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Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 at 10:30 am  |  13 responses

High Life

Penthouse-loving Kyrie Irving is already providing the Cavaliers with a much-needed spark.

The fruits of being the top pick in the Draft have paid immediate dividends for penthouse-loving Kyrie Irving, who is already giving the Cavaliers a massive boost.

by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad

When Kyrie Irving tells you he’s always dreamed about being at the top, you’re probably not understanding him. Sure, he wanted to be a standout college player, wanted to go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, wants to win Rookie of the Year and has goals for his pro career that would land him among the top players of all time. But when Irving says top, he literally means living at the highest possible point.

A rookie point guard with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving recently moved into a penthouse in the heart of Cleveland, just over the Hope Memorial Bridge, with a sprawling view of Progressive Field, Browns Stadium and Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs’ home court, out his window. Now that’s Irving’s top-floor dream fulfilled.

“I’m downtown, staying in my little penthouse that I’ve been dreaming of since I was probably 12 years old,” the West Orange, NJ, product says. (Kyrie was actually born in Australia while his father was playing his pro ball Down Under.) “Driving through New York, with my father coaching me, and being with my AAU teammates, every building that I passed, every apartment, I always looked to the top floor. Looking at those penthouses passing through New York, and everywhere I went, I always looked at the top floor. So having the blessing that God’s given me to have my own penthouse now, it’s kind of fun.”

And Irving’s not the only one praising a higher power. A season ago, after losing the most prized free agent in the history of the game in publicly humiliating fashion—as LeBron James took his talents to South Beach—the Cavs finished with an Eastern Conference-worst 19 wins. That same year, the team set an NBA record with 26 consecutive losses, matching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the late 1970s for the longest losing streak in American professional team sports.

With a roster in disarray and a front office in panic mode, the Cavs were, to put it bluntly, screwed. That is, until the Basketball Gods landed them the top pick in the ’11 Draft and the new face of the franchise in Irving, a heady point guard with a devastating first step, rare vision, strong handles and an even stronger confidence in his own abilities.

Despite playing less than a dozen games at the collegiate level, Irving did enough over his high school career at Montclair (NJ) Kimberley and later at the famed St. Patrick in Elizabeth, and in his limited time at Duke—including a 28-point performance in his final game as a Blue Devil, a Sweet 16 loss to eventual No. 2 pick Derrick Williams and Arizona—to earn the attention of NBA scouts. As for those who graded his college returns with only partial credit due to some “incompletes,” Irving can’t wait for his “I told you so” moment.

“I was showing my whole arsenal in the biggest games. If anybody couldn’t respect that, regardless of how many games I played, that’s their attitude,” Kyrie says. “What I was looking forward to coming into the season is proving to everybody why I was the No. 1 pick. Basically, I was coming out of high school, only played 11 games [at Duke], I just wanted to be as prepared as possible and prove everybody wrong.”

So far, so good. In those 11 games at Duke, Irving posted per-game averages of 17.5 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 53 percent from the floor, all with a severe toe injury. Through his first 11 NBA games, the 6-3, 191-pound rook held steady, averaging 17 and 5 to help Cleveland flirt with a .500 record. In an early season matchup with the Suns, Irving outdueled two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, scoring 26 points and dishing out 6 assists to lead the Cavs to a 101-90 win in Phoenix. By mid-January, Kyrie had already played in more pro games than college ones and at press time had started to find his groove, scoring 20+ points in five straight games to end a West Coast road trip.

After Cleveland thumped the Bobcats 115-101 just after the New Year, even Paul Silas, former Cavs head coach and current head man with Charlotte, couldn’t help but be impressed with “that little point guard,” telling Fox Sports Ohio, “He can really push the basketball. He can shoot better than I thought he could. I think, in time, he could be a heck of a player. He’s not fast, but he’s quick. He has a good feel for the game. I think he’s going to be a real good player in this League.”

Even with a hot start to his rookie campaign, handing over the keys of an NBA franchise to a kid who won’t celebrate his 20th birthday until a month after the All-Star break is sure to come with growing pains. And while Irving admits to getting the rookie treatment “every day I wake up,” he says the Cavs’ veterans have taken him under their wing and shown him the ropes.

