Things intensify for Kyrie Irving in just a few weeks.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
Kyrie Irving should be glowing.
He's not long removed from being named the Most Valuable Player of the FIBA World Cup, leading the United States to a gold medal. In what started as a crowded group of stud point guards for the American side, Irving grabbed the starting job and flourished.
"This is by far the biggest accomplishment of my life," Irving said. "This feels amazing. It's one of the greatest feelings that I've ever felt. All the emotions haven't come to me yet but I did it with a bunch of guys that I can call my brothers for the rest of my life."
Irving's experience in Spain may have been wonderful, but things intensify for him in just a few weeks.
When he heads to training camp with the Cleveland Cavaliers, everything will change. That's because LeBron James returned home. Oh, and another top-10 player in the league, Kevin Love, also now toils in Cleveland.
The expectations are astronomical and warranted. This Cavaliers team is loaded and an easy favorite in the Eastern Conference, alongside the Chicago Bulls.
The weight of heavy expectations can be a burden. For James, who has been scorched by the spotlight since high school, it's old hat. He's been to five NBA Finals, winning two, and has dealt with being the overwhelming favorite. James put a bull's-eye the size of South Beach on his back when he joined the Miami Heat.
Plus, the media scrutiny on James has always been immense. For example, this week, there was analysis of James' former receding hairline. The power alleys on his head have been filled in by hair, so we discuss it.
Irving has never experienced anything like that, not anywhere close. In three seasons, Irving may have been to two All-Star games, but he's never sniffed the postseason.
"For me it was about going out there and playing with other great players in the world. I've never gotten to experience that," Irving said after the World Cup.
He will get to experience it quickly. James and Love, who has also made as many postseason appearances as Irving, or your local butcher for that matter, are the elite of the elite. Where Irving fits in that pecking order is up for debate. If you think he's the second option, that's valid. He'll have the ball in his hands more than Love. But Love is a superior offensive talent, who scores inside as well outside, and is the league's most ferocious rebounder.
Playing with James can be tricky. Ego can be a funny thing, even when playing with someone is most likely going to be one of the top five in the history of the sport.
In Miami, James was caught on camera several times berating Mario Chalmers. Comparing Irving and Chalmers is like comparing a Rolex to a dependable Casio, but James can be tough on those around him.
It took Dwyane Wade almost a season and a half to come to grips with the fact that the Heat belonged to James. Irving and Love won't be like that. Neither is a raging narcissist, but Irving will have a lot of adjusting ahead of him.
His Cavs teams have been dysfunctional at best and a heaping pile of mess at worst. Irving will play for his third coach in four years when David Blatt sits in the big chair this season. There were reports of locker room turmoil involving Irving and Dion Waiters, who is still around, by the way.
If the Cavs fail to win a title, or even get to the Finals, the ultimate responsibility will fall on James. He penned the essay anointing himself as the savior of Cleveland. That, and the fact that James is the best player in the world will make this James' team.
But if Irving struggles adjusting to playing with James or Love, the backlash will be palpable. As the point guard, it's his job to facilitate the offense and get James and Love their touches, all while staying an aggressive weapon himself.
It's a juggling act, but his experience with Team USA should help.
"For me, playing with this team, like I said, you have so many pieces you can go to," Irving said. "It's easy for me to take a backseat when Steph Curry is hot or when James Harden is hot or A.D. (Anthony Davis) is in the post and he's killing it. It's easy for me to do that. It's not hard."
It's harder in Cleveland. James is more demanding than Harden, or Curry, or Davis. The U.S. played Serbia in the gold medal game. Serbia isn't the Bulls, or the San Antonio Spurs, or Oklahoma City Thunder.
And Irving's own personal expectations have been lofted, not just because of the MVP award at the World Cup.
He signed a five-year max contract extension at the start of the summer. That was the first domino for the Cavaliers in this amazing offseason. Irving is also one of the faces of the league in terms of national marketing. Remember Uncle Drew?
On the court, Irving has some warts to work through as well. He's only played 181 of a possible 230 games battling through injuries, which also haunted him at Duke. His scoring and shooting numbers regressed some last season, and they'll be sure to go down with James and Love in Ohio.
How Irving handles this whole situation is vital to the Cavs' success. He will be counted on to stay as one of the league's cream of the crop, while giving up some of his game.
"Going back to Cleveland everyone is going to have their assumptions of what's going to happen," Irving said. "I don't think anyone really knows what's going to happen until you guys see us play."
All true, but Irving will be under a larger microscope than ever before. The Cavs will need the World Cup MVP. Can he handle it?
- The Rockets think they're bolstering their bench with the acquisition of Jason Terry. But the Jet hasn't been good in two years. It's a low risk/high reward move, but I wonder what Terry has left in the tank.
- As for LeBron's hair, as a bald man, it's treason.
- My guess is that Danny Ferry does not return as Atlanta Hawks general manager. Aside from the fact that he shouldn't because there's no excuse defensible enough for his actions, no one survives scandal in this day and age.
- I get the argument that Coach K gets an advantage in recruiting by being the head men's coach for USA Basketball, but what's he supposed to do, turn down the job to be fair to other college coaches? Almost any other coach of that pedigree would take the USA job in a nanosecond. And, it's not like Krzyzewski had a lot of trouble recruiting before the national job.
- Speaking of college coaching, Kentucky's John Calipari is reportedly creating an exclusive scouting combine for NBA personnel prior to the start of the season. What a genius idea. First, that's a recruiting tool unlike any other. He can tell kids they will get a personal combine and the other brilliant aspect is that Calipari plans to stage this event in mid-October. So, Calipari can get it over with, then get the kids committed to Kentucky basketball.
- Old sport second - There may not be another column prior to the Ryder Cup as anyone who followed me from golf to basketball knows the event is my favorite in the world. I like Europe, but I think it'll be much closer than anticipated. Europe has holes in the form of Stephen Gallacher, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson. They're solid, but beatable. Plus, Ian Poulter is not playing well. He will because it's the Ryder Cup, but his game is not in great shape. The U.S. will need huge production from everyone, but the American team is not that bad. I'll take Europe, but it's going to be close.
- Movie moment - Re-watched "The Social Network" the other day. What a great movie. Brilliantly written and great supporting work from Andrew Garfield and even Justin Timberlake. Calling the Winklevoss twins the Winklevii will always be one of my favorite jokes.
- TV moment - New shows this season that I will watch ... crickets.