Kyrie Irving is tired of playing in LeBron James’s shadow. That much has been made clear by his trade request and actions this offseason. After being the first overall pick and the undisputed young leader of the franchise, Kyrie had to take a backseat role when LeBron James rejoined the team after a four-year hiatus with the Miami Heat.
It makes sense that Kyrie would like a chance to spread his wings and fly. He was thrown into a bad situation as the top pick in the draft one year after LeBron left. He was too young to lead a franchise of misfits alone. Now, he’s developed into one of the top point guards in the NBA, and he’s looking to team up with another superstar (someone less all-encompassing than a LeBron) to lead his own team and cement his own legacy.
Of course, Kyrie has received a lot of criticism for wanting to leave a perfect situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ve been to the NBA Finals three years in a row, and they have their ticket practically stamped for a fourth straight appearance if Kyrie stays put.
Nonetheless, the Cavs former general manager David Griffin defended Irving’s decision to leave as mature—not childish.
“I think what Ron was saying is really unfair to Kyrie,” said Griffin. “This is a guy who handled the situation exactly like he was supposed to. He went to Dan Gilbert privately, told him that he thought he would be happier somewhere else. The absolute worst thing this guy could’ve done is pretend to be all in and sink the ship from within. Most guys don’t have the courage to do what he did. That’s not youth and ignorance. That’s a little bit more courage than people give him credit for.”
Griffin went on to note that the teams Kyrie listed as potential would be perfect for the next step of his career.
“This is a guy whose list included really good coaching situations—Brad Stevens and [Gregg] Popovich. This is a guy who recruited LeBron, [Gordon] Hayward, and a host of other free agents, and all of a sudden LeBron came back, so he was sold a totally different situation than he’s actually in—and he worked very well in, he won a championship in—and I see this as him looking for a fit for himself to take the next step in his career.”
There’s one interesting part about what Griffin said here, though: Irving never listed the Boston Celtics as a preferred landed spot. He mentioned the Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, but never the Celtics. Does Griffin know something that we don’t? Did he just leak the possibility that Irving talked to him about this trade early in the offseason or possibly even during last season? Or was it just a slip-up?
Well, Griffin doubled down.
“Again, the teams on his list—Gordon Hayward in Boston and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio—he would be accompanied by other great players, so it’s not like he’s asking to lead a ragtag bunch. He just wanted to put himself in a position, I think, where he could find out exactly what he has as a 25-year-old entering his prime.”
Griffin certainly seems to know something about Irving’s mind that we don’t. I don’t think anyone would be surprised that the Spurs are his preferred destination, but has Irving been talking behind the scenes about the Celtics and a possible fit there? Additionally, unlike the Spurs, the Celtics easily have the assets to make a trade for a superstar like Irving happen.
It all comes back to Irving, though. No one drove him out. There’s no terribly toxic situation in Cleveland (except for the Browns). Irving feels that this is his time; that it is his chance to step out from LeBron’s massive shadow and lead a team of his own. It’s hard to knock the guy for that, even if he is leaving one of the best situations imaginable.
“I think this is a guy who wants to know how good he can be,” said Griffin. “LeBron casts a very large shadow over an organization, and most of it is really, really positive. You know you’re expected to win a championship, by way of example, but what that doesn’t always allow is for a player like Kyrie to test his boundaries a little bit and see how good he can really be. And can I actually be the frontman of a team like that?”
On the bright side, if Kyrie ends up with the Spurs, maybe they’ll be able to compete with the Golden State Warriors, and isn’t ensuring that they lose this year the only thing that really matters?