Eyes on Kyrie Irving as Cavs begin anew
CLEVELAND -- Byron Scott chooses his public comments about Kyrie Irving with great care. Cleveland's coach doesn't want to say what he really thinks about his talented rookie, the kid who may make the Cavaliers relevant again.
Scott's eyes give his feelings away.
There's an understanding look, an I've-seen-this-before manner from Scott, who knows a thing or two about point guards. After all, he was once one of Magic Johnson's wing men in L.A., filling the lane as part of the Lakers' Showtime extravaganza. Scott also twice coached the New Jersey Nets to the finals with Jason Kidd running the point and broke in Chris Paul with New Orleans.
So, when Scott talks about Irving, listen and take note.
"Every day I see glimpses of what this kid can do," Scott said. "Then maybe 10 minutes later, he'll show me he's still a rookie. It brings a smile to my face, though, because we've got a good one."
The Cavs are already Irving's team.
Although Scott and other members of the organization have been reluctant to adorn the 19-year-old before he attempts his first regular-season layup, it's clear that Cleveland is counting on Irving to turn around a franchise that plummeted from championship contender to 63-game losers in its first season without LeBron James.
The LeBron hangover has been a tough one to shake, but the Cavs -- at least their players and coaches -- have finally moved on.
Now it's up to Irving, the No. 1 overall pick whose career at Duke lasted only 11 games because of a foot injury, to make sure there's no relapse.
So far, Irving has been a rookie in title only. He carries himself with a confidence belying his age. He speaks with the composure of a seasoned veteran who has been through the grind. And his game, a blend of speed, smoothness and efficiency, appears equally refined.
"He's only 19, but he's very mature," said 35-year-old forward Antawn Jamison. "You can tell that by being around him. I've seen kids who are older than he is who don't have his maturity level. There's a lot of pressure that goes with being the No. 1 pick, but he's going to handle it."
Irving understands the responsibility that comes with high expectations. He isn't shying away from the spotlight. In fact, he's embracing its glare and heat.
"Honestly, being the No. 1 overall pick is going to come with its pressure," said Irving. "It's inevitable. It's something I'm going to have to embrace, which I'm doing."
Irving made quite an impression in his preseason debut last week. Coming off the bench in Detroit, he scored 21 points in 27 minutes with six rebounds, three assists and five turnovers. Scott hasn't named Irving his starter yet, but if that doesn't happen before the Dec. 26 opener against Toronto, the NBA will have its first shocking upset this season.
Until recently, it wasn't certain that Irving would be in charge of running Cleveland's offense in his first season.
Baron Davis' release -- the Cavs used the new amnesty clause to waive him and clear $24 million in salary-cap space -- paved the way for Irving to take over. For months, the plan was to have Davis serve as Irving's mentor. However, Davis' bad back and Scott's willingness to guide Irving changed that.
"You know who the best mentor for Kyrie is? You are looking at him," Scott said as the Cavs opened training camp. "I've had that situation with Chris Paul as well. I don't want to sound cocky, guys, but you are looking at him. I'm the best. ... But in that sense as well, we have a lot of good veterans on this team that will help him."
Irving will likely start alongside steady veteran Anthony Parker, who was re-signed as a free agent after the lockout lifted. Jamison and newly acquired Omri Casspi, who came over in a trade with Sacramento for J.J. Hickson, will be the starting forwards with the ever active Anderson Varejao at center.
Casspi brings a toughness the Cavs have lacked over the past few seasons.
"We need some guys like that," Scott said. "I always put it this way: 'We don't need Chihuahuas. We don't need poodles. We don't need German shepherds. We need pit bulls. It's good if you have a few of them. If you have a bunch of Chihuahuas, you might be in trouble."
Coming off the bench will be rookie forward Tristan Thompson, taken three spots after Irving in the draft. The 6-foot-9 Thompson has all the raw tools to have an immediate impact, and the 20-year-old should get major minutes -- so long as he follows Scott's rules. The Canadian-born Thompson needs to work on his post-up game and shooting touch, but he's made a favorable early impression.
Irving and Thompson represent a new beginning for the Cavaliers, who were forced to basically start from scratch following James' departure. They are forever linked -- Irving and Thompson -- and the pair will share the highs and lows to come.
"It comes with the territory, both being drafted in the same class," Thompson said. "We both have someone to lean on when times are tough, which gives us a little advantage."
It's all happening fast for Irving. During the labor shutdown, he returned to Duke and took classes. Now, he's in the real world and about to get a different higher education.
"It's a quick turnaround," he said. "In college, you get kind of a grace period. You have preseason games and then you don't have to play your next game for another week or so. Now you have a week of training camp, you play your first preseason game and then you play your first regular season game practically in the next week or so.
"It's something I'm going to have to get used to."