Storyline: LeBron-Kyrie Dynamic

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In a stunning roundtable discussion among Jason Lloyd of the Athletic, Dave McMenamin of ESPN, and Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, much was revealed about Kyrie Irving and his deteriorating relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers and especially LeBron James. “It has been made clear to me by multiple people, Kyrie never really wanted LeBron to come back (to Cleveland) in the first place,” said Lloyd. “He didn’t think it was necessary. LeBron said something to Kyrie on the court following a game when he was with Miami like, ‘Keep going, keep doing what you’re doing. You never know, I could be back here one day.’ And Kyrie basically said, ‘What’s he talking about, we don’t need him.’”

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Following Cleveland’s second-round sweep of the Raptors, former Cavaliers GM David Griffin joined Bill Simmons on The Bill Simmons Podcast to discuss the genius of LeBron James and the relationship between him and ex-teammate Kyrie Irving. At the 46:35-mark of the episode, Simmons asked Griffin about James’ new penchant for circus shots in the NBA Playoffs, citing multiple unorthodox buzzer beaters. That addition to James’ arsenal may have been pulled from Irving’s playbook, Griffin believes.

Bill Simmons: He’s playing against himself and not the other people, and saying ‘Oh, I wonder if I can make this shot. I’ll try this one.’ I never remember him doing this before, do you? David Griffin: It’s funny, bringing this somewhat full circle, this is something I give Kyrie a lot of credit for. Because Kyrie was natively like that. He loved to make left-handed finishes that seemed circus-like that he had no reason to use but he would anyway. He would do it in practices, he and Shump would play one-on-one endlessly after practice, doing things like that. And LeBron sort of got in the routine of doing these weird, one-legged, left-handed sort of things, finish with spin for no reason. I think Kyrie, in a weird sort of way, really made LeBron start to think about ‘You know, there’s more that I’m capable of doing. I don’t have a left-handed runner; I can’t spin the ball off the glass.’ I think Kyrie’s talents and knack for doing things like that challenged LeBron. Bron thought and went ‘I want that,’ and he’s so damn good he can incorporate it into his own game. To me, maybe that’s the best LeBron story. There’s literally nothing you can show him that he can’t do.

So James, knowing that Irving asked to be traded from the Cavaliers because he no longer wanted to play with James, could’ve steered clear of Irving during the team drafting process last month. “If he was available I was taking him,” James said. James and Irving were on the court for Team LeBron’s practice Saturday. Irving said “it’s pretty awesome” when asked what it was like to be teammates with James again, and said the conversation was “just normal.” “Sorry, I know that sounds like not a lot, but it’s just normal.”
7 months ago via ESPN

Seven days later in Cleveland, James has just put the finishing touches on a win over Atlanta, the Cavaliers’ 15th victory in their past 16 games. He conveys through the Cleveland public relations staff that he has already addressed Irving’s departure and will decline to answer questions regarding their relationship. Now, as he stands near his locker at Quicken Loans Arena, he’s asked about Irving’s contention that the Cavs didn’t want him. “That makes absolutely no sense,” James declares.
7 months ago via ESPN

No formal offer was made by any of the teams, but news of this potential transaction stung Irving, who, sources close to him say, became convinced that LeBron’s camp, which also represents Bledsoe, orchestrated the trade talks. Team and league sources refute that, saying that it was Griffin who initiated the trade talks with Phoenix. Griffin, who is close with Irving, sensed both his unhappiness and his restlessness and was preparing for the possibility that Irving would request a trade. But once Griffin was no longer employed by the team, the conversations stalled. Cleveland then engaged in talks with Indiana and Denver, according to league sources.
7 months ago via ESPN

“Ky,” Lue said, “I want you to play a little faster.” “Why?” Irving asked. “Because if we play faster, we get shots off easier.” “I don’t need to play faster to get my shot off,” Irving replied. “I can do that anytime.” “I’m not talking about your shot. I’m talking about RJ and JR,” Lue said, citing teammates Richard Jefferson and Smith. “Well, that’s No. 23’s job,” Irving replied, referring to James. According to members of the Cavs organization who witnessed the exchange, Lue ended the conversation by walking away, shaking his head.

“My team looks at me to be that scorer now,” LeBron James said. “The last couple years, Kyrie Irving obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of picked our games. There were games half the time that he had it going and, ‘Hey, go get [it].’ There were games half the time where I had it going and I’d go get it. “But right now my teammates look at me and they’re like, ‘OK, like this is your quarter. You’ve done this your whole career. Let’s try to make some things happen.’ It’s very important that I try to come through for them.”

