The Cavaliers are scheduled to travel to Boston on Wednesday to take on the Celtics for the second time this season, and of course, it has kicked up a lot of dust with regards to the relationship that used to exist between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Irving and James played together for several seasons and won a championship, but according to all of the reports that surfaced following Irving’s trade to Boston back in August, the two didn’t get along during Irving’s final season in Cleveland. Their fractured relationship might even be the sole reason they aren’t playing together anymore.
In a new story about Irving’s last year with the Cavaliers, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan explored why Irving ultimately decided that he didn’t want to be a part of the Cavaliers organization anymore and, as expected, she discovered that it’s, well, complicated. Very complicated. It seems there were a variety of factors that led to Irving leaving Cleveland, including everything from his own natural tendency to seek out new challenges to the role his dad may or may not have played in the way Irving perceived Cleveland’s treatment of him.
But one thing is for sure: There were times when Irving wasn’t happy with the role he played on the Cavaliers. To illustrate this, MacMullan spoke with some of Irving’s now-former teammates, who confirmed that he "wasn’t as happy last year" as in years past. She also detailed his final days in Cleveland and the conversations he had with management about moving him. And she even touched on a particularly tense exchange Irving had with his former coach Tyronn Lue at a practice last season. It ended with Irving pretty much openly defying something Lue asked him to do during the practice.
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.
According to members of the Cavs organization who witnessed the exchange, Lue ended the conversation by walking away, shaking his head.
While speaking with MacMullan this season, Irving admitted he wishes he could have a "do-over" on the exchange with Lue. He also pointed out that "those conversions go on every day in the NBA." But he suggested that the situation was a good example of how he struggled at times to fit in with his Cavaliers teammates.
"I was trying to figure out where I fit in and at the same time asking myself, 'What’s best for the team?'" Irving said. "Sometimes, I didn’t know the answer. I had to figure it out on my own. It wasn’t like I was getting answers from everyone else."
While MacMullan’s entire report is getting a strong response from NBA fans, the exchange between Irving and Lue is taking center stage. Some people are calling Irving out for not being more professional during it, while others are using it as proof that Irving didn’t stand a chance in Cleveland.
You can check out the rest of MacMullan’s report here. The Cavaliers and Celtics tip off at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday.