Dave Hyde: With Irving as proof, were Heat right in dealings with LeBron?
At what point does everyone examining this Cleveland Cavaliers whirlpool examine the me-first history of LeBron James and say, “Maybe it’s not all Kyrie Irving’s doing here?”
Maybe it’s LeBron, too? Maybe he’s a big part of the problem? Maybe his demands – like having his inner associates be part of the team, his desire to travel by himself at times and regularly treat his Cleveland teammates as second-tier – is at issue, too?
Maybe, just maybe, the Heat got this part right?
Here’s a story: LeBron once wanted to stay over after an away game with the Heat and meet the team the next day in the next city. Heat president Pat Riley said no. LeBron got upset. Riley said that’s no way to lead a team. LeBron was still upset about that and other similar items on his way out the door to Cleveland.
Because of LeBron’s rare talent, because he can deliver sellouts and titles, every franchise puts up with most anything he wants. You bend some rules, as the Heat did with him. You even have him write whatever rules he wants, as Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert did.
It worked for both for a while. It was fully worth it, too. But by that fourth Heat season of The Big Three, all the fun was gone. They were sapped by Finals trips, non-stop pressures and a roster missing a gear.
Sound familiar? Wasn’t that Cleveland this year? In that same scenario, one player constantly putting his rules on everyone will grate on a team – even when he’s the best player in the game.
That’s where Irving finds himself with the LeBron. It’s not primarily what’s happening on the court. It’s not wanting the ball more or having more plays for him, though he probably wants that. The large problem is off the court. It’s wanting to be on a team led by professional concepts more than one unique player’s whims.
Look at the four teams Irving requested to trade for him. The Heat. San Antonio. Minnesota. New York. The Knicks are the exception here as a dysfunctional franchise. There must be some intrigue for the West Orange, N.J., native to take New York.
The Heat and San Antonio are no-nonsense, championship-striving organizations. Minnesota recently put a strict pro, Tom Thibodeau, in charge. New York is a bit of a wild card here. But the idea Irving put out is he wants professional rules in place by professional people.
Of course, the Heat should try to trade for Irving. But they don’t have enough developed talent in its prime to pull off the deal unless some other teams blow their chance.
Another story: LeBron insisted reserve James Jones play more with the Heat. Everyone loves Jones. But he wasn’t a championship-level player, especially on defense. In LeBron’s final Heat season, Jones played late in a game and hit some shots. “Great coaching, Spo,” James kept yelling from the bench.
Everyone inside the team knew it wasn’t a compliment of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. It was a mocking of him. It was the best player belittling the coach by saying this should be done every night.
Let’s not be naive. The great ones always call some shots. They deserve to, especially in a star-centric sport like basketball. They fill arenas. They’re expected to deliver titles. So Magic Johnson wanted Pat Riley fired back with the Lakers? It happened. Shaquille O’Neal wanted Stan Van Gundy fired and Riley on the bench? It happened.
But Cleveland’s situation isn’t about winning. It’s about Irving growing tired of LeBron. Scottie Pippen felt the same way about Michael Jordan during their Chicago run. He just didn’t divorce Jordan in the manner, say, Shaq did Kobe Bryant. And now Irving wants to divorce LeBron.
All you need to know about why Irving wants off the Cavaliers came out in the stories of his request to be traded. Those stories didn’t come from Irving. There was no value to him in that. The stories, according to several reports, came from LeBron’s camp.
LeBron wanted Irving painted as the bad guy. He flexed his media muscle and got the national slant turning that way, too. LeBron did it his way, as he always does. His way can win big, as it’s shown through the years. It also can turn people off. Irving is the latest.