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Irving is embracing the challenge of a starring role in Boston

BOSTON -- Gordon Hayward, resplendent in a Boston Celtics-toned green blazer with some subtle Butler blue blended into his tie, had just finished gushing about all the reasons he's excited to be in Boston, name-checking many of his new teammates on the Celtics' overhauled roster. When he was finished, one of those new teammates, Kyrie Irving, seated beside him at their introductory press conference last week at TD Garden, leaned in with a message.

"It's about to be crazy, G," said Irving.

Kyrie Irving joins a Celtics team that won an East-leading 53 games in 2016-17. Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
About to be crazy? How, then, might Irving classify the perpetual chaos that was Boston's entire offseason? Boston's 17-man roster will have no fewer than 12 new faces and at least seven players who have never played an NBA game. The team must replace four starters from last year's team that won an East-leading 53 games and advanced to the conference finals.

But there was something powerful about Irving's five-word (and one-letter) interjection. Irving is the new (clean-shaven) face of the Celtics franchise (the beard a casualty of filming a movie this offseason), and his excitement about embracing a new challenge was palpable throughout last week's half-hour hello to his new fan base.

At 25, Irving has already experienced so much: three Finals appearances, one NBA championship, four All-Star excursions and an Olympic gold medal. The former No. 1 overall pick has spent the past three years in the blinding spotlight that comes with playing a supporting role next to LeBron James.

Now, Irving is ready to branch out on his own. But mostly he's eager for a new challenge. Yes, he desires more of the spotlight, but his goal is to show he's capable of leading a championship-caliber team. His full-length "Uncle Drew" movie isn't scheduled to hit theaters until shortly after the 2018 NBA Finals, but Irving has a more immediate opportunity to prove that he's a capable leading man.

Yes, the past six years have been filled with adventures for Irving. But now he's found a new challenge, and it's about to be crazy.

The lingering question for many after the Irving trade drama unfolded this summer was, Why would he be so eager to remove himself from James' shadow? If championships are the most important thing to a player, why ask to be traded from a team that's an overwhelming favorite to reach the title round for a fourth straight season?

"I think it's a little unfair. I think it was more than [getting away from LeBron] is what I'm trying to say," said LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who, along with Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, attended the ABCD Hoop Dreams fundraiser Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Rivers knows Irving well, particularly after his son, Austin, followed Irving's one-and-done path at Duke.

"I don't think Kyrie cared about being in the shadow. I don't think he cared about it being his team. I think that's the way it was portrayed, and I thought that was unfair to him. I've known that kid for a long time, before he went to Duke, and that is not who Kyrie is. I hate when I hear that, because it's not true.

"I think he was unhappy for another reason, but I'll let him figure that one out. But it's not because he was selfish or because he wanted his own time. I think he wanted to go somewhere to play basketball, and be happy playing basketball, and I have no problem with that."

So is Boston the sort of place where Irving can truly blossom?

"This is a perfect situation -- other than L.A.," Rivers joked. "This is a perfect situation for him. The Celtics gave up a lot to get him, but he's 25 years old, and that's the other thing people forget about: He's so young.

"He's going to be a star here for a long time."

That Danny Ainge was willing to push his most-prized chips to the center of the table for Irving should underscore what the team believes Irving is capable of as a leading man.

The Celtics made hard charges at stars like Jimmy Butler and Paul George over the past 18 months, but Ainge was willing to trade an All-NBA point guard (Isaiah Thomas), one of the league's best 3-and-D players on a sweetheart contract (Jae Crowder), a raw but intriguing 7-footer (Ante Zizic), the Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick and the Miami Heat's 2020 second-round pick in exchange for Irving.

The Celtics clearly were not overly concerned about the reasons why Irving wanted to leave Cleveland. Heck, they probably like that he'll have a chip on his shoulder in trying to prove to the Cavaliers that he can thrive on his own.

"Listen, I've been around too long to be too surprised or too worried [about players asking for trades]," said Ainge. "Obviously, I talked to a lot of people in [Irving's] circle and the old regime of the Cleveland Cavaliers, so we did a lot of background checks on Kyrie. We had no concerns moving forward as we tried to get him."

Irving was in Atlanta filming when the call came letting him know that Boston and Cleveland had -- after a maddening eight-day hold-up -- finalized their league-shocking trade. Irving exulted with a couple of joyful expletives, then ran off a soundstage to let the moment fully sink in.

"I took a moment outside on the side of the street in Atlanta to watch the cars pass. I took in that moment, because it really meant something," said Irving. "It was the start of something new, and I knew I was going to come in contact with some other great individuals, and we were going to go after something special."

Thirty-six hours after that call, Irving found himself on a dais inside TD Garden. With Hayward and five members of Boston's brain trust beaming alongside, Irving's green Nike hightops tapped with a nervous energy during his Boston unveiling.

Author: Chris Forsberg, ESPN
Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20616691/nba-kyrie-irving-embracing-challenge-starring-role-boston-celtics

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