That Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland may be shocking news to some since no one in their right mind willingly gives up the LeBron James gift, but not only is Irving ready to part ways with all things King James, he is willing to leave millions on the table to do it. Kyrie is having his Kobe 2004 moment. He wants to be the alpha, the main one, the straw that stirs a NBA team’s drink. But it’s always about LeBron James in Cleveland and always will be. Even if James leaves for the west coast, as is heavily rumored, Irving doesn’t want to say I got next. He knows this particular truth. No one is stepping into LeBron James shoes. It’s a burden Kyrie will say no thank you to. He wants his own team. He wants a franchise to build around him. He is willing to consider the Spurs, Knicks and Heat.
It may seem like a nightmare for Cleveland but the Irving tempest has been a public-private secret. He never truly acclimated to the LeBron James program which demands sacrifice and submissiveness. The best thing to happen to Kyrie Irving from the Cavs point of view was the 2016 NBA Finals and Game 7 and the series winner over Steph Curry. It kept Irving’s conflict to a minimum. He saved the Cavaliers season. He sent the Golden State Warriors and their 73-9 season into a hasty and final retirement, having dethroned the champs and in the process making their greatest season ever a footnote in the annals of NBA achievements. By virtue of his three pointer against Steph Curry that won the title for the Cavaliers who were so desperate for a win in anything, Kyrie Irving elevated himself into clutch scorer and the first #1 overall pick to win a title since LeBron James did it in 2012. The happiness couldn’t last. It wasn’t created over time. It was one moment. The glow would fade away.
Six months after winning the title-or 188 days if you are counting- Kyrie did it again, but differently which is a testament to his elite offensive talent. A drive on Klay Thompson who defended him perfectly, then a spin to get space and another game winner with everyone watching on Xmas.
So what’s all this remorse about? He saved his team and city. He will forever be idolized in The Land. He then did it on Xmas while Steph Curry was on the bench. But despite his heroics, LeBron 24-7 which is always the truth in Cleveland puts Kyrie in a tough spot. Irving wants to be the number one option. Except, without LeBron, when it’s Kyrie or bust, the Cavs usually lose.
Before LeBron came to Cleveland, Kyrie was individually great. He was Rookie of the Year in 2012, but he was a terrible team leader. He didn’t guide the team anywhere. Before LeBron’s return, the Cavs record with Irving as their best player was 78-152, though Irving averaged 20.6 points, 35% from three, 5.8 assists plus two All-Star game appearances (2013,14), two Player of the Week honors, Rookie of the Year, 4th in usage in 2012-13, top 10 Offensive Box Plus-Minus (2011-13). But the Cavs never made the playoffs. The Cavs needed LeBron. Kyrie needed LeBron.
Embedded in the Kyrie trade talk is Kyrie’s ego run amok. Irving isn’t a two-way player, a top-5 NBA star. He will always be a second option unless it is in a rebuilding situation. He wants to go to San Antonio? Really? To be the #2 behind Kawhi Leonard? He wants to go Miami or New York? To be a seventh or sixth seed?
Kyrie is an average defender on his best day and an apathetic defender the rest of the time. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking was 71st out of 82 point guards. Translation: he sucks defending his position. Irving is a great offensive player but he doesn’t exert the same willfulness and effort on defense. Frankly, the presence of LeBron makes up for his mistakes. Irving doesn’t make players better and so he is constantly questioned about how good he really is.
The2017 NBA Finals exposed his game. Kyrie the creator can be frustrated when guarded by length and a defender with the footwork to stay with him and get physical. On the defensive end, Kyrie’s intensity wanes depending on the situation.
Kyrie Irving being thought of as this generation’s Scottie Pippen is relevant because Scottie couldn’t lead a team either. He couldn’t drive his team to a title without MJ. Those two years without Jordan, Scottie realized his limitations. As Michael J. once said, “Poor Scottie. It’s hard being me.”
Kyrie has a ring and now he wants more. He wants the responsibility of being the leader, the go-to-this-is-my-team man. He resents having had to step back to accommodate a historic player like LeBron James. Where James is, Irving wants to be, except Kyrie doesn’t attach himself to the details of the game that James does. Kyrie once said, “selfishly I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”
Kyrie had it right. Selfish it is. Brian Windhorst (ESPN) reported that Irving wanted a trade after winning the title which is to say that after his greatest moment as a professional, Kyrie was thinking about Kyrie.
A year later, nothing has changed.
photo via llananba