Cleveland Cavaliers fans have been waiting for more than six months to see Kyrie Irving return to the court. Despite an excitement-stoking report, it sounds like they're going to have to wait a little bit longer.
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Citing "a source familiar with Irving's plans," ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin reported Wednesday morning that the All-Star point guard — whose left knee injury during Game 1 of the 2015 NBA finals was later revealed to be a fractured kneecap, requiring surgery that knocked him out for the remainder of the championship round and has cost him the first 23 games of this campaign — intended to make his season debut during Cleveland's nationally televised Thursday night showdown with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder:
Irving [...] was cleared for full contact more than a week ago and has been through a handful of practices since without any setbacks.
Irving's final hurdle before the team approves of his intention to play will involve a series of physical tests to measure his body's strength and responsiveness, a team source told ESPN.com. The tests will be similar to the ones administered on Irving before he was allowed to return for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta last spring after sitting out Games 2 and 3 with tendinitis in his left knee.
Shortly after that report, though, Irving took to Twitter with a bucket of cold water:
Sorry to dwindle the news, but I won't be returning tmrw. It was wrongfully reported. When I do come back you'll hear it directly from me.
— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) December 16, 2015
On one hand, the continual delay of Irving's return comes as something of a surprise. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group reported last week that Irving "has been diligently trying to persuade the organization to activate him," and Cavaliers head coach David Blatt said there was "a possibility" that Irving, like similarly long-sidelined teammate Iman Shumpert, could return during the Cavs' two-game road swing, which ended Tuesday night with a convincing win over the Boston Celtics.
On the other, Haynes also reported it was "more likely that next Sunday, Dec. 20 at home versus Philadelphia is the target date" for Irving's return. That makes sense, of course; why rush a just-cleared player into action against the likes of Russell Westbrook when you could reintroduce him against the lower grade of offensive threat provided by the 76ers' point guards? (Sorry, Kendall Marshall and T.J. McConnell.) From Haynes:
"We've still got some things that we want to go through with him before we let him get back out there," Blatt said, "but he is looking good and feeling good." [...]
"He still has some testing to do and we'd like him to work a few more days in practice," Blatt said.
Even if he misses Thursday's game, re-entering the fold against Philly this weekend would mean Irving has beaten a timeline tendered in August suggesting me might not come off the shelf until January. And while Blatt, LeBron James, Kevin Love and company would sure love to have the scoring and playmaking gifts of a player who has averaged at least 20 points, five assists, three rebounds and 1.5 steals per game over the past three seasons — he's one of only 23 players ever with at least three such seasons under his belt, according to Basketball-Reference.com — it seems reasonable to continue to approach Irving's return with caution, especially considering they've rolled up an East-leading 16-7 record and the league's No. 4 offense without Irving on the ball.
James continues to play at an elite level. Love looking more comfortable and productive in a more central offensive role in his second season in Cleveland. Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova are combining to average 21.4 points, 8.4 assists and five rebounds per game, with both hitting 90 percent of their free throws and the Aussie hitting 44 percent of his 3-point tries. In a season directed solely at returning to the NBA finals and finishing the job this time, credit the Cavs for understanding that there's no sense in jumping the gun on something as significant as bringing a star back from knee surgery ... especially when you've got more than enough firepower to weather another game or two.
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