INDEPENDENCE: When he split two defenders and flipped in a left-handed layup to beat the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Kyrie Irving officially put the rest of the league on notice.
The Cavaliers have a budding superstar again, and at 19 years, 312 days, Irving became the third-youngest NBA player to make a game-winning shot since the start of the 2002-03 season, according to STATS, LLC.
“When you take shots like that, there is no pressure, unless you’re unprepared,” Irving said. “You practice shots like that, moves like that, all the time. It’s a game of percentages. You’re going to make some and miss some. If you miss one, you look back on it and say, ‘I’ll get the next one.’ ”
Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t keep statistics on game-winners and STATS’ records date back only nine years. But based on Internet research, Kobe Bryant’s first game-winner (following STATS’ guidelines) was believed to be on May 10, 2000, when he made a jumper with 2.6 seconds left to beat the Phoenix Suns. Bryant was 21 years, 260 days. LeBron James’ first game-winner is believed to have come on March 22, 2006, when he made a 20-footer with less than a second remaining to beat the Charlotte Bobcats when he was 21 years, 82 days.
Irving is decidedly younger than both. Now his rapid development could affect how the Cavs conduct business elsewhere.
Yahoo! Sports reported on Monday that the team has discussed a potential deal that would send Ramon Sessions to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sessions is Irving’s backup and is a fit with the Lakers for multiple reasons. Cavs General Manager Chris Grant spoke to Sessions’ agent, Jared Karnes, last week about Sessions’ future in Cleveland and another conversation is expected next week.
A key issue that needs to be resolved is whether Sessions plans to exercise his $4.5 million player option for next season or opt out of his deal and become a free agent. That decision hasn’t been made, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. If Sessions wanted to opt out of the deal, it could motivate the Cavs to trade him now for draft picks. The Lakers have their own first-round pick this summer and the Dallas Mavericks’ pick from the trade that sent Lamar Odom to the Mavericks. The Lakers also have a trade exception large enough to absorb Sessions’ salary this season, meaning the Cavs wouldn’t have to take back a contract they didn’t like just to make the trade work.
Sessions is a very good backup point guard and could provide a luxury the Cavs can’t afford with so many holes elsewhere on the roster. Unless they made a separate deal for another point guard, Daniel Gibson could fill in as Irving’s backup for the remainder of the season — once he’s healthy again.
Gibson did not travel home with the team on Sunday, but instead remained in Boston for further tests on his ailing neck. Gibson was diagnosed with a soft-tissue infection and is being treated with antibiotics. He was expected to remain hospitalized in Boston Monday night. Scott ruled out both Gibson and Anthony Parker for tonight’s home rematch against the Celtics, leaving the Cavs thin at shooting guard.
Scott said after practice Monday he hadn’t decided yet what he’d do, but his options appear limited. Mychel Thompson played the entire fourth quarter of Sunday’s win and impressed. Since it’s his natural position, he remains an obvious option to start tonight, although Scott could also start Alonzo Gee at shooting guard.
Gee is more of a small forward, but has experience this season at guard. That would create minutes for Christian Eyenga at small forward.
Manny Harris, who was named the Development League Player of the Week on Monday, remains an option with the Canton Charge, but that becomes more difficult. Harris is not on the Cavs’ 15-man roster, so a spot would have to be cleared for him. Given how well Thompson played on Sunday, there is no obvious candidate to be waived.
Harris averaged 25 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games last week and is flourishing with the Charge after a slow start. The Cavs organization loves the way Harris has put in the work in Canton and didn’t mope or pout after his release during training camp, but there simply isn’t a place for him right now.
Shouldering the load
As for Irving, the bulk of the scoring load could fall on him again with the lack of shooting guards available. He has proven to be more than capable.
In the fourth quarter of the Cavs’ past two games, Irving has played 12:46 — or 46 seconds more than an entire NBA quarter. He has totaled 25 points in that time, made the game winner against the Celtics and nearly brought the Cavs back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Nets.
“When the game is on the line, he wants the ball,” Scott said. “I don’t know if it’s a mindset or in their DNA, but you can tell when [clutch performers] want the ball. When the game is on the line, their eyes light up a little bit and they don’t mind being the goat, just like they don’t mind being the hero as well.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.