BOSTON — Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving huddled a small group of teammates at his house on Wednesday afternoon and calmly dropped the bombshell that he would stun the rest of the NBA world with on Thursday night: He planned to re-sign with the Celtics next summer.
And, in that instant, a wave of relief washed over both Irving and the Celtics organization. No longer would Irving’s uncertain future hang over the season; now the focus was simply on the team’s title aspirations.
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"It was a very nice surprise,” Celtics big man Al Horford, one of the players at Irving’s house, told NBC Sports Boston on Friday. "Just his commitment to the organization, and a sense that we can put all the speculation behind us and focus on the season. That was very big of him to do something like that.”
Neither Horford nor Gordon Hayward, seated alongside Irving Thursday night at the season-ticket holder event at TD Garden where Irving made his announcement, were certain if Irving was going to publicly voice that commitment. But Horford certainly enjoyed being part of the reveal.
After all, even Horford was curious what Irving was thinking about his future before he told his teammates.
"I personally would never come up and try to talk to him about it. At the end of the day, it’s his decision and whatever he wants to do,” said Horford. "But, yeah, we heard the speculation and everything. That was definitely out there and you wonder what was going to happen. I think he understands what we’re building here and the potential that is here.”
Irving began formally informing members of the Celtics organization of his desire to re-sign here this week. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Irving pulled him aside after the team’s practice on Thursday afternoon to alert him to his decision. Management and ownership were also informed.
Irving then told Celtics’ media relations staffers that he planned to make a public declaration on Thursday and the team braced for the possibility he would announce it in a chat with reporters before the Thursday night event.
Instead, Irving waited until he was in front of the fans.
“Timing is everything and I’m glad I could share it with the Boston fans, everybody there, I was just happy to get it done with for me,” Irving said Friday at practice. "I just have every intention of signing back. Me and Danny [Ainge] and management have not talked about any numbers, so please do not ask me about it. That goes for anybody — we don’t want any tampering or anything like that. July 1, whatever that day is, we’ll talk about contracts and stuff like that. [But] I have every intention of signing back with Boston.”
Irving will be in a position to sign a five-year, $189 million deal next summer after he opts out of the final season of his current pact.
Irving had stiff-armed chatter about his future at the start of the summer while promoting his “Uncle Drew” movie but offered firm hints in recent weeks that he was smitten by his initial time in Boston.
After spending the past month in the area, playing informal 5-on-5 games with teammates and soaking in the Celtics’ sparkling new Auerbach Center practice facility, Irving decided he should verbally commit to a future here.
"I think the important thing was just being happy and having an environment where I’m challenged on a physical level but as well as mental,” said Irving. "I can get better as a basketball player, as a man and grow here.
"I do have a dream of putting my No. 11 in the rafters one day, if I’m so blessed to do that. Work my tail off. Obviously, a lot of great players have come before me, but to grow my name in Boston Celtics tradition and history is something I’m glad I can do.”
The Celtics tradition clearly had a pull on Irving.
“Unbelievable, because it’s a challenge in itself,” said Irving. "I can sit up here and say I want to be one of these guys. A lot of great players in Celtics history — that’s a challenge in itself. I willingly accept that, and I look forward to it. I’m looking forward to where we end up.
"I thought it was a perfect time to let everyone know, and that I have every intent to sign back, and now I don’t have to answer any more questions like, ‘What are you looking for?’ It’s time and I’m glad to get past it and be with my teammates. Now we can move forward.”
The rumors nagged at Irving.
"I’m happy here,” said Irving. "Every single day is at an all-time competitive high. What more can you ask for from an organization than taking a chance and getting me out of Cleveland? Really taking a chance regardless of whether I signed back or not. They had the same attitude.
"They just wanted to show me what being a Celtic is about, and hoped I would come around, and I absolutely did. I look forward to the franchise and the players we have here.”
Horford is happy not to have to stay glued to the latest gossip about Irving’s future.
"A lot of the times, with the way that free agency’s been going the past few years, these guys are letting the drama build up and the media and the hype, and that’s all good stuff for TV and the fans for entertainment,” said Horford. “Like I was engaged with LeBron [James] when everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s going to the Lakers.’ You get engaged in that stuff.
"But when it’s for your team, you don’t want any of that,” Horford added with a laugh. "You don’t want none of that stuff. Unless somebody is coming to you. It was just nice that we got that out of the way and can focus on the season.”
Irving, who has admitted he didn’t exactly enjoy all the questions about his decision to ask out of Cleveland when he first arrived in Boston last season, seems much more at peace now. He’s able to focus on what matters to him.
And he’s clearly smitten to be focused on the very firm possibility of success with this Celtics team, and not the uncertainty of what might be next.
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"You can’t help but think about the future,” said Irving. "Having guys here that are special already and have the chance to get better. I’m looking forward to helping them with their careers, and them helping me. They’re great. They’re committed here, were drafted here for a reason, and I wanted to be right in that same lineage of being with those guys and drawing from them.
"Honestly, thinking about starting over was just a shitty thought, honestly. Man, I do not want to move again. I do not want to uproot my family, just be dealing with anything new again. No disrespect to other organizations, but here is perfect for me.”
Irving knows the decision eliminates a potential cloud hovering over Boston’s title pursuit.
"I know I made a lot of guys comfortable,” said Irving. "Our management, coaching staff, they don't have to worry about recruiting me the whole season and telling me how great it is to be a Celtic and be here. I came to that myself. Me asking the Celtics if they would have me back, that was the first question. I just wanted to make sure and then, at that point, it was an easy decision to plan on re-signing."