Understanding Kyrie's Request
Just when you thought the NBA Summer was over, another piece of news surprises us all. Reports from ESPN state that All-Star Point Guard Kyrie Irving has requested a trade. Most surprising of all, Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James. Players normally sacrifice to be with James, not leave him. Hearing all of this for the first time boggles the mind. However, it makes sense the more you think about it. Kyrie's request is understandable if you look at the full picture.
In 2014, the Miami Heat lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. LeBron James entered free agency for the second time in his career. Many predicted he would remain in Miami with the stable Heat organization. Meanwhile, Cleveland was looking for stability of their own. The Cavaliers once again possessed the number one pick in the draft and looked to put together the pieces for a long future. The centerpiece of this future is Kyrie Irving. Irving was already a proven all-star player, but a playoff berth had eluded Cleveland. But nonetheless, the Cavs knew what they had and were prepared to make him their new face of the franchise. Kyrie signed a five-year extension to remain with Cleveland for the future. On top of that, new General Manager David Griffin had a plan in mind. The Cavs drafted Andrew Wiggins with the first pick in the draft and hired David Blatt as their Head Coach.
Everything is in place. Kyrie was the face of the franchise and the focal point of the team. The young core of Dion Waiters, Wiggins, Tristian Thompson and an improved Anthony Bennett were supposed to surround Kyrie in Blatt’s fast-paced system. Just as Cleveland handed the keys to Kyrie, something shocking happened. After a four-year stay in Miami, the King of Northeast Ohio went back on his throne. And with LeBron’s return, the team began to form around LeBron and his style almost immediately. Cleveland brought in Kevin Love in exchange for Bennett and Wiggins. During the 2015 season, Waiters is sent out of town. In return, Cleveland adds JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Halfway through the 2016 season, David Blatt is fired. Any semblance of this being Kyrie’s team was gone in a year, but the Cavs did win an NBA title in 2015.
Now I’m sure Kyrie enjoyed playing with LeBron, but it does come at a price. LeBron will never be expected to adapt to anything. When he’s on your team, the system and the organization revolve around him (and rightfully so). When the team experiences success, almost all of the credit will be given to LeBron. To hear fans and members of the media tell it, LeBron led the Cavs back from a 3-1 deficit single-handedly. The LeBron chase down will go down as the defining moments of that series. It seems no one remembers Kyrie’s MVP level performance or the fact that he hit the shot that put the Cavs up for good in Game 7. Also, LeBron will seldom receive blame if the Cavaliers lose. That honor is reserved for his teammates, the Cavaliers front office, and owner Dan Gilbert. LeBron is known for sending subliminal tweets and getting on his teammates a lot on the court. That can weigh on a player if not handled correctly.
The biggest influence of all could be Kyrie’s basketball idol and mentor Kobe Bryant. Once upon a time, Kobe had to play in the shadow of another Hall of Fame player in Shaquille O’Neal. It wasn’t until Kobe was the focal point that he finally got the respect and validation that he craved and rightfully deserved. Perhaps Kyrie wants to spread his wings and prove his value without being in the shadow of this generation’s greatest player. Or maybe he sees the writing on the wall and wants to get off the sinking Cleveland Titanic before it completely capsizes in LeBron’s potential departure. It may seem selfish and petty to some on the surface, but being the man and the focus is important to some. It is this mentality that makes many greats who they are. And if any of this is how Kyrie feels, it’s completely understandable even if it is detrimental to the Cavaliers fleeting championship dreams. We’ll see how it all plays out.