CLEVELAND: No one outside of Cleveland knew much about Kyrie Irving at last year’s All-Star weekend. His brief college career, coupled with the lockout, left him an anonymous No. 1 overall pick and the Cavs didn’t have any games on national television.
That’s why he and his agent, Jeff Wechsler, approached the weekend as his personal Super Bowl. Irving targeted that weekend as his opportunity to introduce himself to the rest of the league with a shining performance in the Rising Stars game and countless meetings with potential sponsors stacked back to back for three days.
Now everyone across the league knows Irving, be it for his Rookie of the Year, his Uncle Drew persona or his meteoric rise to the top of the point-guard rankings. But his approach to this All-Star weekend remains similar to last year.
“Last year I walked into the hotel and saw Kobe and CP3 [Chris Paul] and all their pictures around the hotel. Now I get to see Kyrie’s picture,” Irving said. “This is my first All-Star weekend, so it’s probably like another Super Bowl, honestly.”
Irving’s weekend is jammed so full, he won’t have time for the sponsor meetings that consumed most of his days last year. He has the Rising Stars game again on Friday, the 3-point shootout on Saturday and the actual All-Star Game on Sunday. Business aside, this is how Irving prefers it.
“I told my agent to chill with all that,” Irving joked.
It’s rare for a second-year player to make an All-Star team, but Irving has never lacked for confidence.
“For me it’s just about earning everybody’s respect,” he said when asked if he felt like he belonged on the same floor as the All-Stars. “I really don’t care whether they believe it or not, it’s just about letting my game speak for itself.”
Pop on top
Gregg Popovich’s career .684 winning percentage entering Wednesday night ranks third among all-time coaches (minimum 500 games) and he should crack the top 10 in all-time wins sometime next season. Popovich and Cavs coach Byron Scott forged a friendship years ago and remain close.
“The type of person and coach he is, I think he’ll go down as one of the best we’ve ever had in this league,” Scott said. “He don’t care who you are, he’ll cuss you out if you’re his top player or his 12th player.”
Scott said coaches have an easier time doing that when the stars are accepting of criticism.
“It can only happen if you have a superstar like Tim Duncan who will allow it. He’s not going to pout about it, he’s going to accept the criticism, accept the responsibility and deal with it,” Scott said. “Once that happens, everybody else knows everybody can be on the hook as far as receiving Pop’s wrath. I’ve seen him go off on guys on the sideline and I’m sure he does it in the locker room. Just because of the fact he holds everybody accountable is kind of what separates him.”
The Spurs and Cavs have each plucked a starter out of the other team’s trash heap. The Spurs signed Danny Green after the Cavs waived him near the end of training camp three years ago, but then the Spurs also released him twice. He has finally latched on for good, averaging 10 points as the Spurs’ starting point guard.
“He’s really gaining a lot of confidence, he’s shooting the ball well, improving on team defense game by game, learning how to finish better at the rim, playing with a lot of focus, improving all the time,” Popovich said. “It’s taken him awhile, but it’s a good example of persistence and he finally found a spot.”
The same can be said of Alonzo Gee, whom the Cavs signed after he was released by a couple of teams, including the Spurs.
“Alonzo is one of our favorites we’ve ever had through there,” Popovich said.
“He’s another example of somebody who’s worked hard. He got better and better.
‘‘Then it’s finding a team that’s got a slot for you so you can go show something. I’m thrilled for him.”