Kyrie Irving has been in the NBA for four seasons now. He’s been to three All-Star games — winning the MVP in one of them — played for Team USA in the World Cup, was the draft’s No. 1 pick in 2011, played for Duke and was a high school star at St. Patrick in New Jersey. The guy’s been playing basketball for a large percentage of his 22 years, but it is only now, in the last few months with the Cavaliers, that he has finally had his eyes opened to just how much fun it can be to play this game for a living. MORE: Another Blue Devil atop the Mock Draft | Irving's "Oscars" acceptance speech | Kyrie nets 57 points To suggest that he seems to be having more fun with basketball no
Kyrie Irving has been in the NBA for four seasons now. He’s been to three All-Star games — winning the MVP in one of them — played for Team USA in the World Cup, was the draft’s No. 1 pick in 2011, played for Duke and was a high school star at St. Patrick in New Jersey.
The guy’s been playing basketball for a large percentage of his 22 years, but it is only now, in the last few months with the Cavaliers, that he has finally had his eyes opened to just how much fun it can be to play this game for a living.
MORE: Another Blue Devil atop the Mock Draft | Irving's "Oscars" acceptance speech | Kyrie nets 57 points
To suggest that he seems to be having more fun with basketball no
It’s hard to blame Irving. He had a notable 57-point outing last Thursday in San Antonio, the second time this year he’s topped 50, but that’s just one game. Irving has been both consistent and efficient throughout this year, especially since the Cavaliers began their turnaround in the standings back on January 15.
Cleveland, which had a 19-20 record at the time, has played 29 games since then, going 24-5. Irving missed two of those 29 games, and the Cavs lost both of them. But in the 27 games he has played, his numbers are off the charts: 24.1 points, 50.4 percent shooting, 47.4 percent from the 3-point line and 89.1 percent from the free-throw line. Most importantly, the Cavs boast a .889 winning percentage when Irving has played.
Irving has not quite been a miserable wreck all this time. He’s had his smiley moments. Even in the tire fire that was last season, Irving found hope in the six-game winning streak the team brought into the All-Star break. He said things were getting fun at that time. (The Cavs then lost 11 of their next 15, but at least there was a glimmer of hope.)
So, is this the same sort of fun?
“No, no,” he said, smiling. “This is way, way different.”
It’s easy to see why. Irving has had some great accomplishments as a basketball player, but he points out that every positive has come with a negative. His time at Duke, for example, was marred by an injury that limited him to 11 games—and that injury overshadowed his entire draft process.
The All-Star attention has been nice, but last year, the team was 10 games under .500 at the break, suffering through the Andrew Bynum circus and the subsequent failed acquisition of Luol Deng, all while rumors about an active rift between Irving and guard Dion Waiters gurgled. The previous year, the Cavs were 21 games under .500 at the break and essentially waiting for Byron Scott to get a pink slip.
Everything good that happened to Irving seemed to be accompanied by something correspondingly bad.
“There is just a better feeling now — even when I won All-Star game MVP, everyone was asking me questions about what was going on with the team and we were struggling,” Irving said. “So there was always a negative. Now there is just so much positivity in Cleveland, the energy getting going for the second half — I am excited to be a part of it.”
Irving has, of course, been more than a mere part of it. He has been one of the best players in the league in the second half, and he has gotten markedly more comfortable playing off of fellow star LeBron James.
What’s done the most to fuel the resurgence of the Cavaliers — and what’s helped to make Irving even more comfortable — has been the midseason trades that brought in center Timofey Mozgov and guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. Irving is not as bad defensively as when he first arrived in the league, but he is still subpar. Having Mozgov at the rim and Shumpert helping outside has done much to mask Irving’s deficiencies.
And it does not hurt to have Waiters shipped out to Oklahoma City. When Irving says just how great the new guys are as teammates, you can sense a subtle dig at how bad he felt Waiters was as a teammate.
“It’s made such a big difference,” Irving said. “It’s what has put us over the top, the facets of the game we were lacking and what we needed. We got a big guy who protects the rim and protects all of us with his toughness. We have J.R. and Iman, they add so much diversity to our perimeter game. I am happy to have guys like that, they are incredible teammates. The first time they came to the team, they just fit in like they were there all season.”
The beginning of the season was not easy. But, Irving said, “It took a few bumps together. Now it is rolling and I am excited.”
And it’s been a long time since he’s been so excited about basketball.