplished …”
Irving’s thoughts sort of trailed, before he attempted to offer a final answer.
“Me leaving there wasn’t about basketball,” he said. “It was more or less about me creating that foundation, and now taking the next step as a 25-year old evolving man, while being the best basketball player I can be.”