By E.J John Advertising Representative
With post-All-Star Weekend play set to resume in the NBA, it’s hard not to wonder where the Cleveland Cavaliers would be, had All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving stayed in The Land.
During his six years playing for Cleveland, Irving found success as a dynamic scorer, averaging 21.6 points and 5.5 assists and notching an NBA title win against the Golden State Warriors in 2016.
Although he had been part of a championship squad and even managed to score a championship-sealing 3-pointer in the NBA Finals, there was always a cloud looming over his success: could he do it without Lebron James?
James was widely seen as the catalyst for the Cavs’ success since his return in 2014, and just like the Kobe-Shaq debate of the early 2000s, Irving felt that he needed to accomplish something away from James’ enormous shadow.
Just over 50 NBA games later, Irving is the leading man for the Boston Celtics after demanding a trade away from James and the team who drafted him back in 2011.
Irving seemed to have opted out of a situation that most other NBA players could only dream of: a certain path to the NBA Finals and a chance at winning a championship. While accolades are a priority for many NBA players, Irving chose to cement his own legacy rather than help James win another championship.
When Irving was drafted by the Cavs, he thought he would be handed the keys to the franchise, which is why he never felt he should be considered James’ number two. Nonetheless, King James’ return to Cleveland in 2014 meant that Irving had to take a backseat.
Upon James’ return, the focus of the franchise dramatically shifted from developing youth to quickly building a championship contender. The Cavs also switched their focal point of the organization from Irving to James, essentially cementing Irving’s label as the “little brother.”
As a result, Irving had to put aside potential individual accomplishments. In addition, the team would no longer run a style that fit his talents, and he was relegated to a secondary ball handler.
In essence, having James as a mentor was both a blessing and curse for Irving. While he learned what it took to be a champion, he was also forced to play in a system that was unstable. The erratic system was mainly due to James’ knack for taking up coaching responsibilities. A lot of the time it appeared that James was not only the coach, but was also the general manager, since the front office needed his approval before making a move.
Consequently, this is why Irving’s move to Boston actually made sense. He realized that he was in a Catch-22 scenario, potentially damned if he stayed and potentially damned if he left. By leaving Cleveland, he was essentially leaving behind a legitimate chance at reaching the NBA Finals. Nonetheless, Irving prioritized his own development and found a situation in Boston that could allow him to unlock his full potential. Irving chose the route that enabled him to be in the driver seat of his own destiny.
While the pair appear to have buried the hatchet after a dramatic summer, questions on whether they could have done more as a pair will always linger in the minds of NBA aficionados.