ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
LAS VEGAS — Before departing on his summer vacation, Kyrie Irving made it clear on the final night of the regular season he had some changes to make. He needed to defend, he needed to embrace his role and his identity, and if he did all of that, he would have a much easier time making that all-important leap in his third year in the league.
As Irving iced his knees on UNLV’s practice courts this week after a Team USA minicamp, he finally conceded to what became so obvious throughout last season.
“It’s about being OK with being in that position and having all the expectations put on me, taking responsibility for the team, taking control of this team head on,” Irving said. “I felt like I shied away from it at times. Now I’m ready to take this team full on and be the leader. I had a lot of growing up to do.”
Irving had plenty of missteps during his second season, from acknowledging that he was “disinterested” after a loss at Detroit, failing to properly support his weary coach both on and off the court, then finally skipping the brief festivities on Fan Appreciation Night after the final home game.
Irving was sharply criticized, both privately and publicly, for skipping out on Fan Appreciation Night, and it was only a few nights after that when he started talking of making changes. On the campus of UNLV, wearing Team USA’s colors, Irving continued talking about changing.
“I had to re-evaluate myself and what I really want to become, or what I want to be known for,” Irving said. “I don’t want to be known as a guy who gives up games or takes plays off or anything like that."
To ease some of the offensive burden from Irving, and to give him more energy on defense, coach Mike Brown will put Kyrie Irving in the shooting guard role for brief stretches in games this season.
When Jarrett Jack and Irving are in games together, Brown wants the ball in Jack’s hands. That will allow the Cavs to better take advantage of Irving’s shooting abilities.
By conserving a little energy on offense, the belief is Irving will be able to defend better than he has in either of his first two seasons.