With Kevin Durant’s shocking move to Golden State during last years free agency, I didn’t think an offseason could be topped and was sure it wouldn’t happen just a year later. Here we are in 2017 and the NBA is in a major state of flux, filled with questionable moves as well as an abundance of dramatic rumors. Among the various rumors, one recent development stands out; Stephen A. Smith, of ESPN’s First Take, reported on Monday that Kyrie Irving is under the impression that LeBron James himself leaked Irving’s trade request. Smith, on his radio show, reportedly said that he heard this news from sources in LeBron’s camp, and went even further to say that an insider close to James said that if LeBron and Irving were in the same room, LBJ would be tempted to “beat his (Irving’s) ass.” LeBron has since refuted this rumor as fake news, to which Smith retorted with a fiery comeback on his radio show earlier today. While I do not necessarily believe these rumors about James, as it is extremely unprofessional and would blemish his own legacy, if this is what Kyrie believes to be true, could he be headed somewhere else very soon? And if so, can he effectively lead an NBA team?
In his career, Kyrie Irving has averaged over 20 points a game, five assists, three rebounds, 1.3 steals, less than three turnovers, and has shot 48% from the field and 38% from three. Kyrie Irving is an outstanding offensive player, a simple yet true fact, a player with an endless bag of tricks that ranges from finishing at the basket effectively after a dazzling dribble move, or breaking down the defense with his stellar outside shot. Irving is also both an elite clutch player and unafraid to take the big time shot, a skill he displayed so well over a year ago when he hit one of the biggest shots in Finals history. There is no doubt that Kyrie Irving is a superstar, he’s got the handles, the offensive prowess, and is extremely marketable. But I do have my doubts about whether or not “Uncle Drew” can be the leader of an NBA team. And these doubts begin when taking a look back at the desolate and weak Cavaliers teams of past seasons, teams led by none other than Kyrie Irving. In the tree years spanning from the 2011-’12 season to the 2013-’14 season, the Kyrie-led-Cavs never made the Playoffs. And while these teams were never great, Irving never truly elevated them either, coming in as their point guard yet never managing to surpass 6.1 assists during his first three years. In his first three years as the go-to-guy, Irving’s leadership was questioned as well, as numerous accounts of feuds between former teammate Dion Waiters over who the leader of the team was were consistently in the media. But these were Kyrie’s first three NBA seasons and I understand fully that he is a different player, but I am still not convinced he is ready to be the focal point of a team yet. Looking at Irving today, he still needs to improve in two major areas before I believe he will lead a team; Irving needs to become a much better defensive player in addition to elevating his playmaking ability. Throughout his entire career, Irving has never been able to boast a positive defensive box score plus/minus, as he is often exposed by larger guards or lost in defensive sets. WhileI am confident Kyrie works hard as a defender, if he wants to be the guy, he will need to grow on that end of the floor. As for his lackluster playmaking ability, 5.5 assists ain’t gonna cut it for a starting point guard unless you’re playing alongside a solid facilitator, in Irving’s case, LeBron James fit(s) that bill perfectly.
Right now, I believe there is a 50/50 chance Irving is traded within the coming weeks, and while I do not want to see that happen, I realize it is a possibility. If “Uncle Drew” is traded, I know he will still be a great offensive player, but unless he improves as a playmaker and defender, I see a bleak future of .500 seasons, nice stats, and early Playoff exits in Irving’s future.
Kyrie, as a fan of you and your game, stick with LeBron for the rest of his career and continue to learn and develop under him as you enter your prime and eventually lead a team as he once led you to a title.
Thanks for reading.
All Stats via BasketballReference.com
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