More than two weeks removed from reports of his trade request and desire to no longer play with LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving has yet to comment publicly on the story that has dominated NBA conversations ever since. Instead, the four-time All-Star seems comfortable letting a few viral videos and every other player who appears in front of a microphone speak for him.
Even Irving’s teammates learned of his request for a trade from Brian Windhorst. Over the next couple weeks, his first appearance on social media featured him singing Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home” — the anthem most associated with LeBron’s 2014 return to Cleveland — on a flight back from touring Asia.
This weekend, Irving was seen berating a teammate for turning the ball over during a pickup game:
Kyrie hooped in his home state of New Jersey this weekend and wasn't a fan of his teammate turning the ball over
(via delsontraining/IG) pic.twitter.com/FxkqyWPaNa
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 6, 2017
So, yeah, not the best couple weeks of public relations for Irving. He may be able to smooth some of that over by addressing reports that his camp believes LeBron leaked the story of his trade request, he’s no longer in communication with the Cavaliers, he’s “against” Cleveland and he “very badly wants” to join the New York Knicks. So far, though, he’s remained mum on the subjects.
Meanwhile, just about every player who’s crossed paths with the media this summer will be asked something along the lines of, Hey, what do you think of this crazy Kyrie business? Two fellow point guards faced similar questions over the weekend, and they, like the rest of us, don’t entirely understand Irving’s motivation for wanting off a team that’s made the NBA Finals three years running.
“That was crazy to me. I didn’t know that was happening at all. Well, too bad. It’s kinda tough. If I had been to three straight Finals, I’d want to stay but you never know what type of relationship or what type of details they have going on the backside. Nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors. He’s one of those guys who wants to be the main guy.
“It’s a different situation when you’re playing with a guy like LeBron James, who is so dominant. Everyone is always going to be the second guy to him. It’s kind of like what I tell all the young guys when they first come into the league. It’s kind of tough to get the young guys to play as one on the floor because everybody is trying to build their name up and start their own foundation. It’s kind of tough when you’re always in the shadow of somebody else. That’s something he probably got tired of.”
This is a popular opinion — that Irving wants to emerge from LeBron’s shadow on his own team — mainly because Windhorst attributed those details to anonymous sources and Irving has neither confirmed nor denied that report to be true. In the absence of Irving’s own statement, everyone is free to speculate on his intentions, and former Cavaliers point guard Ron Harper did just that on Sunday.
“Youth. Ignorance,” the five-time NBA champion told the Akron Beacon Journal of Irving.
“When I used to play on bad teams and you trained all offseason to play 82 games, you get to the first round and you lose. You’re guaranteed to play till June. The East is good, but you know that you’re the best basketball team. I don’t really understand what’s behind it.
“Young. Youth. Kids … listen, the inmates are in charge. So when the inmates are in charge, nothing but bad things can happen, right?”
“It’s never your team. You play for the front of your jersey, your name is on the back of it. When you get a chance to win and a chance to be on a good basketball team, you have to take that opportunity. That opportunity doesn’t come around all the time.
“You’re on a team that’s been to the NBA Finals the last three seasons. How many guys get there? How many guys would kill to be him? If you go talk to most superstars that quote ‘had their own team’ that don’t get to the playoffs, ask them how they feel.”
Among Harper’s other biting remarks: In “the old-school days,” Irving would have been “traded to the sorriest team” for requesting a trade; he can’t “carry the team” without James; and “LeBron is more mature” and would likely welcome an apologetic Irving back into the fold. These are harsh comments from Harper, who spent his first eight NBA seasons on Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers teams that never got out of the first round before winning five titles as a starter alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the Chicago Bulls and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal on the L.A. Lakers.
They also may be entirely baseless, because we don’t know how Irving feels about all this.
Maybe his personal relationship with LeBron precludes him from ever wanting to play for the Cavaliers again. Maybe he’s won a championship in Cleveland and would like the chance to play in another city, like Miami or his hometown team in New York. Maybe it isn’t about having his “own team,” but about a different experience playing with Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio or Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler in Minnesota. But we only infer these reasons from the sourced list of teams Irving would prefer to play for — the Heat, Knicks, Spurs and Timberwolves — and not because Irving told us.
So, unless Irving derives pleasure from current and former players speculating about his intentions and social media wondering if his “Coming Home” ditty or the #LeBronChallenge video represent shots at James or his berating of a pickup basketball teammate reflects some general unhappiness, he should probably address the matter at hand, because hearsay and conjecture will only get worse.
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