The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Kyrie Irving with the number one overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft with the hopes of replacing LeBron James as its franchise player. As a rookie, Irving displayed flashes of greatness. His speed, ball handling, and knack for scoring were highly coveted attributes that helped earn him Rookie of the Year honors. Throughout his career, Irving boasts averages of 20.7 points and 5.8 assists.

The kid clearly has talent, but in a recent interview with RealGM, Irving claims that he lacks the leadership qualities that were thrust upon him at a very young age.

“Everybody asks me if this is my year to be a leader … I haven’t been so far though, not at all,” stated Irving. “I’ve just been a kid trying to figure it out. There’s no perfect way to be a leader, and coming in as a 19-year-old kid and having everything bearing on your shoulders, there are a lot of ups and downs. Now it’s about being the best every single day and not being afraid.”

“I’m more than excited with our new veterans. I’m really excited just from the standpoint of how the locker room is going to go and how to really be a professional. I’m not saying that the veterans that we had weren’t professionals themselves, but we didn’t have enough. Given the right and wrong things to do in the league, I’ve had to learn on my own and that’s what some of us been doing.”

“Now, we have guys who’ve been in the league for years, guys who’ve won championships and have had to give a piece of their game for the greater good of the team. It’s something I admire and something I’m going to learn from.”

The Duke product brought up some harsh, but valid points. It was unfair to rely on a 19-year old kid to lead a franchise to victory without any assistance. If you take a hard look at the Cavs roster over the past three seasons, it is quite evident that veteran leadership was missing. Sure players can be in the league for multiple seasons, but that does not translate into leadership qualities.

No offense to these players, but Jarrett Jack and C.J. Miles can’t carry a team on their shoulders, especially when they combine for 65 starts. Jack underperformed with a 41% field goal percentage and 100 less assists than the previous season. Miles actually improved his shooting percentage despite only playing in 51 games. Additionally, Andrew Bynum failed to dominate the paint as he averaged 8.7 ppg on just 41.9% shooting. Eventually, Bynum became expendable and was shipped off to Chicago for Luol Deng. The forward was a great acquisition as he averaged 16 ppg. Unfortunately, his stay in Cleveland was brief as he departed in free agency.

Although Cleveland had brought in veterans, the core of the team remained relatively adolescent. The average playing experience of the Cavaliers was too low to be considered playoff contenders (2012: 2.95 years, 2013: 3.26 years, and 2014: 2.95 years). It seemed as the inexperience of the Cavs’ young core counteracted the knowledge of the vets. The Cavs possessed solid role playing veterans attempting to mentor the first and second year guys.

Therefore, Cleveland’s roster makeover brought in four champions, LeBron James, Mike Miller, James Jones, and Brendan Haywood, to mold this franchise into title contenders. Finally, our young Cavaliers are surrounded by winners, competitors, and one exceptional leader. They can learn to be professionals on and off the court, whether they win or lose.

Additionally, with James as the true team captain, a significant chunk of weight was lifted off Irving’s shoulders. The point guard now has the freedom to enhance his leadership without as much pressure. Part of that is sacrifice or how Kyrie put it, “give a piece of their game for the greater good of the team.” This could lead to the guard taking fewer shots, but recording more assists and developing into an astonishing team player.

Ultimately, this offseason has facilitated the maturation of Kyrie Irving. He appears committed to taking all the necessary steps to become a champion, including sacrifice of personal statistics. Cleveland’s young point guard should grow into the leader that supporters have been waiting for. Meanwhile, Cavalier fans finally have a team they can be proud of.

– Max Gold

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