LAS VEGAS: Before departing on his summer vacation, Kyrie Irving made it clear on the final night of the regular season he had some changes to make. He needed to defend, he needed to embrace his role and his identity, and if he did all of that, he would have a much easier time making that all-important leap in his third year in the league.
As Irving iced his knees on UNLV’s practice courts this week after a Team USA minicamp, he finally conceded to what became so obvious throughout last season.
“It’s about being OK with being in that position and having all the expectations put on me, taking responsibility for the team, taking control of this team head on,” Irving said. “I felt like I shied away from it at times. Now I’m ready to take this team full on and be the leader. I had a lot of growing up to do.”
Irving had plenty of missteps during his second season, from acknowledging that he was “disinterested” after a loss at Detroit, failing to properly support his weary coach both on and off the court, and then finally skipping the brief festivities on Fan Appreciation Night after the final home game.
Irving was sharply criticized, both privately and publicly, for skipping out on Fan Appreciation Night, and it was only a few nights after that when he started talking of making changes. On the campus of UNLV, wearing Team USA’s colors, Irving continued talking about changing.
“I had to re-evaluate myself and what I really want to become, or what I want to be known for,” Irving said. “I don’t want to be known as a guy who gives up games or takes plays off or anything like that. I want to have a consistent effort and be known as a great player. What makes those great players great is consistency every single night. That’s what I have to bring.”
To ease some of the offensive burden from Irving, and to give him more energy on defense, coach Mike Brown will put Kyrie Irving in the shooting guard role for brief stretches in games this season.
When Jarrett Jack and Irving are in games together, Brown wants the ball in Jack’s hands. That will allow the Cavs to better take advantage of Irving’s shooting abilities — he’s arguably the best shooter on the team — and it will allow him to conserve energy by giving him looks off screens rather than constantly playing pick-and-roll or creating off isolation plays.
“I think it lends versatility to our team and shows the versatility that Kyrie has,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to define roles a little bit more when guys are on the floor together. When Kyrie is on the floor with Dion, Kyrie’s the point guard. … When Jarrett is on the floor, Kyrie will play off the ball sometimes.”
That’s fine with Irving, who said he’s comfortable without the ball in his hands. He has played a little off-guard during this camp and allowed Damian Lillard to run the point. He played the off-guard at times last year alongside Waiters, although both players looked unsure at times because neither knew how to define their roles. Brown is trying to clear that up for them.
“It’s finding more ways to be efficient,” Irving said. “I don’t have to work as hard to get the ball every time. I’m coming down in iso or pick-and-roll every single time, that gets tiring after awhile when I have to play most of the floor.”
By conserving a little energy on offense, the belief is Irving will be able to defend better than he has in either of his first two seasons. He acknowledges defense has been his biggest weakness thus far and seems committed to changing.
Former coach Byron Scott always said he wanted Irving to rest on offense and exert energy on defense, but the opposite always seemed to occur.
“The burden for me on the offensive end was to go out there and try to maximize that effort, on the defensive end I was giving up plays,” he said. “My philosophy can’t be that way. It can’t be, ‘Your turn, my turn.’ I’m playing against great players. ‘You score, then I score,’ it can’t be like that. For me, it’s about taking the challenge defensively and sliding my feet, that’s what I have to do.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.