EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kyrie Irving sat on a chair inside the Nets' practice facility Tuesday and for the second straight day, the Cavaliers All-Star guard downplayed his feelings about being able to call LeBron James his teammate.
Irving said his focus right now is on helping Team USA win the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. No one is discounting his commitment to the U.S. team, which will play an exhibition game against the Dominican Republic Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
But after three NBA seasons of losing 66 percent of his games, it's unlikely Irving isn't thinking about how his life and career path changed when James said he's coming home last month.
"I was very excited, just for the opportunity to play with him," Irving said. "You heard rumors for two months and nobody thought it was possible. But he decided to come home and he'll make my job that much easier out there and it will be good having the greatest player playing the game today running alongside the wing."
James makes Cleveland an instant contender in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers also are expected to acquire another All-Star in Minnesota forward Kevin Love later this week once top overall pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded. Cleveland also added Mike Miller, Shawn Marion and could sign Ray Allen.
It will be a whole new world for Irving, the 2011 Rookie of the Year and last year's All-Star Game MVP. For the first time in his career, team expectations will be high and he won't be asked to do most of the scoring.
"It's good to have another piece that I'll be able to lean on," Irving said. "When we're out there, there will be more pieces and nobody can just load up on me like everybody did before. I'm not saying we didn't have any good players, but every team's defense was to stop me. It's good to finally be able to pass it to somebody.
"He's the greatest player playing the game right now. It's a dream come true to be able to play with him."
But the loaded Cavaliers will face serious competition in the East from the Chicago Bulls, especially if Derrick Rose can stay healthy.
The former MVP has had multiple knee surgeries and has missed 154 of Chicago's last 164 games. Rose sat out the last two U.S. team practices, but said he hopes to play Wednesday night.
Chicago went hard after Carmelo Anthony in free agency. After he chose to stay with the Knicks, the Bulls rebounded nicely, by signing Pau Gasol and adding him to a core that features Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler and hard-driving coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Bulls also drafted high-scoring forward Doug McDermott and brought over versatile 6-10 Nikola Mirotic from Europe. But Rose's ability to play remains the key to Chicago's ultimate success.
"When I was out, I think they got better individually," Rose said. "They learned how to win games while I was gone, stay in games while I was gone."
"I think we should have an overall better team, especially with the nucleus that we have, the young nucleus that we have, and then when you add pieces like Pau and McDermott, Aaron Brooks, and everybody else that's coming to the team like Mirotic, I think we're going to be a dangerous team, especially with Thibs being on the defensive side."
Thibodeau, an assistant coach on the Team USA, said, "I love the attitude and approach of our team. I think we have the right guys."