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The Cleveland Cavaliers are reportedly seeking a starter, help on the wing and a first-round pick in return for disgruntled point guard Kyrie Irving, and the Phoenix Suns — with a wealth of young talent and picks — have emerged as a suitor. The sticking point, so far, seems to be over which player the Suns are willing to part with in a package that would also include Eric Bledsoe and a pick. According to reports, Phoenix offered second-year big Dragan Bender, and the Cavs want rookie Josh Jackson.
Now, there may be another hold-up to a potential deal, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin — the Suns’ recent hiring of James Jones, who spent the last three seasons as Irving’s teammate in Cleveland. McMenamin took pains to assure listeners he did not have insight into whether or not Jones would endorse a trade for the four-time All-Star point guard, but he did reveal an interesting anecdote while discussing the topic after the 20-minute mark of the most recent BBall Breakdown Podcast, via r/NBA:
“Phoenix, of course, hired James Jones this offseason,” said McMenamin. “James Jones has been inside that locker room. … He saw Kyrie Irving in the playoffs this year, in between the first round when they beat Indiana and the second round when they played Toronto, go consecutive days without speaking to a teammate at practice — on that stage.
“It’s one thing to say people go through their ups and downs during the regular season, but when you get to the playoffs, when ‘the main thing is the main thing,’ we’re brothers and we’re pulling together to get this thing done, even at that level, there were still things that made him sullen or reclusive from his teammates. I’m not so sure if Phoenix would be interested in that type of deal.”
Again, McMenamin was careful to note, “Now, maybe James Jones has seen stuff that he knows just how special Kyrie is, though, and he could sell the franchise on it. But part of me thinks more that it would be a caution flag coming from James Jones. We’ll see how much influence he would have.”
We should mention there was no indication publicly at the time Irving was frustrated to the point he was giving teammates the silent treatment. In fact, reports were that the Cavs were jovial at practice after sweeping the Pacers. Coach Tyronn Lue hosted a party to watch the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks at his house, they brought in a deejay for practice, and they held conditioning competitions.
“You’ll never know. You’ll never know,” Irving then told reporters of that competition. “Just stays within our team, man. Not really for you guys, our internal stuff and what matters to us and what gets us going and what motivates us to get ready for every single series and every single game we play. …
“Adding competition to anything raises the level, gets my blood going. All is fair in competition. When you’re going against your teammates and brothers and you get a chance to kind of work on things that you’re preparing yourself for for the game, it helps the group, it helps the mental preparation.”
The Cavaliers were open about their desire to sweep opponents and enjoy their time off between series, but going “consecutive days without speaking to a teammate at practice” does seem strange.
Still, there were certainly no ill-effects to begin their series against the Raptors, as Irving threw an off-the-backboard alley-oop to LeBron James minutes into a Game 1 blowout on their way to sweeping Toronto. We do not know how that reportedly frosty relationship manifested itself over the course of the playoffs, but Irving did almost single-handedly prevent the Eastern Conference finals from being deadlocked after four games, before averaging 29 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Finals.
Still, here’s what Irving had to say after scoring 42 points and pushing the Boston Celtics to the brink:
“It’s hard not to think about, because as I continue to get older and I’m playing with an unbelievable player like Bron, you know, from the outsider’s perspective, it could be seen a few ways. And for me, it’s — it hasn’t been anything short of difficult, trying to figure out when will it be my time, when will it — and the honest answer from me is that I cannot give any energy to anything that people say would be best for the team, or even sometimes what I think would be best.
“My job is to be in the moment, especially with an unbelievable player like him. You have to just enjoy the ride just as much. You know, individual goals that you have to just push to the side because this team, nothing is promised, and who knows what would happen down the line, and this is probably hands down the best team that I’ve ever played with, and probably will play with if we all stay together.
We do know most of the talk about “brothers” and “the main thing is the main thing” — advice about putting winning above all else passed down to LeBron from Pat Riley — was coming from James at the time. Take this from James at the time during episode 15 of “The Road Trippin’ Podcast” in March:
“At the end of the day, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win a championship. And along that ride, we’re going to create brotherhood, we’re going to create friends, we’re going to create guys who we’re going to love forever, but at the end of the day, man, what’s the main thing? The main thing is to put rings on our finger, man, and that’s it. That’s it. So, if guys gotta sacrifice a couple minutes per quarter here, sacrifice a shot per quarter here, sacrifice whatever the case may be, we knew what we were all getting ourselves into. Like, when RJ signed, when we traded for [JR Smith], when Channing got traded, when I came back and I saw Ky, we all knew what this situation was about to be about. We about winning. No ifs, ands or butts.”
To which Irving merely responded, “Yeah.”
Perhaps this is all reading way too much into Irving’s desire to make a name for himself outside of James’ shadow, and maybe McMenamin’s sources about Irving’s silent treatment in retrospect are bringing this to light because, Yeah, now that we know he wants out of Cleveland, that *was* weird.
Whatever the reason for this information emerging now, it only reinforces a growing perception that Irving’s priorities from a basketball standpoint may not always be in order. Whether that perception is reality or not, the mere stink of it could prevent the Cavs from getting an optimal package in return, and it’s yet another reason why Irving’s silence throughout this ordeal is not helping his cause.
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