The Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2017-18 season looking much different than they did a year ago. They will be without Kyrie Irving, who bolted for Boston after demanding a trade, but they’ll be with Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, and, it appears, Dwyane Wade.
We’ll get to James’ new teammates in a second. But for now, let’s focus on his former one. What exactly happened with Irving?
“Kyrie is the type of personality that, he can be a little bit of a loner at times – and that was the case before LeBron got there,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “It’ll be the case for his new teammates in Boston. His personality is that, at times, he sometimes goes into a little bit of a shell. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, but as far as him not talking to his teammates, that was eye-opening, but if you were around Kyrie, it was not unusual.”
After playing in three straight Finals – and hitting the series-clinching three in 2016 to give the city of Cleveland its first championship since 1964 – Irving apparently had enough.
“One of the things I always point out when it comes to Kyrie, in the moments after he won the championship, yes, he celebrated with the Cavs on the court. Yes, he celebrated with his father and his sister, who are incredibly important in his life,” Windhorst said. “But when he got back to the locker room after winning the championship, he FaceTimed with Kobe. The man who he idolizes is Kobe Bryant. That’s who he patterns his entire style after. He talked about psyching himself up for the Finals by having the Mamba mentality. If you look at the way Kobe operated, there were times when Kobe didn’t talk to his teammates. So I don’t think that that particular thing is unusual, and that will continue.
“What I can’t explain,” Windhorst continued, “is that in the Finals, Kyrie was saying how he understood the sacrifice he made playing alongside LeBron and he was glad to make it – and then three weeks later was asking for a trade. He has been asked why this sudden change, and he has not given an answer. He has danced around it, he has hinted at things, he has said various things – he has not given an answer. LeBron has not given an answer. Maybe there isn’t an answer. Maybe Kyrie had just certainly had enough, but I do feel like at some point down the road, we may find out that something had happened in those three weeks or something happened during the Finals that changed his mind. I wish I could tell it to you. I don’t know what it is. I just know that there was a change between the Finals and mid-July.”
Whatever the reasoning, the Cavs have moved on. In fact, some analysts wonder if this team is actually better without Irving and with the aforementioned pieces, not to mention Jae Crowder.
“Well, they’re definitely deeper,” Windhorst said. “When you look at Isaiah Thomas, when you look at Derrick Rose, now Dwyane Wade, they have added other guys who can create shots and score without LeBron. I would say if they stay healthy, this is the deepest Cavs team that LeBron has ever been on. They’re going to have to cut somebody to make room for Dwyane – not today, but at some point here – and one of those players is going to be a useful guy. They may have to cut Richard Jefferson to make room. Richard Jefferson played a lot in the Finals the last two years. That just shows you how deep they are. I think that depth should translate to a better regular season.”
The Cavs finished 51-31 and second in the East last year, this after going 57-25 in 2015-16. This season, 60 wins is a legitimate possibility.
But will the end result be any different?
“The problem is, when you evaluate the Cavs – and this is both a blessing and a curse – you only evaluate them against one team,” Windhorst said. “Are they better against the Warriors? I can’t say that they are. I can’t say that they’ve closed the gap. They’re hoping to play better as a team, and they’ll tell you (the Finals were closer than 4-1). But I can’t tell you for sure that they’ve closed that gap. That’s what we’re going to have to wait and see.”
The Cavs and Warriors will meet for the first time this season on Dec. 25 at ORACLE. Their second and final regular-season meeting will take place in Cleveland on Jan. 15.