When Kyrie Irving was selected No.1 overall by the Cavaliers in 2011 it was supposed to signal a refresh for the organization after the loss of LeBron James the previous summer.
Kyrie was set up to be ‘the man’ in Cleveland. That was the case, for a few years at least.
LeBron James’ departure in 2010 signaled a restart for the Cavaliers franchise. It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era and the franchise hinged all it’s bets on the point guard from Duke. Irving only appeared in 11 games for the Blue Devils during his lone year at college due to a severe ligament injury in his right big toe during the ninth game of the season.
He eventually returned to play during March Madness, but Duke was eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen.
Irving was the prize pick in the NBA draft, and Cleveland needed both a player that they could build around for the future, plus a drawcard that could fill the arena. When James left in 2010, it was estimated that it cost the city of Cleveland billions in lost revenue.
Irving, from an individual standpoint, did not disappoint during his rookie campaign – he averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and shot 46.9 percent from the field, including 39.9 percent on three-pointers.
He received 117 of a possible 120 first-place votes to win the Rookie of the year award, but the Cavs still only managed to win 21 games. The following year they managed just 24 wins, and in 2013-14 they won 33 games, showing some improvement, but not enough team success overall.
The dynamic duo
During the summer of 2014, LeBron James decided he wanted to come back home after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat that yielded two championships from four straight Finals appearances. Part of the appeal of returning to Cleveland was actually the play of Irving. James had noticed the rising star doing his thing and felt they could form a devastating tandem.
The Cavaliers then traded for Kevin Love to create a star trio that could win a championship.
While his individual numbers were pretty much the same across the board as they were the season before, it was clear, though, that this was James’ team, and Kyrie was no longer the number one option.
Injuries – including a knee injury sustained by Irving in Game 1 of the Finals that season- hampered the Cavs’ ability to win a championship in 2014-15,but they were able to get the job done the following season. Irving announced himself as a big-game player with one of the most clutch shots in NBA Finals history. He hit a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left in Game 7 that propelled the Cavaliers to a 92–89 lead and an eventual 93–89 win.
A year later, however, things really began to go south for both the Cavaliers and Irving’s ability to co-exist with James. The Warriors beat the Cavs 4-1 to regain the NBA title in that year’s Finals, and that was the last time that Irving and James would take to the court as teammates on the same franchise.
In July 2017, Irving requested the Cavaliers to trade him. Brian Windhorst of of ESPN.com reported Irving requested a trade because he wanted to “play in a situation where he can be more of a focal point and that he no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James.”
On Aug. 22, Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Žižić, and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round draft pick.
Why did Irving leave the Cavaliers?
Irving initially didn’t elaborate to the media why he demanded a trade, so rumors swirled as to why. From Windhorst’s report that he was unhappy playing alongside James, to reports suggesting Irving heard he was being dangled as trade bait by the Cavaliers to other teams. One report indicated that James wanted Irving dealt for Damian Lillard.
The word throughout the NBA was that Irving was unsatisfied that despite hitting that shot in Game 7, all the credit for the Cavs’ championship win went to James. Essentially he was tired of being number 2 when he knew was a number one.
However, during an interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan Irving refuted that suggestion, stating simply that he knew it was time to move one.
“[Leaving] was inevitable,” he said. “I could feel it. I didn’t feel the need to say anything because I knew the truth, and so did they. So it didn’t matter what others said.”
He added: “They didn’t want me there.”
In October 2018 Irving suggested that a reason for his departure was that he could foresee all the changes about to come in Cleveland, for example, James’ move out west to the Lakers.
“Like, keep it real,” Irving said. “If I was still in Cleveland, I would be … like everything that was foreseen to happen, happened.”
Irving felt like he didn’t want to spend the prime years of his career on a team with little chance of immediate success, and that a move away was ultimately best. Given the way things have played out in Boston, too, that may have also been his line of thinking when he decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets as a free agent after just two seasons with the Celtics.