A couple of weeks ago, Kyrie Irving injured his bicep and there was speculation that he would miss the balance of the season. The prevailing thought was the Cavaliers’ slim playoff chance went out the window.
Then, the team started winning and currently sit just three games out of the #8 spot in the Eastern Conference with the team sitting in that spot, the Atlanta Hawks, in a free fall.
Now, Irving is ready to return and the hope here is he learned while he has been sitting and watching his teammates win four of the last five games.
What has been clear to everyone watching the wine and gold over the past week is that the offense has better ball movement. No longer is the ball dominated by one player eating up the shot clock, instead everyone is getting involved.
And players who were thought to be underachieving are getting more results.
Jarrett Jack has been a whipping post most of the season by fans, but suddenly, he been very productive, averaging 15.0 points and 5.8 assists per game since Irving went down.
Luol Deng, another veteran who fans have felt hasn’t been as good as advertised, is shooting 48% in the last six games (he missed two games with a sprained ankle), compared to the 42% field goal percentage he has compiled since coming to Cleveland.
The simple answer is that suddenly the Cavs are a better team without Kyrie Irving, but that’s ridiculous.
Irving is most definitely a talent. He’s made two All-Star teams and was the MVP of the game this year.
However, at times, talented players need to understand that he has to trust his teammates. The biggest thing Phil Jackson accomplished in Chicago was getting Michael Jordan to understand this.
When Irving arrived here as the first overall pick, he was without question the only true offensive player wearing the wine and gold. If he didn’t make things happen when the Cavs had the ball, then no one did.
Now, Cleveland has some other options to score. Dion Waiters is showing he is capable of running the team and can certainly score. Jack can put the ball in the basket, and Deng is an all-star talent as well.
Newly acquired Spencer Hawes is a threat from behind the three-point line.
Irving has some players to run with and he has to make sure they get the ball where they need it to be effective and he has to understand that it is a hindrance to the success of the team to dominate the basketball. He has to get everyone involved.
When he takes the court this week, he needs to show his teammates that he wants to be part of the recent success the wine and gold has had.
That means showing that he and Waiters can not only co-exist, but start forming a very formidable backcourt tandem for the organization.
It also means deferring to Jack at times, and making sure that not only do Deng and Hawes get shots, they get the ball where they feel comfortable.
That’s called being a point guard and a team leader.
If Kyrie Irving does that for the rest of the season, it will go a long way toward the ultimate success of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and also show he is willing to pay the price it takes to be a winner in the NBA.