The time has come for this writer to finally put an apology long overdue out there to the Cleveland Cavaliers and star point guard, Kyrie Irving.
Before we get there, let’s take a trip down memory lane, one that will certainly provide the biggest “oops” in the many years of covering the Cleveland Cavaliers. The year was 2011, and the time in question was the months leading up to the 2011 NBA Draft—the one in which the Cavaliers would go on to select Irving No. 1 overall.
Just one year removed from losing LeBron James in free agency to the Miami Heat, the Cavaliers scored big in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Taking back the contract of Baron Davis, the team received an unprotected pick in the 2011 NBA Draft which ended up becoming the No. 1 overall pick—or according to many, the right to draft the next great point guard in Irving.
It was not difficult to see what people liked in the Duke prospect. He had silky smooth handles, was lightning quick and could score at will—when he was on the court. However, it was that last part “when he was on the court” that this writer just could not get past as being a “slam dunk No.1 pick.”
Irving had played in just 11 games during his freshman season at Duke. He averaged 27.5 minutes, shot 52.9 percent from the floor, averaged 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game. But a right toe injury would cost him most of his season, thus making this writer check the “cause for concern” column during draft evaluation.
On the other side of the conversation was a shiny new small forward to replace James, Derrick Williams of Arizona. In two seasons with the Wildcats, Williams had shown the ability to score at a potentially elite level—averaging 19.5 points per game during the 2010-2011 season. On top of that scoring average, he shot 59.5 percent from the field, including 56.8 percent from three-point land. To put it plain and simple, it was easy to fall in love with a scorer at a position of need for the Cavaliers—so I did.
As a Cavaliers Featured Columnist and National NBA Writer for Bleacher Report, my assignments were easy—support my opinion on a major stage. As I compared Williams’ scoring abilities to those of Kevin Durant’s in college (oops x 2), I would pen an article strictly stating “NBA Draft 2011: What Has Kyrie Irving Done to Be a “Lock” at No. 1 for the Cavs?”
Now, to be fair my reasoning was warranted at the time. The team had three point guards on the roster and was getting ready to make the most important selection since losing James. With three point guards capable of starting and no small forwards, it was simple—take the kid in Williams who fits a need and can score at a high level. Add in Irving’s injury concerns, and it seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
No-brainer huh? Boy was I wrong.
Irving was selected No. 1, and Williams was sent off to basketball purgatory in Minnesota with the No. 2 overall pick. Could their fates have been different had Williams not gone to a mess of a team that did not use him correctly? Sure, but I’m man enough to admit I was wrong—so I apologize Mr. Irving.
However, I am afraid to admit I cannot end my apology at just stating Williams should be taken over Irving. No, my skepticism for Irving continued during his first three years with the franchise—mainly when Dion Waiters joined the team in 2012.
An admitted Waiters fan because of his lack of fear attacking the basket and willingness to distribute to his teammates at Syracuse, I made the mistake of thinking Waiters could actually be a better point guard option than Irving once he joined the team. With Irving suffering multiple injuries during his first three seasons and Waiters shining when he filled in for the budding star, the Irving doubt once again began to creep into play.
It wasn’t a lack of appreciation for Irving’s play, it was quite the opposite. Irving seemed more Allen Iverson than Chris Paul, and on a team attempting to build a “team culture,” and that seemed to defeat the purpose. But then the summer of 2014 happened, and everything changed with this team.
The Cavaliers won the lottery, again, and drafted Andrew Wiggins. Irving re-signed with the franchise, James came home and Wiggins was dealt to Minnesota for Kevin Love—and suddenly, the Cavaliers had a “Big Three” of their own because of Irving’s budding superstar status at the point guard position.
So for the second time in this article, Mr. Irving—I’m sorry.
Honestly, I am not sure why it took so long to accept Irving and his talents with this franchise. Maybe it was because—like many—I was all-in on James only to be left standing at the altar during “The Decision.” Or maybe it was the over-analytical draft hat I wore, looking more at the injury as being a long-term problem.
No matter what the reasoning behind it was, it is time to put it all in the past. Irving is emerging as a premiere point guard in the NBA at just 22-years old, and has put together two of the greatest individual performances this writer has ever seen in his life of watching basketball, this season alone.
Upon finishing reading this article you can feel free to say whatever you want, I have thick skin and can take it. But from here on out I will only appreciate the greatness that is Kyrie Irving, because he is proof that Cleveland can have nice things.