Celtics

Cleveland trade reaction: More inevitable than disappointing

Cleveland trade reaction: More inevitable than disappointing

CLEVELAND — For Cleveland fans and media at Progressive Field on Tuesday evening, Kyrie Irving’s departure brought a sense of the inevitable more than disappointment.

One fan, Greg Pramuka, was standing on the concourse just before the start of the Red Sox-Indians game, wearing a black Cavs t-shirt that said “The First," in honor of 2016.

Relationships fall apart fast.

MORE ON THE KYRIE IRVING BLOCKBUSTER:

“He wanted to go out anyway,” said Pramuka, who's from the Akron area. “We heard about it on the way up and we’re like, Isiah Thomas, he’s got some heart. He’s a a gritty player and that [Jae] Crowder guy, he broke — I mean, look at what he did to Kevin Love.

“But, the scrappy players, Cleveland loves, because we’re always underdogs.”

Mike Hughes, Pramuka’s friend, was wearing an Indians jersey rather than Cavs gear. But he felt the same way.

“We don’t have that [scrappiness] right now as a team,” Hughes said. “We knew he was leaving.”

Progressive Field is just a stone’s throw from Quicken Loans Arena, and the press box and dining area naturally heard a lot of talk about the trade. Even more than normal, media members were glued to their phones as the first reports came out.

Jensen Lewis, a pitcher for the Indians from 2007-10 who hosts their television pre- and postgame shows, remembered the night LeBron James came back to Cleveland for the first time since The Decision. 

Irving’s return won’t bring anywhere near that kind of animosity — at least not right away. Check back next spring.

“I just remember the security we had to go through to get in the arena, it was unlike anything,” Lewis said of LeBron's return. “I don’t even think it’ll be that close as far as that kind of like, just all hands on deck, people worrying.

“But, it’s gonna be interesting because there was still — [Irving] hit the shot that ended the drought. Now he’s going to come back in enemy territory and you guys know as well as anybody, you open the season there, and you get two guys that want to prove a point. So I think from that standpoint, it’s going to be great theater.

"[If] the Celtics and the Cavs play for the right to go to the Finals and he hits the shot to beat the Cavs, Oh my God.”

From a basketball perspective, no one was really lamenting the package Danny Ainge put together. What stood out was the destination. 

Joe Noga of cleveland.com has spent the past two seasons covering the Cavs as well as the Indians.

“The timing of it, I think feels right,” Noga said. “They needed to get this done so they could get going and get moving and move forward and know what they have moving forward. I think they got enough for him. 

“It’s a mix of guys who can help right away. And address problems that the Cavs had or have. Jae Crowder is a guy who can definitely do that. But, and I’m anxious, curious to see how Thomas fits in. You know, he’s going to provide offense, and the kinds of things that Kyrie can do, Isiah Thomas can do, to a degree. I think Thomas is more willing to be a defender but I don't think he’s as able to defend as Kyrie can be.”

But Irving has some areas to improve that the Cleveland media saw up close.

“The culture in Boston could change Kyrie, maybe mature him a little bit more,” Noga said. “And that’s something Kyrie definitely needs. It’s going to be a wake-up call for him as well. ‘Cause he could definitely get away with more in Cleveland than he’s going to be able to get away with in Boston, and Brad Stevens is going to hold Kyrie accountable. Like, from what I know of Brad Stevens, he’s not going to play around with Kyrie not playing defense, which is something that Kyrie got away with here. Absolutely.”

The fact that Irving was unhappy in Cleveland was unsettling to Cavs fans, and should perhaps be unsettling to Celtics fans too. Mike and Sherry McCoy were sitting in chairs in Indians gear along the Progressive Field concourse, with a rain delay about to end. 

“Trust me if he did stay here, he’d get — Cleveland fans can be pretty brutal,” Mike said, before laughing. “Well, Boston fans can be too.”

Sherry McCoy saw the rift with James start to unfold on the court.

“Last year toward the end of the season though I think you could tell something was wrong,” she said. “Something wasn’t jelling.”

Zack Meisel, who covers the Indians for The Athletic, thought it was a shame it ever got to this point.

“I'm not sure the Cavs were going to win any trade in which they dealt away a 25-year-old superstar in a market where other teams knew their intentions,” Meisel said. “It forced the Cavs to consider both their short-term and long-term options, and maybe they addressed both with this trade, but Irving put them in a near-impossible situation and in the end, the Cavs dealt him to the only true threat in the Eastern Conference. I'm just left shaking my head at the whole thing.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

irving_celtics_112117.jpg

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

BOSTON – For most of this NBA season, the narrative surrounding the Celtics has centered around the maturity of their young players.

Well, there's a much bigger tale of growth on this team. But we're not talking about rookie Jayson Tatum or second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

We're talking about Kyrie Irving, whose desire for growth fueled his decision to want out of Cleveland this past offseason.

And that growth has in turn sparked the Celtics to what has been an unprecedented run of success.

