Following Kobe Bryant’s final game with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, he gave reporters his opinion on the state of the first-place Cavs, who have been dealing with more inner-conflict than one might think that a team on pace for a 60-win season would have.
“You have to have that inner conflict,” Bryant said. “You have to have that person that’s really driving these things. From the Cavs’ perspective, it’s hard for me to tell from afar who should be that person. LeBron [James] is not that person. LeBron, he’s a … he brings people together. That’s what he does naturally. He’s phenomenal at it. But you have to have somebody else who’s going to create that tension. Maybe it’s Kyrie [Irving].”
Based on his statements, Bryant signaled that Kyrie Irving was the guy who has to create that tension for the betterment of the team. Irving, who revered Bryant growing up, thinks he can be that guy.
“It’s in my personality, I would agree with that,” Irving told ESPN.com before Cleveland practiced on the campus of UCLA on Saturday.
“I think if one of the greatest players to play our game and has had championship runs and has been on teams where he’s either been that or he’s been the guy that has been the emotional voice of the team and holding guys accountable, I think he said it best. I think that in order for our team to be where we want to go, I have to step up and be that other leader on our team other than LeBron and Coach (Tyronn) Lue.
James’ return to Cleveland has certainly accelerated Irving’s learning process. In his fifth season, with his 24th birthday around the corner, Irving is in the prime of his career and still possesses a high ceiling. In the Cavs’ first five games of March, Irving has averaged 24.8 points on 51.7 percent shooting, and has seen a steady increase in production since his return from surgery to repair a fractured kneecap.
The 31-year old James is in a completely different stage of his career compared to Irving, and their relationship has been pegged as more of a ‘mentor-mentee relationship’ by head coach Tyronn Lue rather than as a peer-to-peer relationship. Irving realizes that he needs to do his part in order to help that relationship evolve.
“I have to grow up quick, especially with this team. In order for us to be successful, I have to be a lot older than what my years show,” Irving said. “So, it’s been a learning experience since Day 1 that Bron has come back and being a championship-caliber team, I’ve had to grow up quick. It hasn’t been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but one thing I can bank on is when I get it, I get it and we get rolling. That’s the way it should be. It’s taken time but I’m definitely assuming that role of being one of the guys that’s the other voice other than LeBron and [Tyronn Lue].”
The Cavaliers have certainly seen their share of growing pains as a team in the past year, from the tumultuous year and a half of former head coach David Blatt, the inability of Kevin Love to mesh with the offense, a nonstop barrage of trade rumors, and the frustrations of being unable to compete with the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs on the biggest stages. James is certainly carrying a heavy load with the Cavaliers, and Irving’s development (and health) will certainly be a key factor to watch for in the Cavs’ playoff run as they aim for another shot at the NBA Championship.