Backup PG Ramon Sessions says Kyrie definitely has what it takes: “He’s shown that he came in willing to learn some things and that goes a long way, because after a while you have to think the game. He’s a guy that’s going to go out there and do his work on the court.”

This season, more than any other, mental toughness will be key. With a condensed 66-game schedule, the rookie wall will hit harder than ever, and the challenge of staying fresh for the whole year is not lost on Irving. “I’m just going to have to push through it. I don’t think it will be a physical wall, it’ll be a mental wall,” he says. “Coach [Byron] Scott tells me every single day, that when you feel it, you just have to push through it. And that’s kind of the attitude I’ve had throughout my whole life—whenever I’m tired, I just push through it.”

But don’t get it twisted, Irving says. Whatever advantage young players have in energy, it’s nothing compared to experiencing the grind of an NBA season. “Anybody that says that we have fresh legs, they probably don’t play. Because honestly, coming into the preseason, especially with Coach Scott, my legs were done the first day. No matter how good of shape you’re in, NBA shape is totally different than any other kind of shape anywhere.”

Navigating the rigors of an NBA season is tough on any rookie, let alone one with the added pressure of being the latest in a string of point guard phenoms to go No. 1 (Derrick Rose in ’08, John Wall in ’10) and the impossible task of rebuilding and rebranding a team from scratch. But Irving has an uncommon ability to see beyond the present and have perspective on his place—on his team, in the League, in history. Which is why instead of feeling the pressure, he welcomes it, and it’s why he knows he can’t judge himself on one game, or even one season.

“The pressure of being a No. 1 pick, especially a point guard, it’s inevitable. I can’t do anything but embrace it,” he says. “I really don’t feel any added pressure at all being the No. 1 pick. I feel like it’s the same pressure every rookie is dealing with. It’s the same, no matter what pick. I felt, once I got picked, and now that the season is here, I think all those numbers go out the window for me. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. That’s how I look at it and how I approach every single game. Whatever happens in the future, hopefully I can look back and say I was a great No. 1 pick—that’s the attitude that I have.”

It’s crazy to think that Irving’s arrival at the top of the Draft board might never have been. If not for a series of unlikely events, from his nagging injury at Duke, to the looming lockout casting a dark cloud on the League’s future, to the return in masses of his highly touted classmates like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones, he might be running point at Duke right now, helping Coach K to another Final Four berth.

Calling any No. 1 Draft pick “lucky” is a stretch, but in Kyrie’s case (and Cleveland’s, for that matter) the stars aligned, and he emerged as the consensus top selection. But had he not been guaranteed to go first on Draft night, Irving says he would still be a Blue Devil.

“My feeling toward it was, I wasn’t going to come out unless I was ranked No. 1 throughout all the mock drafts, all the analysts saying that I was the definitive No. 1 pick,” he says. “That’s the only way I was going to come out. If they were saying I was 3, 4, 5, I wasn’t coming out. I was going back to Duke.”

Now Irving is a Cavalier, fighting to fill the gaping hole left by LeBron on the court and in the Cleveland community. And he’s finding out that the lingering effects of The King’s reign won’t go quietly, or quickly. At every press conference, every post-game session with reporters, every radio or TV spot, he’s peppered with questions about James. His interviews are sometimes more like interrogations, and yet the youngster handles it all with class.

So, Kyrie, how tough is it trying to replace LeBron James?

“No matter how many times I’m asked that question, the answer is still going to be the same—I’m not trying to look to do anything that LeBron did, or be the same as him, or anything like that. I’m just trying to create my own path, create my own success in the NBA and that’s it,” he says. “I’m not a fortune teller or anything like that, but I do have goals that I want to accomplish, like make the All-Star team and do different things in this League that set me apart from other point guards.”

The high expectations Irving has set for himself have gotten him to where he is now—overlooking The Q from his downtown penthouse, as the League’s No. 1 Draft pick and ROY frontrunner. All that’s left is taking his team all the way to the top, too.

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  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Great timing!

  • http://redoftoothandclaw.ca/ niQ

    The man with one facial expression.

  • Orlando Woolridge

    Who would you guys pick…Wall or Irving? I know Wall might have been the obvious choice, but I really like what Irving brings to the table and Wall seems to be struglling to bring that Wiz team together. And both squads suck, so you can’t really say one has a much better team than the other.

