October 20, 2014

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Kyrie Irving mum on whether he’ll sign a max contract, but insists he’s happy as a Cavalier

INDEPENDENCE — With 260 starry-eyed kids and many of their parents looking on at Independence High School, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving took the microphone Saturday morning at his annual basketball camp and assured everyone he has no plans to leave Cleveland.

“I’ll be here awhile, so everybody get used to my face,” the 21-year-old said.

Irving’s unprovoked comment was at least in part a response to an unsubstantiated Twitter rumor earlier this summer that said he didn’t want to stay with the Cavs long term.

While repeatedly stressing he was happy in Cleveland and with the direction the Cavs organization is headed, the 6-foot-3, 191-pounder stopped short of saying he would sign a maximum contract extension next summer.

Such a deal would be similar to the five-year, $80 million pact fellow No. 1 overall pick John Wall recently signed with the Washington Wizards.

“I know it’s your job to ask me that, but I’m not really worried about that right now,” Irving said. “Right now, I’m just focused on the year at hand, my third year. I’ll worry about that (contract) in the coming months.”

Irving will earn $5.9 million this season in the third year of his rookie contract. Even if he doesn’t sign an extension next summer, the Cavs can still exercise a team option that will pay him $7.46 million in 2014-15. The Cavs also have the ability to give him a $9.7 million qualifying offer, thus keeping Irving a restricted free agent, for the 2015-16 season.

“Right now, I’m a Cavalier,” Irving said. “That’s where I am. I’ll let all the pieces come together. I’m living in the moment right now. I’m worried about getting better with the team on the court.”

The Cavs went 21-45 and 24-58 in Irving’s first two seasons, but he’s thrilled with the offseason additions of free agents Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack, as well as No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, No. 19 choice Sergey Karasev and No. 33 selection Carrick Felix.

“I’m excited with the direction we’re going,” Irving said. “We’ve definitely moved some pieces around. The league is starting to believe in us again.”

As proof, Irving cited the fact the Cavs are scheduled to appear on ESPN television three times this season, on TNT once and on NBA TV five times.

“Obviously, (making the) playoffs is the goal,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 goal. We know what we have to do in order to get there. We have some new additions that bring a lot to our team. I look forward to playing with them.”

On the subject of new additions, Irving has spoken to second-time Cavs coach Mike Brown numerous times. They’ve gone to dinner on several occasions and frequently exchange text messages.

“We’re having that point guard-head coach relationship,” Irving said.

It’s no secret Brown is a coach who emphasizes defense more than any other aspect of the game, and that’s the one area Irving struggled with in two seasons playing for Byron Scott.

Considered a budding superstar by most players and coaches in the league, Irving averaged 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists while making the Eastern Conference All-Star team last season, but rarely kept his man in front of him — or even exuded a lot of effort — on the defensive end of the floor.

“I didn’t do too well,” he said. “Obviously, I was criticized for it. This season, it’s a point of emphasis for our team.”

Irving’s teammates weren’t much better under Scott, as Cleveland finished last in the league in field-goal percentage allowed and often didn’t even seem to have a game plan in that area.

“We know what we have to do,” Irving said. “We were one of the worst teams in the league defensively. That’s not where we want to be. We can’t do that if we want to make the playoffs.”

Make no mistake, Irving wants to make the playoffs in 2013-14. He insists he’s not even thinking beyond that, but assured Cavs fans they don’t have to fret about his future.

“They have nothing to worry about,” he said.

Notable

Irving attended a USA Basketball minicamp in Las Vegas earlier this summer along with Cavs teammates Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller and was widely considered the best player on the court.

The Duke product is a virtual lock to be on the 2016 United States Olympic team.

* Irving also spent time running a few camps in Australia, where he was born when his father was playing pro basketball there.

I’ve basically been living out of a suitcase for the last few months,” he said. “It’s good to be back in Cleveland.”

* Irving is eager to be part of a backcourt rotation with Waiters and Jack, but also thinks all three can play at the same time.

“I look forward to the growth of Dion this summer,” he said. “We all know what Jarrett brings to the table, all the offensive capabilities and defensive capabilities. I’m excited.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.