"He's doing things that we never saw when he was in Cleveland," one league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. "He always had great talent, but could he lead a really good team? I think we got our answer now."

The Celtics (16-2) boast the best record in the NBA, which is amazing when you consider Gordon Hayward broke his ankle less than five minutes into the season opener. Not to mention they lost their first two games.

Literally all they've done since then is win.

Boston's 16 straight victories is an NBA record after losing the first two games of the season. The winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in franchise history.

And while the pieces to Boston's success vary, the man whose growth has been at the epicenter of the Celtics' emergence as a title contender has been Irving.

You can count Mike Brown, Irving's former coach in Cleveland, among those impressed with the growth in Irving on all levels.

"To see Kyrie taking ownership of not only little things offensively, but even on the other end of the floor, leadership and all that other stuff ... I'm happy for him, I'm excited for him," Brown, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, told NBC Sports Boston. 

While his numbers have taken a slight dip here in Boston, Irving seems to be better in tune with what he needs to do to positively impact the play of his teammates and the team as a whole.

In Boston's 110-102 overtime win at Dallas on Monday, Irving had 47 points, the most he's scored as a Celtic.

His scoring binge included 10 points in overtime. 

And when talking about his monster scoring night, Irving provides a clue as to how his approach to the game has changed over the years in terms of scoring.

Irving described his breakout scoring night as something that "was called upon," adding: "I don't think I needed to score over 20 or 25 in particular games. So I think if you would have asked me that question probably a few years ago, I would probably tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40."

Earlier this season, Irving talked about developing some bad habits early in his career because his primary goal, like most high draft picks, was to get buckets. That frequently led to the ball sticking in his hands too long, or him having to force up shots and not getting his teammates involved as much as he should have.

While some chalked it up to him being a selfish player, Brown saw it differently.

"A lot of it was his youth, which is more than understandable," said Brown, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the 2013-14 season. "When he first came into the league, he had played 11 games in college. Before that with high school and AAU, for a guy that talented, it was pretty easy for him. He could go out and get 40 and win and not have to focus on anything else."

Brown recalls one of the early challenges with Irving was getting him to get his teammates involved more consistently.

"One of the things I used to always hit him with, he can score and finish in a crowd like no other, especially at his size," Brown recalled. "He draws a lot of attention. I always used to tell him, whether it's the strong-side or the weak-side, guys in the corners are wide open when you dribble-penetrate because you are such a dangerous finisher."

There would be film study to illustrate this point. It would show just how easily Irving would get to various spots on the floor by breaking his defender down or splitting an upcoming double team. But it would also show that when he made his moves in traffic, far too often his head would be down, which is why he wasn't finding teammates open.

Brown pointed this out as an area Irving needed to get better at if he were going to continue ascending up the point-guard stratosphere in the NBA.

"And you know, he got a little better at it," Brown said. 

Today?

"I tell you right now, he's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "Now, not only can he finish in traffic, now he's finding guys in the strong-corner. He's finding guys in the weak corner. And he's finding guys that are in the slots above the corner on the wing. To see him make that pass with such ease and precision right now, at least for me it's a joy. It's a joy for me because it's something I knew he could do. As a young man in high school and AAU, he's probably thinking, score, score, score. So that's not something he developed growing up, at least he didn't show to me. Now to see him do it, it's beautiful."

It certainly has been for the Celtics, who are off to their best start under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has found a way to blend his system, which is heavily predicated on ball movement offensively and the ability to switch frequently on defense, with Irving's immense individual talent. So far at least, has been a good fit for all involved.

"Kyrie is trying to do his role to the best of his ability," Stevens said. "Obviously, his role garners a lot of attention because he scores the ball and he has those moments where he mesmerizes everybody with his ability to score the ball and handle the ball and stuff. He's trying to do all the little things. It's a brand new system. There's going to continue to be an adjustment period for him. But he's done a good job."

Listening to Irving talk following the win over Dallas, it's clear there's a considerable amount of thought on his part given to how he'll attack defenses even though we're talking about split-second, on-the-fly decisions.

"It just happens," Irving said when asked about his best scoring night as a Celtic. "Just the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot is going to come from, when it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal, being aggressive and take advantage of certain things I was seeing out there. But my teammates did a great job of continuing to pressure the basketball."

And he continues to provide both strong play and leadership, which have moved the needle closer to him achieving what he was seeking when he asked the Cavs to trade him during the offseason.

"This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward," he said earlier this season.

Watching him inside the Celtics locker room and on the floor, it's clear that he's having a good time out there.

And his career going forward? 

Irving's impact on winning has positioned him to where a strong case can be made for him being a top-5 league MVP candidate.

Following the Dallas win, Irving was serenaded by fans chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P'" which certainly brought a smile to his face and was somewhat unexpected considering Boston was on the road.

"It's pretty awesome," Irving said of the chants. "But we got a long way to go."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE