CHICAGO — The NBA world was mostly shocked when Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, but there were a couple of notable opponents who weren't thrown off by the point guard's demand.
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, players who share history with Irving from three straight matchups in the NBA Finals, could see that he was ready to play more of a lead role.
"No, I wasn't surprised at all actually," Green told B/R. "Just because I know the type of person he is. He wants more."
It's not a stretch to say Irving's departure single-handedly changed the balance of power in the East for the foreseeable future, as the Cavaliers are in a midseason swoon and the Celtics have the conference's best record.
The players the Cavs received in the Irving trade are struggling. Isaiah Thomas, who is facing a contract year, is battling to recover from hip surgery as he attempts to fit in with his new team. Jae Crowder was just removed from the starting lineup in favor of Tristan Thompson. Crowder was supposed to add a defensive component to a Cavaliers squad that ranked among the worst in the league last year.
This season they're worse and just a game above the fourth-seeded Miami Heat in the East. Not even LeBron James' individual greatness can help lift the Cavaliers out of their struggles, leading to the customary finger-pointing.
Meanwhile, Irving is the No. 1 option on a Celtics team full of young, developing players and a couple of key veterans who don't mind ceding space on the floor—and the spotlight off it—to Irving.
That was unlikely to happen for Irving while playing next to James, and perhaps it was a big reason why he decided to get out sooner rather than later.
If it sounds like Curry and Green have the utmost respect for Irving's game and his ambitions, it's because they do. Green and Irving have been friends for years, while Curry knew Irving through his brother, Seth, during Irving's one season at Duke.
It wasn't until the summer of 2014, though, when Curry and Irving really got to spend time together with USA Basketball. The next June they were matched up in the Finals until Irving injured his knee in the series opener.
Considering the way friendships are often tabled—or outright ended due to high-level competition—the respect level all share has kept the friendships intact.
"That was my brother anyways," Green said. "Basketball is basketball; it is what it is. You have relationships that are bigger than basketball, and that relationship is bigger than basketball."
The camaraderie of being among the chosen few to play professional basketball has allowed their friendship to flourish.
"It's a common bond through that stuff; you can hold onto it," Curry said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't mean when I step on the floor that I don't wanna kill him. That's where you gotta turn the switch on."
The respect level increased even when Irving delivered heartbreak to the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, hitting a triple over Curry with 53.1 seconds left—essentially clinching the Cavaliers' title.
"Obviously if I was watching on TV, I would say 'Ohh, it's an amazing shot,'" Curry said. "I always say I played good defense. He hit a tough shot. Good offense always beats good defense.
"That's what I was talking about. Like the competition on the floor is a different dynamic than anything that happens off the floor."
Green said he admired Irving's moxie in that moment, saying, "A lot of people won't take that shot, let alone make it."
Curry admitted: "I don't like seeing it; it brings back bad memories. But what you gonna do about it?"
The Warriors added Kevin Durant weeks later and exacted a measure of revenge in their five-game Finals win last June.
Then there was the mocking—or non-mocking, depending on who you ask— of LeBron James' workout videos at Harrison Barnes' wedding reception last summer.
Curry and Irving having a good time mimicking those videos sparked all types of speculation about their motives. Curry said it was all in fun and admiration.
The fact his partner in crime was Irving created more fodder.
"Nobody believes how much I was entertained by his videos," Curry said. "At the end of the day, it is what it is. Bron knows where I'm coming from. I know where he's coming from."
Plenty of people around the NBA knew Irving wanted to step out of James' massive shadow to create his own identity. Few people realized to what extremes he was willing to go to secure it, though.
"At the end of the day, it's nobody's responsibility to understand it but Kyrie's, and that's what I respect the most," Curry said. "Everybody's fans [of them both] and can hype up the history of him and LeBron and Cleveland. At the end of the day, grown men make grown-men decisions and do what they feel like is right for their life.
"Drop the mic on that one."