Today’s news that Kyrie Irving requested a trade struck me as odd. Ever since LeBron returned in the summer of 2014, I’ve commented on how Irving’s situation in Cleveland couldn’t be better. Let me explain.
Before the King came back, Kyrie had established himself as an All-Star talent and walking highlight reel. What he hadn’t established, however, was anything beyond that. Granted, he was only 22 when LeBron returned, but he hadn’t made any real progress towards becoming the franchise player of a perennial contender.
Kyrie’s PPG average hovered around 20 in his first three seasons, and he hadn’t improved much at all in other important categories. His passing was still subpar for a point guard, his defense was pitiful at best, and his efficiency was actually going down. His worst season as a pro came in the 2013-14′ season, also known as the season before LeBron came back.
Granted the Cavaliers’ win total went from 21 in his rookie year to 33 in his third, but that’s nothing to write home about.
The LeBron Effect
As soon as LeBron returned, everything changed. It goes without saying that the entire culture in Cleveland changed. But Kyrie’s game also changed. He no longer had to be the focal point of the offense, and no longer had to be masked by the opposition’s best defender. Both of those titles went to the best player in the world.
Kyrie had by far his best season up until that point in 2014-15′, improving his efficiency dramatically, and embracing his role as second fiddle. A freak injury in the Finals prevented him from (probably) winning his first championship.
Slowly coming back from his injury in the 2015-16′, Kyrie had another monster season, which, of course, ended in victory. It looked as though he and LeBron were just taking turns decimating the 73-win Warriors in games 5-7. Irving averaged over 27-points in the series and hit the shot to win Game 7.
The Current Situation
I thought this season was evidence that the baton was slowly being passed to Kyrie. Though LeBron had one of his best statistical outputs yet, Kyrie was slowly morphing into the go-to guy. He averaged more shots per game than LeBron in the regular season and postseason, and was often looked to for the big shot down the stretch.
Kyrie’s currently 25 years old, and LeBron’s 32. In two years time, I think it’s safe to that the Irving will officially be the first option offensively for Cleveland. LeBron will be 34, and Irving will be 27, and at the peak of his career. He’ll have the opportunity to return to the “main man” role after five years of experience as the second option, fine tuning his game. And oh yeah, he’ll have the second greatest player of all-time on his supporting cast.
If LeBron plans to leave next offseason–which I doubt–then all of this changes, however. Kyrie will be stuck with a Cavs team with no picks and no salary cap room during his primes years. But as far as we know, LeBron is staying, making Kyrie’s situation in Cleveland ideal.