Processing the Mind of Kyrie Irving

Source: NBA.com

I don’t know about you, but if I was working with the best minds and talents in the world, I wouldn’t be in a rush to leave to pursue an individual opportunity. It’s common sense: smart and talented people reap the benefits in life with success, money, and depending on the industry, fame. This especially holds true in sports with the likes of Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Michael Phelps dominating their perspective sports and turning into generational icons. The list could go on as it would be foolish to rattle off iconic athletes without mentioning LeBron James.

LeBron James runs the NBA. When he originally left Cleveland in 2010 to join the Miami Heat, James began a trend where star players join forces to give themselves the best chance of winning a championship. The NBA is the most pro-player league out of the four major professional leagues in America. Players dictate the league’s parity, television ratings, and their own salaries. In today’s NBA, an average player can garner a contract in free agency that nets him $15+ million per year.

If you play on the same team as James, you’re going to the NBA Finals and getting max exposure on television and in the media. Everything James touches turns to platinum (yes, he’s above gold). According to Forbes, he’s netted $86 million from his on and off court earnings. Heck, he’s even a major investor in the fastest-growing pizza chain in America, Blaze Pizza, with an investment worth up to $35 million. Being surrounded by LeBron James is a good thing, whether it’d be on or off the court. Players take less to be on his team, knowing that they will have a chance at winning championships if they do, and they don’t mind the fact that James gets the attention he does.

Then there’s Kyrie Irving, who’s apparently upset that he doesn’t get LeBron-like attention and treatment by the media and Cavaliers organization. Last week it was reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that Kyrie Irving has demanded a trade out of Cleveland to pursue a bigger role as the star player of his own team. Since this was first report, the rumors have been flying in and out. The NBA soap opera is at its peak with James reportedly being upset at Irving’s trade request and eager for him to leave Cleveland, which James has denied on Twitter. Then there was a report that Irving believes James’s camp leaked his trade request, as Irving told the Cavs in a meeting a week prior to this madness starting that he no longer had the desire to play alongside LeBron James.

In the initial report by ESPN, Irving is said to have the desire to be traded to the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, and Miami Heat. Since then, the reports of Irving wanting to play in New York have escalated, which makes sense since Irving grew up in North Jersey. But Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so the choice is out of his hands.

Reports aside, this makes no sense from Irving’s perspective. Playing with LeBron James can have its cons. He recruits players, often his friends, to his team, serving as part-GM, part-coach, and player wherever he plays. He receives the attention, and gets the credit when his team wins, and deflects the blame when he loses. He can be passive aggressive on social media and in interviews with the media, and can change the direction of a franchise if he decides to play elsewhere, which he often doesn’t share with anyone outside his camp.

I get it. Kyrie Irving is a star, and wants to be the guy for a team. He doesn’t want to live in the shadow of LeBron James. But by doing so, Irving is also saying he doesn’t want to play in the Finals every year, and depending on where he lands, also doesn’t want to play in the playoffs every year. It’s fair to say that Irving has elevated to his current superstar status because of James. Because of James, the NBA has seen that Irving can go one-on-one with two-time MVP Steph Curry and win, hit clutch shots in meaningful games, and finish at the rim better than any player in the league.

Here’s Kyrie near the Larry O’Brien Trophy for quite possibly the last time in his career (Mike Cardew, TNS)

In the three seasons he’s played alongside James, Irving has never been guarded by the opposition’s best player, nor has he had to guard the opposition’s best player. Irving’s dribble-and-iso-heavy game benefits with James on the floor. When James hasn’t played the past three years, the Cavs have gone 4-13 led by Irving, and when James is off the court and Irving is on the court, the Cavs have been outscored by 94 points in 2,000 minutes (-1.7 points per 48 minutes). Last season, the Cavs only scored 103.1 points per 100 possessions with Irving and no James, which rose to 117.5 points per 100 possession with James.

The Cavs needed James more than they needed Irving. With James on the court, Irving gets more open shots, can drive to the rim with more ease, and doesn’t have to worry about playing defense because James makes up for everyone’s defensive shortcomings. Irving is guaranteed to play on national television into mid-June, you know, because James’s teams always make the Finals. In turn, this guarantees Irving exposure that he would not receive on his own team, which brings in more endorsement money and bigger shoe contracts.

In a recent report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, and Heat have already made the Cavs offers for Irving. None of those teams have any true assets that can help the Cavs win if they part ways with Irving, especially with a looming LeBron James free agency on the horizon after next season. Cleveland shouldn’t force any moves. They need to be blown away by any team’s offer if they’re willing to sacrifice a possible fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals, and the continued services of the city’s hero, LeBron James.

For Kyrie Irving, he’s going to look back on this situation if and when he’s traded and realize he was in the wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-player mobility. I have no problem with athletes signing wherever they want for however much they want. But in this instance, Irving is in the wrong for wanting to leave the best player in the world (and the best player of all-time, but that argument is for a different day). Irving is giving up consistent media exposure and an easier life on the court for personal reasons that stem from not wanting to work with smarter and more talented people.

So go ahead Kyrie, go be “the guy” for your own team. I hope you enjoy your off-season starting in April, because you’ll never play in June again.