BOSTON -- Finally being introduced in Celtic green two months after he signed with Boston, just about everything looked as expected for Gordon Hayward. He was surrounded by his coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics front office brass. He sat across from scores of reporters and a wave of cameras.
But to his right was a man who he did not see coming. Not when he signed at least.
On Friday, Hayward was introduced alongside his newest teammate Kyrie Irving, who was finally officially traded to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick and the Miami Heat’s 2020 second-round pick.
Hayward always saw this day happening, but just assumed Thomas would be there instead. But after Hayward signed a four-year max contract, several sacrifices had to be made. The Celtics were forced to trade Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to slide under the cap and sign Hayward. With multiple max contracts on the books and Marcus Smart entering his contract year, the Celtics decided to trade Thomas and Crowder for Irving. After he was told that he would actually share the floor with Jae Crowder, that no longer is the case.
Gordon was sold on the whole plan by Isaiah himself, but naturally, the true selling points are permanent and remain unchanged.
"IT did a tremendous job as far as helping recruit me here to the city of Boston," Hayward said. "He talked about Boston as a city -- the fans, the organization, the coaches, the people that are involved behind the scenes. He was just somebody that I was definitely excited about playing with. He's an unbelievable player. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a truth."
So Hayward will now make his season debut against the team carrying the man who recruited him, Thomas, and the man who rightfully feared he would be his replacement, Crowder.
"I go from an opportunity playing with IT and the rest of the guys that were on to now playing with Kyrie Irving, who is unbelievable -- one of the best basketball players in the league, and another great opportunity for me," Hayward said. "Same thing as far as the other players go as well. Jae Crowder is a tremendous basketball player. It's unfortunate I won't get to play with him. But at the same time, we get Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart, Rozier, two young guys -- Jayson (Tatum) and Jaylen (Brown), big Al Horford for sure. He was there with me too, recruiting me. So the opportunity is still there for me, and I'm going through it. It's something I'm just looking at it, just excited. Excited about coming here, moving to Boston, moving my family here, and thrilled to get the season going."
The scenario doesn’t create any new issue for Hayward, who may end up in a better position to contend by the time the dust settles. His history with Irving stretches back some time, through Team USA and back to the last time he was a free agent in 2013.
"I went to Cleveland on a visit when I was a restricted free agent, and Kyrie came in and was saying how much fun it would be if I would be on the team and was kind of recruiting me to go there," Hayward said.
"And then LeBron came and that kind of squashed that whole thing. It came full circle and here we are now.”
Things have gone well in the limited time they have spent together, not that they would have said anything otherwise.
“I think we've always had a good relationship,” Hayward said. “I haven't spent too much time with him. I'm looking forward to doing that and learning from him but we've had a good relationship."
Irving was bullish, already obsessing over Hayward’s game.
"This is a bad dude sitting next to me," Irving said. "He's a bad dude. I spent about 20 minutes watching his highlights, probably like two weeks ago, just seeing where Utah was utilizing him and where he likes his spots and his post-ups and his footwork. And also he's been working with a common guy between us which is pretty awesome in LA.”
Irving sees the kind of partner he envisioned when jettisoning Cleveland to strike out on his own.
“Working on the game and appreciating it, and allowing him to be who he is, and never worrying about whether he's stepping on my toes and I'm stepping on his toes, or stepping on Al's toes, or T-Ro, or Marcus, or all these guys -- we're all in this together. We understand that a lot of the responsibility of growing this team and making this team go will predominantly at times be on us but, at the same time, we're empowering our teammates at the same time and elevating them because this will get very real and we will be tested in, ooh, a number of ways. I can't wait, man."
They’re just a month away from their first test and will have to get to know how they will play off each other quickly. The pieces are in place for a smooth transition, but they are walking into the vast unknown side by side.