Now that Kyrie Irving is back on the floor, can the Cavs finally discover a new “normal?”
You have to feel for the Cavs a bit. Well, sort of. Ever since LeBron James boomeranged back to Cleveland, the team he envisioned never quite took the floor. At the start of last season, the new club had to deal with transition pains caused by a new coach and the arrival of four key pieces on the rotation: LeBron, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.
And then, once the introductions were finally made two months into the season, injuries hit. Anderson Varejao was done for the year. When the playoffs began, Love was finished. Shortly after the NBA Finals began, Irving was finished.
And this season, Shumpert has dealt with injuries, which prevented him from delivering anything more than a newborn baby.
LeBron joked that it was “normal” for the Cavs to deal with being incomplete, but today was a step in the other direction when Irving declared himself fit for duty, having healed from his knee injury.
With a simple Michael Jordan-style “I’m back” tweet, Irving has changed the dynamics of the club. He gives the Cavs one more All-Star on the floor, one more scoring option, one less reason to rely so much on LeBron. The Cavs managed to go 17-7 anyway, which is scary once you think about it, how the rest of the teams in the East had their opening and none took advantage of it.
Irving will suit up Sunday against the Sixers, a great team to use as a warm up, which will give him a few days to prepare for the Christmas Day showdown against Steph Curry and the Warriors. Remember, when the Warriors took the Cavs in six games during the Finals, LeBron saluted the champs but also said he wished the Cavs were fully healthy. And that remark took a life of its own, with the Warriors feeling stung by any accusation that they were lucky. Which they were, from the standpoint of avoiding a major injury, unlike OKC and a few other contenders.
“I’m pretty (bleeping) excited,” Irving said at practice, and that pretty much sums up the feeling of his teammates.
The trick now is for the Cavs and Love in particular to mesh with Irving on the floor. In the absence of Irving, Love has played his best ball in Cleveland by far, and feels comfortable with more touches. It’ll be up to coach David Blatt to devise a way to make everyone feel productive and happy.
Irving has practiced pain-free for weeks, and it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll need a few games to get his NBA stamina back. But look: The Cavs have added a three-time All-Star who’s in the prime of his career at age 23. How can it not work?