  • http://www.dimemag.com showtime

    Wall in the heartbeat, Irving is no slouch and will be a great talent. But Wall has so many intangibles to make him one of the greats. SIze, speed , vision,work ethic.

  • Joe

    Size advantage Wall
    Speed advantage Wall
    First step advantage Irving
    Vision advantage Irving (less assists but also less TO’s)
    Work Ethic advantage Irving
    Shooting advantage Irving

    and this is from a UNC fan

  • feez_22

    @orlando Actually… the cavs are a better team. Now the cavs were pretty pathetic last yr. that is true. However, they still have complimentary parts on the team that have won a vast amount of regular season games as complimentary parts. The guys on cleveland know how to play like a team and just needed a star to become semi-decent. They have a better coach that gets the best out of his PG’s (scott coached kidd to the nba finals and his best pro yrs, coached paul to game 7 of the eastern conference semis and to his best numbers). They still have many coaches that were a part of the cavs when they were winning. Of course it was mostly lebron but complimentary parts had to have gained a winning attitude if anything.

    The wizards are what you call a sh*t storm. Gilbert arenas pulled out guns the year before wall was drafted there prompting the wizards to trade caron and jamison… 2 of the top 3 pieces for pretty much nothing. Who were the 2 guys that replaced caron and jamison in the starting lineup u may ask? non team basketball oriented nick young and andray blatche. Couple that with the fact that the wiz traded arenas in wall’s rook season for a past prime rashard lewis and you have this abomination. Flip saunders was coaching the team. Flip usually also gets the best out of his PG’s which is what he got out of wall his 1st yr at least (above 8 assists, first rookie PG to do that in a long time). However, flip is no authoritarian and quickly lost the team. now the wizards have wall teamed up with players like blatche, mcgee and young whom although have super potential do not grasp the game of basketball like they should. They don’t play team ball. it sucks but thats just what it is. To pile on, randy Whitman, a coach that coached the wolves to the ground coaches now. look at all those factors…

    The washington wizards are without a doubt the worse team of the 2. not potential wise but with many young teams, basketball IQ wise. That usually does in young teams. look closer with the cavs… you will realise that team is veteran laden with guys like varejao, jamison, sessions, etc. whom may not be as talented as walls guys but know how to win. thats my perspective on it.

  • Startown

    Which one Rubio or Irving for Roy?

    Pretty close right now

  • feez_22

    after outlining those factors, who would i take? Both players are young and need 2-3 more years for me to judge. its not an obscene difference in talent level between the two. What wall has over irving in speed in athletic ability is countered by irving’s ability to shoot the ball. I think wall actually has better vision than irving as irving is more of a scorer at this point but irving takes care of the ball more. Wall takes more risks, irving kind of doesn’t. Irving finishes at the basket with contact better. I can’t judge wall on facilitating and leading this particular team. look at the wiz… 2 of their 4 starters who factor heavily into the gameplan have no bball IQ. young the leading scorer and javale the defender. its tough… I’d probably take wall because of his massive potential. If you took irving would i argue? no. irving is one of the most flawless rookie guards we have seen. maybe the most flawless rookie guard since brandon roy. so… take your pick.

  • http://slamonline.com J

    nice article!
    its not pretty close between rubio and irving for ROY. Irving got a pretty clear edge.

  • Startown

    No I disagree, Rubio top 5 in assists and steals, Irving is not on top 10 in any category, Rubio more impact on the team as well, he will win it.

  • GC6

    Id take Rubio for ROY but Id also take both Rubio and Irving over wall they know how to run there teams better, the wizards have more talent then Cleveland not Minnesota though

  • LA Huey

    I’d take Rubio and Irving over Wall. Ricky and Kyrie are point guards that are balling. Whereas, I see John Wall as a baller that happens to play PG. That’s the difference to me. If I’m a coach, I take Kyrie because I feel that, even at this point, I can give the ball to Kyrie with 2 seconds or less on the clock and he’d get me a bucket. If I’m a GM, I take Rubio because he’s attractive to the complementary talent I need.

  • http://yahoo.com rome

    everyone who talks about rubio’s assist needs to think how would rubio do if he played for the cavalier’s. irving makes great passes and shows he has good court vision but most of the players miss there shots. you compare rubio and his assist to irving. who would you rather have to pass to beasley,love, williams and a few others, the cavs best scorer is 35 year old jamison.

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