Kyrie Irving tried his best Friday to intimate that he appreciated his time with all-time great LeBron James, he enjoyed the growth he experienced under James’s tutelage, he enjoyed the journey to Cleveland’s first pro sports title in 52 years, but it was time to move on.
The relationship between James and Irving has always been complicated.
Irving agreed to a five-year, $94 million deal in July 2014 to be the central figure of the Cavaliers. Soon after, James signed a two-year, $42 million deal to return to Cleveland.
While the duo took the Cavaliers to new heights — three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and a championship — gained All-Star honors, won Olympic gold medals, and was regarded as the best pairing in the league, Irving wanted his own show. He wanted to create his own image outside the shadow of James.
That may be difficult to understand because of the success they achieved together, but Irving tried his best to explain his stance during his introductory news conference at TD Garden.
It wasn’t surprising that he had not talked to James since being traded to the Celtics. Irving made his trade demand because he wanted to be considered a winner without having James’s dominance attached. Their relationship was always professional and Irving somewhat resented James referring to him as a “little brother” because he felt that stymied his independence.
“My intent was to look back at the amount of ground we covered in the last three-year span, and even before that because we had a prior relationship, and to really realize how special that was and how much growth happened in that amount of time. I’d be telling you guys a lie if I didn’t tell you I learned so much from that guy,” Irving said of James.
“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, 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 awhile 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.”
Irving will have an opportunity to be the Celtics’ unquestioned leader. He showed his intelligence during his news conference and he feels his knowledge of matters other than basketball wasn’t respected enough in Cleveland. He began by talking briefly about off-the-court matters such as Charlottesville and how basketball pales in comparison.
The Celtics lost major leadership in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Irving is only 25 but he’s extremely intelligent, and he caused waves during All-Star Weekend in February when he said he believes the world is flat. We still don’t know if Irving actually believes that, but he wanted to discuss the issue with reporters in New Orleans instead of basketball.
Some people think Irving may be too intelligent for his own good, that his belief in his leadership and that his talent is potentially limitless caused dissension in Cleveland, that his against-the-grain thinking alienated him from teammates.
It will be fascinating to see how Irving blends into a Celtics locker room that will have 10 other newcomers. Irving is considered a different kind of cat, a nontraditional millennial. He embraces that and wants it to be acknowledged more. He wants to be noticed for more than just his ballhandling and finishing ability.
Kyrie Irving is a complex person and his integration into the Celtics culture should be interesting. It was time for a breakup from James and the Cavaliers culture. Irving seems eager and intent on making this new venture work. The combination of he and the astute Brad Stevens should be critical to the Celtics’ continued growth.
Video: Irving on LeBron James
Thomas’s hip drawing concerns
There has been a cloud of mystery surrounding Isaiah Thomas’s hip injury since he was diagnosed with a torn labrum three months ago. Thomas opted against surgery and spent his summer in rehabilitation, yet it’s still undetermined when he will make his debut for the Cavaliers and whether he indeed needs surgery.
Orthopedic hip surgeon Derek Ochiai offered potential scenarios for Thomas in his return.
“When you have a labral tear from impingement, that means that the way that Isaiah Thomas’s hip is shaped, it’s shaped in a way that’s not round,” Ochiai said. “In certain positions, his hip is not round on round. That’s why it’s called impingement, the bone will impinge because it’s not a round-on-round joint. Once you tear your labrum from that, that’s the most common cause of labral tears in any athlete, that tear is not going to heal. It’s always going to be torn, the question is how do you treat that?
“And there are some high-level athletes who are playing professional sports right now who have labral tears from impingement who are doing fine.”
Ochiai said rehabilitation without surgery consists of reducing inflammation, strengthening muscle, and “trying to get the hip to be dynamically stabilized by the muscles around the hip.”
“Surgery is not a slam dunk,” Ochiai said. “Another important variable is, is there already articular cartilage damage? When you lose that, it’s arthritis in the hip.”
Ochiai said that if a hip has enough cartilage damage — i.e., bone on bone — then a patient is not eligible to have hip labrum surgery.
“It’s possible that you do a great operation on his labrum, that you fix the labrum and you correct his impingement, and he continues to have pain because he has gliding cartilage damage to your socket, so [pain] could continue after the repair of the labral tear and impingement.”
According to Ochiai, surgery would likely keep Thomas out three or four months.
“Sometimes it’s longer, but in general three months,” Ochiai said. “I’ve done some high-level athletes that have come back quicker. It all depends on what the gliding cartilage looks like.”
Thomas, who last played May 19, recently told ESPN that he is not “damaged goods” and the injury is not career-threatening.
He spent the entire summer rehabilitating, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens said last month that Thomas was supposed to undergo another series of scans that would determine his progress. It is believed Thomas rejected surgery because he did not want the rehabilitation process or perception that he was injured to affect the final season of his contract and his potential of signing a maximum contract.
It is unclear whether Thomas has any cartilage damage, which would make him ineligible for labral surgery. But the rehabilitation process has taken longer than expected.
The Celtics initially believed Thomas would be ready for training camp, but before they made the trade it was apparent that the point guard was weeks away from beginning basketball activities. Thomas told the Globe in his final interview as a Celtic that he was going through all of the rehabilitation measures but offered no date for his return.
Remaining talent forced to wait
We’re just weeks away from training camp and there are some interesting free agents still waiting for a call, including a handful of restricted free agents who have yet to agree to deals with their current teams.
Everett native Nerlens Noel agreed to a one-year, $4.1 million deal to return to the Mavericks for the final year of his contract. The Mavericks wanted to sign Noel long term but he reportedly turned down a $70 million, four-year extension, hoping he could garner more in the open market next summer.
Here are some free agents who may have to settle for a minimum deal or training camp invite:
Shabazz Muhammad — He was waived by the Timberwolves after they made a series of roster changes. Muhammad turned down a four-year contract extension last fall. With very few teams having available money, it looks as if Muhammad will have to accept a below-market deal like Noel and bet on himself next summer.
Tony Allen — His time ran out in Memphis as the Grizzlies decided to get younger. Allen can still defend but injuries are always an issue for him and he’ll turn 36 in January. Allen is a bona fide leader and good defenders are difficult to procure. But the best Allen can perhaps hope for is a training camp invite or a minimum deal.
JaMychal Green — The Grizzlies forward hasn’t accepted his qualifying offer and he remains a restricted free agent. Green started 75 games last season and would seem to be a good addition to a team looking to bolster its depth. But with no offer sheet extended and the Grizzlies retaining his rights, he does haven’t many options besides accepting the qualifying offer.
Ty Lawson — The once-coveted point guard is now a journeyman, and while he played solidly with the Kings last season, he may be reduced to being a midseason addition/injury replacement. Lawson agreed to a deal with a Chinese team, meaning he could return to the NBA when that season ends. But it’s a long way from when Lawson was considered a top-10 point guard.
Deron Williams — He didn’t sell himself by struggling during the Cavaliers’ playoff run, and there are so many critics of Williams as a teammate and his desire to play that it’s no surprise he remains on the market. There are stretches when he looks like the ol’ D-Will, and are more where he looks like old Deron Williams.
Monta Ellis — The former prolific scorer was waived by the Pacers this summer. Would Ellis warm to a reserve role on another team, after relinquishing his starting role in Indiana last season? Ellis is a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot 3-pointers particularly well and has a reputation for being selfish at times.
Rodney Stuckey — The combo guard was waived by the Pacers late last season. Stuckey’s shooting percentage dipped to 37 percent and injuries remained an issue. It may be difficult for Stuckey to find anything more than a training camp invitation.
Tyler Zeller — The option year on his contract was not picked up by the Celtics. He’s never been a volume rebounder or scorer, and 7-footers who don’t do anything particularly well are expendable. Zeller may get a call when teams start cementing their training camp rosters and need a fill-in center.
Gerald Green — Green should be commended for heading to his native Houston to help Hurricane Harvey victims. That says so much about his character, which the Celtics valued last season when he mentored many younger teammates. Green still has game, however, and it’s rather curious that no team has signed the high riser to at least a minimum contract. He was such a positive influence last season that you would think the Celtics might consider a return. Green will get picked up by somebody.
Boris Diaw — Diaw is 35 and has carried excess weight for years, which perhaps has affected his effectiveness. But he is still a crafty player who would be a good addition to a team with title aspirations. Diaw’s numbers dipped in Utah because he attempted fewer shots, and he was ghastly from the 3-point line last season (24.7 percent). But it’s hard to believe he’s done.
Martell Webster, who last played in the NBA in 2015 for the Wizards, is attempting a comeback. Webster has had multiple back surgeries, and hip surgery led to him being waived by Washington. If healthy, Webster could be a long-range shooter and veteran presence off the bench. Webster, drafted sixth overall by the Trail Blazers in 2005, is a 38.2 percent 3-point shooter in his career . . . The Trail Blazers waived Andrew Nicholson, who in July was acquired from the Nets for Allen Crabbe. Nicholson, a former first-round pick of the Magic, has become an afterthought since signing a four-year deal with the Wizards in last summer’s salary boom. He was traded to the Nets in February when Washington acquired Bojan Bodganovic for its playoff run. The Blazers had little interest in keeping Nicholson, but they wanted to dump Crabbe’s contract. Nicholson was considered a potential cornerstone in Orlando but fell out of favor with former coach Scott Skiles . . . The Celtics have one roster spot remaining, and former lottery pick Thomas Robinson worked out for the club last week. Robinson, 26, has turned himself into an energy player and defender, submitting a productive season last year with the Lakers. The primary issue for Robinson is he is offensively challenged in a league that emphasizes perimeter-shooting big men. Robinson could be the type of rebounder and defensive presence the Celtics need. Boston’s only legitimate center is ex-Piston Aron Baynes. Al Horford, who for years has expressed reluctance to play center, is likely to start at the position next season. Boston was one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season and that’s almost certain to carry into the 2017-18 season. Robinson, who averaged 4.6 rebounds in just 11.7 minutes per game last season for Los Angeles, could be the answer. The Celtics may offer Robinson an invitation before training camp. They want to be patient in filling that final roster spot.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.