CLEVELAND — Wearing black shorts and a green practice jersey over a black long-sleeved T-shirt, Kyrie Irving on Tuesday morning entered Quicken Loans Arena as a visiting player for the first time
A large number of reporters — a figure more commonly seen before an NBA Finals game — swarmed to him as he took a seat, and a Celtics public relations staffer asked everyone to let him put on his sneakers before peppering him with questions.
As the Celtics prepared to start their morning shootaround, Irving was once again asked about coming back here, where he spent his first six pro seasons before surprisingly requesting a trade last summer. Irving once again tried to temper the buzz.
“I’m just happy to get the season started, regardless of who we play,” he said. “Obviously, it’s made a much bigger deal because it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers and the situation that happened this summer and being a part of a great trade. Just truly appreciative to have this opportunity to play the game on a bigger stage and be back here in Cleveland to start of the season. It feels different, but I’m ready to get started.”
Irving was asked if it felt surreal to walk into Quicken Loans Arena as a Celtic, and he said it did not. He said he was just glad to be here because that meant the season was starting, and that is what he has looked forward to most.
And he was once again asked the one question that continues to puzzle many people around the NBA: Why would you want to leave a powerhouse? Why would you want to leave LeBron James?
Just like before, Irving made it clear he had no interest in going into detail about the origin of his trade request. He would like to move on.
“I don’t want to pinpoint anything,” he said. “I will never pinpoint anything, because that’s not what real grown-ups do.”
Irving said he had not given much thought to how he was to be received Tuesday. He said he did not expect anything rosy. He had seen Cavaliers fans boo opposing players for years, and he expected the same thing to happen to him.
There were some, though the crowd was deflated by Gordon Hayward’s early injury. Irving ended up scoring 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting, with a game-high 10 assists. He took the last shot, an off-balance 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded in the Celtics’ 102-99 loss.
The point guard created a bit of a stir last week when he said that he liked living in Boston because it felt like “a real, live sports city.” Here in Cleveland that comment, unsurprisingly, was taken as a dig.
“Of course it was going to turn into a comparison,” Irving said. “I was talking about driving into Boston and when I’m actually on the highway driving through Boston and doing this in a new environment of going into that city, it’s something different for me.”
Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he thought his camp’s request during contract extensions negotiations with the team were reasonable, but he was not upset the sides were unable to reach a deal prior to Monday’s 6 p.m. deadline.
“We thought it was close from the fact that we didn’t ask for much,” Smart said. “We didn’t ask for a max deal. We were going to take less money than what we probably are valued, and some other things, but they just weren’t budging.”
Smart will become a restricted free agent at season’s end. The Celtics could re-sign him then, or they could wait to see what offer sheet he signs with another team and then simply match it to keep him in Boston. The Celtics have made it clear that Smart remains in their long-term plans despite the failure to reach an agreement on an extension.
Smart said he believed the potential luxury-tax implications affected the team’s thinking.
“We even gave them options of things where they wouldn’t have to pay or be so deep into the luxury tax,” Smart said, “and they still wouldn’t budge.”
Nevertheless, Smart said there are no sour grapes, and he is ready to dive into what has now become a contract year for him.
“It’s just as big a motivator as me playing well this year in general,” Smart said. “It just makes it an even bigger year for me. Unfortunately, it’s the business. This won’t be the last time somebody is in this situation and just play it out and see how the year goes.”
“[Failing to sign an extension is] not a bad thing,” Smart added. “Everybody’s making it out like ‘Oh, that’s a bad thing.’ It’s not a bad thing. Just hoping it’s going to be a fun year and just play it out.”
Celtics forward Marcus Morris, who is sidelined with a sore knee, said he underwent an MRI that showed no structural damage, but added that he will be evaluated in two weeks. Morris missed Celtics training came because he was standing trial in an assault case in Phoenix. He was ultimately found not guilty. The Celtics initially said they simply planned to ease him back into action, but last weekend it was revealed he’d been dealing with some soreness. “It wasn’t like I just got off my couch and came in overweight,” Morris said. “I was actually working out, so I’m not really sure what it is. It’s just really sore. It’s really uncomfortable. So I think it’s my best bet to just let it get better and then play when I’m better.” . . . Rookie Guerschon Yabusele missed Tuesday’s game because of an illness . . . Semi Ojeleye made his NBA debut, going scoreless in 8:39 of run time.