LeBron James undercurrent of Celtics introducing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward

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A restricted free agent in 2014, Gordon Hayward visited Cleveland. Kyrie Irving – who had just signed a contract extension with the Cavaliers – recruited him.

“Then LeBron came, and that kind of squashed that whole thing,” Hayward said today at the Celtics’ introductory press conference for their newest stars.

That was first mention of the elephant in the room: LeBron James, who seemingly played a large role in Irving requesting a trade from the Cavs before that 2014 extension completed.

Irving just laughed and held up his hands as Hayward spoke of LeBron, whom Irving had sidestepped in questions about why he wanted to leave Cleveland and what Boston needed to do to overtake the Cavaliers in the East. It wasn’t until the final question that Irving finally addressed LeBron.

“No, I haven’t spoken to him,” Irving said. “And 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 in that amount of time, I’d be sitting up here and telling you guys a lie if I didn’t tell you I learned so much from that guy. The perfection of the craft comes in a variety of forms. And you watch, and you watch, and you ask a lot of the great players, “What does it take to be great?” And 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 is in any other team. And 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. And this was a very, very challenging decision at first. But after a while, when you understand, and you have that confidence yourself to understand the magnitude of what you actually can accomplish and potentially can do with other great people. And now that I’m sitting here, it just echoes in terms of me just being very appreciative of, not only the Cleveland fans, all of Ohio, but as well as Bron incorporating me into that special team that we had in Cleveland. Because three Finals in a row, all the shared memories, all the individuals, with T-Top, Swish – I could go down the line with the guys that I played with in Cleveland. But they all know how I feel about them individually, as well the amount of love that we have for one another. The brotherhood exists, even without all this, and it will continue. So, that’s exactly where it is. And I’m very appreciative of it.”

The rest of the press conference was more of the same – Irving bloviating and Hayward, who lasted fewer than two months as Boston’s splashiest new addition, an afterthought.

Even in an offseason Celtics press conference he obviously didn’t attend, LeBron was the subtext that drove interest. If you want to read into them, there were a few times prior to his final answer that Irving addressed LeBron:

  • “I just knew that I wasn’t going to come up here to specifically point at individuals, specifically point at what issues here, whatever. Because that’s not important to me. At all.”
  • “Is there ever such thing as one person carrying a whole team? I don’t think so.”
  • “There is no such thing as putting the team on your shoulders.”

Irving kept attempting to steer the conversation back to his talking points – his commitment to teamwork and affinity for Boston, including Brad Stevens. The point guard also praised Hayward, repeatedly calling him “a bad dude.”

“He’s been working with a common guy between us, which is pretty awesome in L.A.,” Irving said.

Everyone wanted to hear more about LeBron-Irving, and those questions won’t stop – especially if the Celtics and Cavaliers continue their expected course toward an Eastern Conference finals rematch.

But at least Irving knew, in Boston, it was probably better for him not to talk more about that “common guy between us.”