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Cleveland Cavaliers: Getting real about Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and how it ended — Terry Pluto

LOOKING BACK, GETTING A MIGRAINE

Here are some things Cavalier fans should consider:

1. After LeBron James delivered the 2016 title, he felt free to leave the team when his contract was up in the summer of 2018. The title wiped away whatever stain lingered from his 2010 departure and the insulting ESPN Decision show announcing he was going to the Miami Heat.

2. Once Kevin Durant went to the Golden State Warriors in the summer of 2016, the Cavaliers were in real trouble in terms of repeating as champions. Just as James rocked the NBA landscape when he left Cleveland for Miami (2010) and then returned home (2014), Durant turned the Golden State Warriors into a super team.

3. The Cavaliers had a healthy Kyrie Irving in the 2017 Finals. What happened? They lost in five games to Durant and the new-look Warriors. The power had shifted to the Warriors. Durant gave them a player physically gifted enough to at least stay with James.

4. It’s naive to assume Irving had any interest in staying with the Cavaliers after the 2017 season. He wanted his own team, a place where he could be “the face of the franchise.” That’s exactly what he told the Cavaliers.

5. Irving and some of the Cavaliers came down with a severe case of what Pat Riley calls The Disease of Me after winning the 2016 title. Once Irving had his championship ring, he thought seriously about leaving. Even though he took more shots than LeBron James in the 2016-17 season, it still wasn’t enough for Irving.

6. The relationship between James and Irving was always complicated and often stressful. Irving thought James was too hard on him. James believed he was trying to teach Irving how to be a great player who could win multiple championships. There often was a sense that Irving was more interested in his “brand” than simply winning. This is a league where players are viewed by their endorsements – individuals are bigger than the game.

7. As Joe Vardon reported in January, Irving threatened to have knee surgery rather than report to the Cavaliers for the 2017-18 season. At the time, it seemed a bit hollow. But in March, Irving needed two knee surgeries and missed the playoffs with Boston. So the knee was a problem. It’s the same knee cap he fractured during the 2015 NBA Finals.

8. For what it’s worth, Irving would have been out with the Cavs in the 2018 playoffs — just as he was with Boston. His knee was an issue.

9. It was a mistake not to extend former General Manager David Griffin’s contract after the 2016 season. That’s when they re-signed coach Tyronn Lue. Griffin and Lue have the same agent. Griffin wasn’t perfect, but he did a good job keeping things together in stormy waters.

10. Allowing Griffin to go into the 2016-17 season on the final year of his contract created an issue that didn’t help the situation. Griffin was fired a few weeks after the 2017 Finals when his contract expired.

11. Nonetheless, I doubt Griffin could have prevented Irving from leaving. Or James. But experience could have helped the Cavs in some other areas.

12. I’ve heard people say if the Cavs had traded the Boston draft pick (in the Irving deal) for someone such as DeAndre Jordan, James would possibly have stayed. That’s extremely doubtful. Jordan would not have helped them beat the Warriors.

13. James knows when to leave. Part of the reason he departed Miami after the 2014 Finals was a realization the Heat were in decline. They were smashed in the final three games by the Spurs.

14. James keeps his options open to make what he considers the wisest decision for him. He went to Miami with Chris Bosh to join Dwayne Wade so he could finally win a title. He came to Cleveland in 2014 to settle some things at home. He went to the Lakers in 2018 because his family wanted to live there and he sees a lot of business opportunities on and off the court.

15. James always played by the rules, leaving when his contract was up. Fans may not like it, but he has looked to control his own destiny for a long time. He also knows his value to any franchise.

16. James left the Cavs in 2010…and they had the NBA’s worst record over the next four years.

17. He spent four years in Miami…four trips to the NBA Finals, two titles.

18. He returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014…four trips to the NBA Finals, one title.

19. Since he left Miami, the Heat have not been close to the Finals. In four years Miami made the playoffs twice, advanced to the second round once. Since he left the Cavs, they have the NBA’s worst record. In the previous fives years, the Lakers missed the playoffs. With James this season, they are 10-7 and heading to the playoffs.

20. We can spend hours and hours re-heating the old arguments while gnashing our teeth. It’s a great way to get a migraine. When James left Miami, there were a lot of “What Ifs…” President Pat Riley was very angry. But in the end, James has played by the rules every time he made his moves.

ABOUT THE CAVALIERS

1. The Cavs are not simply a mess because James left. Most of their plans have fallen apart. I thought it was a mistake to bring back Tyronn Lue as coach. He dealt with major health problems last season. While Lue talked about wanting to teach a young team, I doubted he was the right man for this challenge. He was fired after six games and replaced by Larry Drew.

2. The Kevin Love injury is a huge problem. Part of the reason for the 4-year contract extension to the veteran forward was to bring some stability to young players such as Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, etc. Love is a rugged defensive rebounder, a good passer and a capable scorer.

3. Love would help the Cavs when the shot clock is ticking down and they look confused. You need a few veterans to help any young team when it comes to how to handle a season and play the game. But Love is probably out at least until January.

4. Part of the reason Clarkson and Sexton have forced up so many poor shots at the end of games is they are asked to do too much. Clarkson is a scorer off the bench, not a prime time player. Sexton is a 19-year-old rookie.

5. When reports came out of some veterans being unhappy with Sexton’s inexperience – well, no kidding. Point guard is the hardest position to play in the NBA for a rookie. Sexton played one year at Alabama, where he was asked to score a lot. This is a tough transition.

6. With Geoge Hill (shoulder) injured, Sexton has started the last six games. He’s averaging 17.5 points, shooting .462 from the field. He’s struggled in the fourth quarter, but the talent and speed are obvious. You’d like to see more than 2.7 assists in 34 minutes on the court.

7. Sexton was the No. 8 pick in the draft, not a top three choice. It’s ridiculous to compare him with Irving (No. 1 in 2011) or other immediate stars picked at the top of the draft. Patience is required, and he already is showing some production.

8. This is hard to believe, but Sexton is shooting better from 3-point range (.480) than Atlanta’s Trae Young (.238). Young is averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 assists. I love Young as a passer. He also is a good shooter, but is having a hard time figuring out when and where to take 3-pointers. He also played only one year in college.

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