Before Kyrie Irving requested a trade that’d eventually send him to the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers were apparently as eager to move on from him as he was to get out of town.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan confirmed as much in a recent piece on the Boston point guard, citing team and league sources who indicated the Cavs had discussed a trade that would have sent Irving to the Phoenix Suns and netted both Eric Bledsoe and Paul George.
And that all happened just weeks before Irving’s trade request inspired some Cavaliers fans to turn to the comfort of flames to a basketball jersey.
Why would the Cavaliers want to send away four-time All-Star who’d hit the game-deciding shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals?
It might have something to do with his attitude toward setting his teammates up to score.
From MacMullan’s report:
During a rare practice in the middle of last season, coach Tyronn Lue, who was standing next to assistant coach and Irving confidant Phil Handy, called out to his young point guard.
“Ky,” Lue said, “I want you to play a little faster.”
“Why?” Irving asked.
“Because if we play faster, we get shots off easier.”
“I don’t need to play faster to get my shot off,” Irving replied. “I can do that anytime.”
“I’m not talking about your shot. I’m talking about RJ and JR,” Lue said, citing teammates Richard Jefferson and Smith.
“Well, that’s No. 23’s job,” Irving replied, referring to James.
This anecdote corroborates something David Griffin, the Cavs’ former general manager, said of Irving back in April.
“He doesn’t like to push the ball, it’s just not his nature,” Griffin said. “He’s gotten by in the halfcourt his whole life because his handle is so good, he never felt the urgency to press the ball, whereas most guys develop their game as to what they need to do to succeed. Ky never had to do that. So when you’re explaining to him why it’s important to push the pace and I think he was reluctant to do that, because, well, ‘because I can get mine regardless.’ Well, it’s not necessarily about you.”
Irving hasn’t been much better at setting his teammates up this season. While his numbers across the board are nearly identical to those from his 2016-17 campaign, his assists are down from 5.8 to 4.9, the second-lowest of his career, and his assist percentage of 30.2 is right in line with his career mark of 30 percent.