August 29, 2014

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Rick Noland: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can’t go it alone if Cavaliers have any hope of reaching their true potential

 Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving

Dion Waiters

Dion Waiters

If somehow you haven’t heard, Kyrie Irving was named MVP of the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday night in New Orleans, while Cavaliers teammate — and good friend, we’ve recently learned — Dion Waiters sparkled Friday in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Both Cavs guards had 31 points, with Irving also recording 14 assists in the East’s 163-155 victory — now there’s some serious defense, huh? — over the West.

Sincere congratulations to both players. That’s great. It’s high time professional basketball in Cleveland got some positive publicity.

Now, though, would be a good time to point out that Irving and Waiters did not stage these performances while playing at the same time for the same team.

We might also note that these All-Star events, for all the overblown publicity they receive, are way more about style than substance.

Closer to home, we might note that Irving has won the Three-Point Contest and been MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge and NBA All-Star Game in two-plus seasons in the league, but remains 0-0 in the postseason.

Most important of all, there remains this indisputable reality check: The Cavs, even given their current four-game winning streak, are 20-33 overall and three games out of the final playoff spot in the abominable Eastern Conference.

Big scoring nights in the Rising Stars game and MVP trophies won’t change that as the Cavs prepare to play in Philadelphia tonight and host Orlando on Wednesday, games that represent an excellent opportunity to extend Cleveland’s winning streak to six games.

The good news is that Irving and Waiters, if they truly want to, can work together to change Cavs basketball for the better.

“Together” is the key word there, and both must be totally committed to that goal.

They must compete together to win, not against one another for shots, possession of the ball and individual glory. They must make their teammates better, yet maintain that inner confidence that they can take over if that becomes necessary.

In short, they must prove they want to win — saying it over and over isn’t good enough — and show they care about that above all else.

The best thing that could come out of Irving’s MVP performance would be for him to realize he no longer has to prove anything to anyone regarding his immense individual talent, that he needs to continue to play the way he was playing prior to the All-Star break, when it finally seemed to dawn on him that the Cavs are a better team when he’s not dominating the ball.

The worst thing that could result from earning MVP honors would be for Irving to get a big head, worry about what he calls his “brand” and become self-centered and stat-driven.

The latter seemed to occur at this time last year following Irving’s first NBA All-Star Game appearance. When he returned to Cleveland, his attitude wasn’t great, his previously solid relationship with then-coach Byron Scott seemed to deteriorate and the only leadership he provided was in the wrong direction.

There’s a chance that could happen again this year, but there are reasons to believe we might finally be witnessing — we’re not going into what this means as far as You Know Who — a new-and-improved Irving.

The 21-year-old has always had immense talent. No one has ever disputed that. Prioritizing has been a bigger issue, but in the Cavs’ four wins prior to the break, Irving dribbled the ball less, shot less and helped his team win more. Heck, even some defense was on display.

To his credit, Irving has said mostly the right things throughout his career, but it now seems he’s also intent on doing them — game after game after game.

Whether that’s due to maturity, understanding, true confidence or some secret spell really doesn’t matter. The important thing — way more important than an MVP award — is that it seems to be happening.

Waiters has a bit further to go when it comes to understanding all the nuances of team basketball — and there’s no guarantee he will ever grasp all of them — but there’s no disputing he also has talent.

As the trade deadline looms Thursday, harnessing that talent, blending it into a team concept and consistently playing with intelligence are the next steps for the 22-year-old.

Irving can help Waiters take those steps. Waiters, in turn, can help Irving make the Cavs a better team, maybe even a good one. Add a few more pieces and the Cavs may someday even be a very good or — gasp — great team.

When the two young guards show they are totally willing to do everything necessary to help Cleveland reach that lofty status, Cavs fans will have something to get genuinely excited about.

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

TONIGHT
WHO: Cleveland vs. Philadelphia
TIME: 7 o’clock
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/RADIO: FS Ohio; WEOL 930-AM (joined in progress), WTAM 1100-AM