Orbiting Cleveland: Age still a factor when it comes to Kyrie Irving

BqR5_dnIUAAfaBrSomething stood out last Monday when Kyrie Irving arrived at Progressive Field.

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star point guard wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.

Maybe it was the fact that Irving actually held his own during batting practice.

No, it was much simpler than that.

“I feel like a little kid,” Irving himself admitted in a story by Zach Meisel.

It’s more than just a feeling.

How easily we forget that Irving is barely a 22-year-old young man. For context, he’s more than five months younger than Michael Carter-Williams, the NBA’s 2014 Rookie of the Year. It’s amazing how an oversized baseball jersey can really put things back into perspective.

When a person is young, he or she is prone to mistakes, and that seems to be applicable to Irving. During the past year, Irving has become a polarizing figure, which is a stark change when compared to his reputation exactly one year earlier.

Everyone knows that July 1, 2014 is the official date that the Cavaliers can offer Irving a maximum extension, and’s Terry Pluto recently reported that he expects the Cavaliers to do just that. Pluto is among one of the most respected journalists in Cleveland, and it would be hard to believe his sources are not credible.

So, the Cavaliers likely will do just that, but should they?

Let’s be blunt. There was a lot of “noise” this past season.

On multiple occasions, reports came out that suggested Irving wanted out of Cleveland. These all followed an initial report made last July by CBS Sports’ Brandon Tierney.

However, things escalated this season. One story followed another, and there was never an end in sight. The clincher came from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst in an interview with CAVS: the blog this past April. In it, Windhorst was quoted as saying:

The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. That they don’t want him in Cleveland. He doesn’t like Mike Brown. He didn’t like Chris Grant. He doesn’t like Dion Waiters. He’s already gotten a General Manager fired. He might get Mike Brown fired. This is the last time – once he signs he loses all of his leverage – so this is the last time he gets to enact leverage. I know he’s said all the right things so, fine, on July 1, when they offer a max contract – which they will – and I don’t even know if he’s a max player, but you have to sign him – sign a five year, no out. That’s what a max contract is. A max contract is five years, no out. If you want out or you want three years, that’s not a max contract. You want three years? Okay, we’ll give you $12 million a year. We’re not giving you the full thing….

I think this is very elementary from Dan Gilbert’s perspective. If Kyrie wants to play for Team USA, he’s going to have to do his deal before mid-July when he goes to play for it and he’ll either take the five years or he won’t. If the answer is “no” to five years, he goes on the trade block. Period. I think it’s pretty simple.

And the other thing is: if the Cavs ever dream of having LeBron, it’s not going to be with Kyrie there. LeBron and Kyrie have drifted apart in the last few years, even to the point that if the Cavs wanted to get LeBron they would maybe trade Kyrie for someone who would fit better with LeBron. And I’m not making that up. That line of thinking was not originated by me. That’s just the truth.

Telling words from one of the most respected reporters in the NBA. The speculation has been fueled by the fact that Irving has stopped short of saying that he plans on signing an extension with the Cavaliers. The closest he got was after the final game of the regular season when he said, “I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this. We’re making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland. I don’t have a definitive answer to that right now, but it’ll be something special. I can guarantee that.”

After July 1st, we should have a definitive answer as to both the Cavaliers’ and Irving’s intentions, but who exactly is in the right here.

Many might say Irving has every right to want to get out of Cleveland. After all, the team has struggled in his three seasons and failed to make the playoffs this past season, even after they sold multiple assets to acquire Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes. What makes that even more disheartening is the fact that the Eastern Conference was arguably the worst it has been in years.

There is another side to this though. Irving has played only three NBA seasons. Why should he be so entitled that he’s able to “force” his way out of Cleveland?

A recent quote from Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders seems to be applicable to the Irving situation. Speaking in regard to Kevin Love, Saunders said, “Why does any player have a right to be frustrated? You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. Should the team be frustrated? Yeah, the team can be frustrated. But I don’t think any one individual should be frustrated.”

130311163928-kyrie-irving-shoulder-injury-cavaliers-single-image-cutSo, is Irving part of the solution?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Conventional wisdom and the national media would suggest that the answer to that question is yes.

Irving is an electric scorer with the ability to take over a contest. He’s shown a knack for the high-pressure situations, and his brand speaks for itself. Between the Uncle Drew campaign, his All-Star Game MVP and the cover of NBA Live 2014, Irving has carved quite a niche for himself.

What about the other side of the coin though?

Anyway you look at it, no one can realistically say that Irving improved from 2012-13 (22.5 points per game, 5.9 assists per game) to 2013-14 (20.8 points per game, 6.1 assists per game). His PER in 2012-13 was also 21.4 compared to 20.4, and his field goal percentage fell from .452 to .430.

Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, but Isaiah Thomas, the last player selected in the 2011 NBA Draft, posted a PER of 20.54, shot .453 from the field, and had averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game this past season. Hard to believe, but both advanced statistics and conventional statistics show that the last player selected in the 2011 Draft had a better season than the first player selected.

There are other arguments against Irving. His up-and-down relationship with Dion Waiters has been well documented, and that’s troubling considering Irving is supposed to be one of the team’s leaders.

Oh, also remember that time when LeBron James got ridiculed for quitting in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston? Well, how many times did Irving quit this past season?

Sometimes he didn’t have to quit — he never tried in the first place. That was evident during the six-game losing streak from January 26 through February 5 in which the Cavaliers lost each game by an average of 15.5 points.

Of course, this is not to say with certainty that the Cavaliers should not go ahead and offer a maximum extension to Irving. He certainly does have his talents… but he also has his flaws, and the Cavaliers need to be aware of that.

However, hopefully his biggest flaw is something that will correct itself naturally — age.

As noted above, Irving is still very much a young man, and he obviously has much growing up left to do. That is not an excuse for some of his shortcomings, but it does serve as a possible explanation.

Who knows, if Irving were two years wiser, then perhaps we would not be hearing these stories about how he’s in a rush to get out of town. His rift with Waiters might also have been kept in-house.

When all is said it done, it appears likely that the Cavaliers will go ahead and offer Irving a maximum extension. Pluto has already reported this much, and it would appear to be too big of a risk for them to not make such a move.

Similarly, Irving will likely accept some sort of offer. A maximum extension equates to set-your-family-up-for-life money.

Is Irving young? Yes. Stupid? I don’t think so.

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