Before and after games lately, Kyrie Irving is still shooting. At Josh Gordon, at the media. Irving is firing back.
A turbulent Cavaliers season began to tremble again in recent days. Just when peace and harmony seemed restored with hand pounds and back slaps — within the Cavs’ roster, within Irving and Dion Waiters — it has all started to peel away again.
First it was Gordon, the Browns’ Pro Bowl receiver, appearing on ESPN a few days ago talking about a “rift” between Irving and Waiters. Then ESPN.com writer (and former Beacon Journal Cavs writer) Brian Windhorst told a local Cavs blog Irving wants out of Cleveland.
All of that left Irving in a fighting mood.
“Guys like Josh Gordon need to stay in his sport and mind his own business,” Irving said prior to shootaround Friday morning. “Does he still play for the Browns? I’ll continue to root for the Browns, but in terms of this stuff here, what goes on in this locker room, he needs to stay out of it.”
Then Irving took to Twitter following Friday’s game to blast continuing media reports he wants out of Cleveland.
“Sick to my stomach with all these rumors and accusations,” Irving wrote. “Can I play without media guessing at my life and putting B.S. out for headlines.”
As much as he bristles whenever it comes up, the simple fact remains that people who are supposed to have his best interests in mind have been talking about Irving leaving Cleveland since early last season — within the first month of his second year in the league.
That is indisputable to me because that’s the first time I heard it myself directly from someone tied directly to Irving. I’ve avoided writing about it much because it will all be resolved this summer. The rest is just conjecture. But the narrative absolutely exists whether Irving wants to acknowledge it or not.
Here is more indisputable truth: Twice I’ve given Irving the opportunity to say he’ll sign a max contract with the Cavaliers — once last summer and once in January. Both times, he avoided the question.
“They’re writing reports, ‘Is he staying or going?’ That’s the last of my worries right now,” Irving said Saturday night. “It’s portraying me in a light and bringing negativity to the team I don’t want.”
Irving added he loves Cleveland and took to Twitter to defend himself against the accusations because: “I’ve been getting it all season and I feel I definitely don’t deserve it. At a certain point it got too much.”
This will all reach a conclusion this summer. The Cavs will present Irving with a contract extension and if he rejects it, they’ll be forced to consider trading him. If he accepts it, all of this goes away.
As for his relationship with Waiters, it has been a long, arduous journey to get here, but both players have truly seemed committed lately to finding a way to make this work.
They repelled from one another initially and they didn’t fully appreciate the other’s game. In truth, they didn’t always understand how much they needed the other to thrive. But at some point around the All-Star break, all of that began to change.
Now they’re reunited in the starting lineup. They looked terrific in a win at the Orlando Magic, but it was clunky again in Friday’s crucial loss to the Atlanta Hawks. That inconsistency will probably continue as both players try to make their games compatible, but both players are clearly tired of the speculation surrounding them.
They insist they’ve had a friendship since high school, but also concede their relationship hasn’t always been easy. Once they were paired together on the Cavs, styles collided and egos were wounded.
“We’ve got to be honest. Just from the outside looking in, we didn’t mesh well on the court,” Irving said. “That’s just the reality of it.”
Both guys wanted the ball in their hands and Waiters acknowledges he grew irritated when he didn’t think he was getting enough touches. When the players sounded off on each other during a players-only meeting following an early season loss at Minnesota, Waiters reportedly accused Irving and Tristan Thompson of playing “buddy ball” and not passing to him enough.
Asked about it again on Friday, Waiters didn’t deny it.
“I said what I said, but it didn’t affect none of us,” Waiters said. “If anything it brought us closer.”
All of which leads to Gordon’s role in all of this. The Browns star is also Waiters’ neighbor. He went on ESPN’s circuit of shows and during his time on “First Take” answered a question about the Cavs’ young duo.
“I talked about it with Dion. He’s my neighbor in my building so we hang out all the time,” Gordon said. “I’m aware of the rift in the locker room. That’s just alpha males and supreme athletes trying to share the spotlight.”
Gordon’s appearance came before Irving returned from a biceps injury. Gordon thought the time on the floor without Irving was good for Waiters.
“Dion has some exposure right now depending on how Dan Gilbert wants to play free agency or trades,” Gordon said. “Hopefully they get along.”
When asked if both players might be better off separated, Gordon said: “I’m not opposed to that. It might play out better.”
Waiters said he was unaware of Gordon’s comments.
“(He) can’t put words in my mouth,” Waiters said. “That’s his opinion. That’s what he thinks. I can’t stop a man from saying that. That’s what he thinks.”
Of course, common sense indicates Gordon came to that conclusion based off conversations with Waiters. And team executives haven’t always been sure the two would figure out how to coexist.
One team official said recently it has taken the entire village to get these two embracing each other. Former general manager Chris Grant held multiple conversations with them in the past two years, as has acting GM David Griffin. Coaches from the previous and current staffs have talked to them about learning to play together.
Will they figure it out? No one knows, but they finally seem committed to trying.
“You’re not always going to see eye-to-eye,” Waiters said. “That’s even with the best. Some of the best players who ever played with each other, (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen, LeBron (James) and (Dwyane) Wade, their first couple years they lost. We know we’ve got a chance to have something special. We know what’s at stake. We know we need one another to produce.”
Various people within the organization believe the two gained an appreciation for each other while the other was injured. Waiters learned how tough it was to score and facilitate and rebound all at once, while Irving learned how talented Waiters is and how much easier he can make life on the third-year All-Star.
And right now, Irving is looking for anyone to make life a little easier.
“For a third-year player, it’s been frustrating from the standpoint no other third-year player is probably going through what I’m going through,” he said. “It’s all (expletive).”
If it is, he can prove it this summer.