Posted Jan 24 2012 10:37AM
There are strong indications that Kyrie Irving will not be the next LeBron James, not even close, and you know how a city starving for a star feels about that? Relieved.
For starters, the Cavaliers haven't tossed Irving the keys to the franchise. He doesn't own the choice parking spot, or get VIP treatment for his pals, or have team employees scampering to run errands for him. Irving is treated like a rookie and not a savior, even though he might qualify as one. Big difference.
And another: His coach isn't pacifying him or empowering him. Byron Scott is coaching him. Imagine that. Just the other day, after the Cavs lost two games by a combined 66 points, Scott made a point of singling out Irving, in a way that LeBron was never called out in Cleveland.
"Our defense has to get better," Scott said, "and the defense starts with him."
So this relationship between the No. 1 overall pick and a desperate franchise has begun quite refreshingly and, dare we say, appropriately. It's all designed to create a star that Cleveland can respect, fall in love with and trust with its emotional investment. And while it's early in the process, it's safe for a heartbroken basketball city to embrace a player who's making it very hard to resist.
Irving seems humble and grounded, coachable and manageable. And immensely talented. Can't forget that. For someone who only played 11 games at Duke, and didn't put in a full summer of work because of rehab, and was deprived of a normal NBA training camp, his transition has been just shy of remarkable. With a killer dribble and a pull-up jumper that's textbook and poise you don't see from 19 year olds, Irving leads all rookies with numbers (17.4 points, nearly five assists) that would be greater if his minutes weren't being rationed. He's also playing the toughest position on the floor to master and doing it for a team that lost 63 games last year. Something special is developing in Cleveland, eight years after LeBron arrived and was immediately placed on a throne.
With the Cavaliers ready to visit Miami and LeBron tonight (7:30 p.m., NBA TV), the disastrous season they just endured, caused entirely by LeBron's departure the previous summer, was probably worth it. That's because nobody in Cleveland still cringes over losing 26 straight or getting spanked by LeBron in "The Return." A deadline-day deal last season that brought Baron Davis to Cleveland from the L.A. Clippers came with the Clips' first-round Draft pick in 2011, which became Irving. The now is about Irving and what he brings and what he could become very soon. To quote Nick Gilbert, son of Dan the owner: "What's not to like?"
Irving won't allow himself to get caught up in any LeBronslaught. And he makes no apologies for having a friendly relationship with LeBron, which started years ago when Irving appeared at LeBron's invitation camp for high school players. But that's where the comparison ends. Irving was raised by a father who played professionally overseas. He also spent a year on a college campus even though a toe injury made it seem like a cameo. That was enough, anyway, for NBA scouts, who studied him since he was 15. They were sold on his quickness and old school-meets-new school style of play.
"I'm living my dream and appreciating it," Irving said. "I'm just a rookie trying to come in and do well."
He knows the uproar about "The Decision" and the aftermath and how ugly it played out it Cleveland. In that sense, Irving couldn't have landed in a better place. The expectations in Cleveland are low, fans seem patient and Irving can be gradually groomed into being the face of the franchise, if he isn't already.
And Scott isn't rushing anything; he's actually making Irving earn minutes, keeping the rookie to 28 a game "until he starts playing better defense. Then he'll get more minutes."
You know what Irving said? "I appreciate him getting on me like that because I've got to get better defensively. I take full responsibility for it."
Definitely not diva-like.
He's 15 games into his rookie season, four more than he played in college, and already looks and acts beyond his years, defense aside. Whether his true position is point guard or shooting guard will be determined by his ability to develop more into a distributor. Regardless, it appears the Cavs found a potential star in a draft where they couldn't afford to make a mistake.
In two years, most of his current teammates will be gone. Assuming they add another solid piece next summer in what will be a deep draft (where the Cavs could have two picks in this one because they have the option to swap 2012 first-round picks with the Heat) and manage their salary cap, the Cavs can turn themselves around fairly quickly, all things considered.
Tonight for the first time, Irving will compete against the player who famously walked out on Cleveland, a city that's starting to channel its emotion on the player who just walked in.
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