Lloyd relays an interesting story that has been confirmed to him by several sources involving Cavaliers team official Randy Mims, also one of LeBron’s closest friends, and Drederick Irving, Kyrie’s father. Here are the details from Lloyd’s report: Mims, one of James’ lifelong friends and an official Cavs employee, reached out his hand to slap Drederick five. But Dred, Irving’s father, pulled his own arm back and refused the gesture. When James later asked Irving about the incident and if there was something wrong, Irving said his father believed they shouldn’t be “fraternizing with the enemy.” Three sources with knowledge of the exchange independently confirmed it to The Athletic, revealing just a glimmer of light into a fractured relationship that both men hid well during their time together.

“We all kind of knew certain things about this team that was tough,” Shumpert said of the Cavaliers. “Like, it’s tough.” “But I’m saying this isn’t just a Kyrie-LeBron thing,” Shumpert added. “That’s what I’m saying. The media turned it into that for y’all. And that’s what I said about the internet. It’s the story. That’s the clicks. ‘LeBron and Kyrie hate each other, ahhhhh.’ No. It’s two dudes that need the ball. LeBron needs the ball, Kyrie needs the ball, Kevin needs the ball. Swish can’t shoot unless he has the ball. Kyle Korver can’t shoot unless he has the ball. …. Somebody’s gotta get the short end. And a lot of times fans can’t all the way understand that. They think it’s 2k. ‘Bron can score 40, Ky can score 40, Iman should have 20, J.R. should have 30, this person should have this — it’s like, dog, it don’t work like that.”

“(People say) it’s LeBron and Kyrie hate each other,” Shumpert said. “No, it’s two dudes that need the ball. LeBron needs the ball, Kyrie needs the ball, Kevin (Love) needs the ball. Swish (J.R. Smith) can’t shoot unless he has the ball. Kyle Korver can’t shoot unless he has the ball.” Shumpert, who is a friend to Irving, said the two still talk. He said “it could be awkward for a little bit” between James, Irving, and Love (there has been no mention of any tension between Irving and Love in media reports), but “it ain’t gonna last.”

Draymond Green has heard the criticism lobbed in Kyrie Irving’s direction. He’s heard how Irving was selfish for wanting to leave the side of LeBron James, how he was foolish for wanting to prove he could strike out on his own and do his own thing. Green, though, took Irving’s trade request, which led to him being dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, in a far different vein than most: His level of respect for the all-star point guard rose.

As for Irving telling reporters during his introductory press conference in Boston that he hadn’t spoken to LeBron James since reports that he wanted out of Cleveland first surfaced? Shumpert, as has been the team line for weeks, thinks there’s nothing to that. “There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “And I’m sure Ky at some point is going to talk to everybody, the same way he talked to me. Ky’s a regular dude. He’s going to compete and he knows we’re going to be out looking for him when we play Boston. It’s all fine.”

Griffin said he thought Irving would end up getting traded, but would not speculate on where the Cavs All-Star point guard might go. He said both sides would be better if Irving were traded. “This is a guy whose list included really good coaching situations — Brad Stevens and [Gregg] Popovich. This is a guy who recruited LeBron [James], [Gordon] Hayward and a host of other free agents, and all of a sudden LeBron came back, so he was sold a totally different situation than he’s actually in, and he worked very well in, he won a championship in.”

David Griffin: “I see this as him looking for a fit for himself, to take the next step in his career. I think this is a guy who wants to know how good he can be. LeBron casts a very large shadow over an organization. And most of it is really, really positive. You know you are expected to win a championship by way of example. But what that doesn’t always allow is for a player like Kyrie to test his boundaries and see how good he can really be, and can I really be the front man of a team like that.”

Scottie Pippen: “I think it’s the perfect timing, Cleveland didn’t win a championship, they were right there, but there’s been a lot of things going on within that organization. LeBron doesn’t give those guys the security that they need, that the superstar is gonna be there and he’s gonna support us and I see Kyrie looking at the opportunity to run before LeBron runs, because there’s a lot of chatter out there that LeBron’s coming to play with the Lakers.”

Altman said the James-Irving feud was “overblown” by the media. Altman mentioned that he signed Rose on his first official day on the job and that the media should be talking more about the franchise’s offseason additions. Altman also told reporters that the Cavaliers will keep things “in-house” on Irving. “A lot of it has been overblown,” Altman said. “I think the people who are in this building every day haven’t seen any of that animosity. This is, along with [forward] Kevin Love, this is a group that got us to three straight Finals and won an NBA championship together. They play great together on the floor, and a lot of that I do think is overblown. We haven’t seen a lot of that ‘animosity’ that’s been out there in the media.”

While he said he didn’t speak with LeBron James until after he removed his name from consideration, Billups said he wasn’t bothered about the idea of James leaving Cleveland and called rebuilding a “beautiful” thing. However, he said their lack of assets was a more concerning dilemma. But the most interesting point of the interview was when Billups spoke about Irving. When asked if he was surprised about the recent rumors, he then took a deep breath and said no. “As they were doing their due dilligence on me, I was doing the same thing. I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know. But that’s unfortunate, man. Because he’s a special talent and in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been a beneficary of having LeBron James, man.”

Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history. Which means the ball was out of Irving’s hands more than he preferred. That said, Irving led the Cavs in shots in the 2016-17 season, averaging 1.5 more per game than James, and Irving averaged a career-high 25.9 points. It was the first time in James’ career he didn’t lead his team in shots per game.

Several times during the Cavs’ playoff run, Irving had long, intense conversations with James as they tried to get the team into a groove following a choppy and inconsistent regular season, sources said. After a horrible loss to San Antonio on March 27, one in which Irving tied a career-worst plus-minus rating of minus-29, as he scored only eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, Irving was distraught. The Cavs had just lost for the third time in four games to fall out of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time all season.

The Cavs are paying James’ Klutch Sports clients Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith for significant deals, and those contracts won’t easily leave the Cavaliers’ books. The Cavaliers have a singular tradeable asset, and it’s Kyrie Irving. Which he knows because Cleveland had included him in trade talks around the NBA draft, league sources told ESPN. Long before Irving voiced his desire to be moved, Cleveland had considered the possibility, too — and perhaps did so with a nod from James.
1 year ago via ESPN

“When Kyrie made the decision to stay with us, we didn’t present LeBron as a free-agent option,” Griffin told ESPN this week. “We were concerned what would it look like for him because Kyrie had been really active with us in recruiting everybody that was going to come if LeBron didn’t come. And was very successful as a recruiter. [Gordon] Hayward wanted to come, Chandler Parsons would have come, Channing Frye would have come, Trevor Ariza would have come. Like, we had an opportunity to get everybody, and he had done a great job for us. So there was a little bit of trepidation on our part of, ‘Is he going to feel like we’ve asked him to go backwards?’ And from the very beginning, it was like, ‘Griff, all I want to do is win.’ So he’s been very receptive to it.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Irving counts Bryant as a mentor and has talked to him about O’Neal in order to avoid the same mistakes with James. “It’s a tough balance,” Irving told ESPN. “Because everyone knows, Shaq was really dominant and [had] a lot of the individual accolades … unbelievable. And that’s who he was. And Kobe was just consistently working on his game and consistently trying to prove everyone all the time. And you got to commend somebody for that. That just shows the true testament of their will and what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to sacrifice, but I know I don’t want to look back and say that I let my selfishness get in the way of us winning championships, because we have unbelievable talent on this team and unbelievable players, and so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.
1 year ago via ESPN

Cavs management is tickled by how Irving has taken to James’ tutelage. “I think the one thought we had was that if he embraced it, it would be a great way for him to be around a true alpha and learn how to lead,” Griffin told ESPN. “He had leadership kind of thrust upon him very early because he was our best player, but he wasn’t really emotionally evolved enough to lead. He didn’t want that mantle. He didn’t want that responsibility. Nor should he have. So what’s happened now, I think he’s grown into that, and as he’s growing as a player and as a leader, LeBron becomes much more important to him, because having that sounding board there and having that actual example set for you is a really valuable thing. So we hoped that LeBron would be the one. The dream scenario is that he raises the next great player here.”
1 year ago via ESPN

James is aware that Irving’s time is quickly approaching. “First of all, I don’t know how Kobe and Shaq managed their partnership. All I can know, from the outside looking in, [is] that it didn’t work out,” James told ESPN. “For me, I see Kyrie growing every single day and wanting to be great. And so me, I just try to give him the blueprint, as much as I can. You know, his experiences, he’s going to learn on his own as well, and that’s what he should do, but all I can do is give him the blueprint, and that’s it. Because he’s going to be around a lot longer than me.

“Our core guys – LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin, and so on – have just started to find a greater level of chemistry.” “Go Kyrie, go,” teammates heard James telling Irving. With 27 points and five assists for Irving and 24 points from James, they easily won the matchup against DeMar DeRozan (18 points) and Kyle Lowry (eight points). The Cavaliers crushed the Raptors on the glass (45 rebounds to 23) and in shooting (55.4 percent to 42.1). With Golden State and Oklahoma City appearing to be in the early stages of a classic conference final, Cleveland deposed of Toronto swiftly on this night, easily dismissing the Raptors’ fury.

Irving remains a dynamic scorer, but the disconnect between Irving and James is real, several scouts and coaches told The Vertical, with the on-court chemistry between the two, said one scout who saw Cleveland play recently, “basically nonexistent.” Team sources insist the relationship is solid, that James is simply teaching, trying to raise Irving’s basketball IQ. No one understands Irving’s importance more than James, team sources told The Vertical, which is why no one is working harder than James to get the two All-Stars on the same page.
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