CLEVELAND — The people here will move on from Kyrie Irving because he is not, in fact, LeBron James.
Should James choose to leave the Cavs via free agency next summer, it will mark the end of Cleveland’s Finals runs (unless Irving and the Celtics put a stop to them first) and signal a franchise rebuild that will probably take a while.
That’s what happens when James leaves a team. It happened here when James bolted Cleveland the first time. And it’s ongoing now in Miami, where the Heat are just 1-for-3 in reaching the playoffs after going to four straight Finals with James.
You see, James is that good. He’s a transcendent player with seven consecutive Finals (eight overall) to his name. He commands greatness and attention. He dictates the direction of numerous NBA organizations, not just his own.
Which brings us to Irving’s introductory press conference in Boston Friday.
It opened with Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president, trying to make sure he named each member of Irving’s traveling party in the room. He asked Irving’s father, Drederick, to stand and be recognized.
And then, before Irving would entertain questions, he was sure to mention the passing of Jae Crowder’s mother and Isaiah Thomas’ sister. His thoughts were with those families, as with all those affected by the violence in Charlottesville, Va. and the flooding in Houston.
“My appreciation for the world goes deeper than I think a lot of people realize,” Irving said.
The Cavaliers and their fans will move on from Irving because he’s merely a very, very good player, maybe great — depending on your definition. There’ll be a reunion Oct. 17 at The Q when the Cavs and Celtics tip off the entire NBA season; the two parties can show how they really feel about each other then.
But if you’re still trying to understand why Irving would ask to be traded (he confirmed Friday that’s what happened), following three Finals trips, one championship in 2016, and coming off career highs in points (25.2) and shots (19.7) last season, all with James by his side, it’s because he wants to be transcendent like James.
And doesn’t believe it can happen on James’ team.
“Me leaving there wasn’t about basketball,” Irving said.
As Irving correctly pointed out Friday, the 25-year-old, four-time All-Star said nothing publicly since word was leaked in late July about his wanting out of Cleveland.
The numerous media outlets, including cleveland.com, that reported on Irving’s desire to leave and the reasons behind it, all cited anonymous sources. Here’s to wishing those outlets were responsible with who they allowed to speak for Irving.
But the theme that was repeated in each report was that Irving wanted to escape James’ shadow in Cleveland. He wanted to be the focal point of his own team.
My appreciation for the world goes deeper than I think a lot of people realize.
Consider those words from Irving, the ones he used to make his first impression with the Celtics. After three years with James, watching each and every day as media hordes flocked to him for comment on all the major social, political and racial stories of the time. It’s what happens when you’ve built the clout and cache James has amassed on and off the court.
What Irving had to say on those nights was an afterthought.
Irving had some other punchy lines Friday, such as “is there ever such a thing as one person carrying the whole team? I don’t think so.”
Irving said it when he was asked if he was prepared for the pressure of taking over for a fan favorite in Isaiah Thomas. But where might he have gotten the idea for such a response?
Could it have been the last three season, playing alongside James, where almost every team success is first credited to James and every failure blamed on those around him? It’s the life Irving led since the 2014 season, a burden he didn’t ask for (the Cavs signed him to an extension before they knew James was coming back) and the price you pay for going to the Finals with James.
Irving said “you start figuring out what was important to you off the floor, and how it’s conducive for your development on the floor,” and then it made sense for him to ask out.
He said “it was my time to do what was best for me in terms of my intentions and that’s going after something bigger than myself and obviously being in an environment that’s conducive for my potential.
“I think that statement is self explanatory, because it’s pretty direct in terms of what my intent is, and that’s to be happy and be with a group of individuals that I can grow with,” Irving said.
No matter what James decides next summer, an Irving-James pairing would have (sans injury) virtually guaranteed another trip to the Finals.
Wouldn’t that count for growth? Isn’t it fun to go to the Finals?
Apparently not, which puts the onus on Irving to show the entire NBA what his desired growth looks like.