July 25, 2016

Mostly clear

Cavs’ Kyrie Irving not worried about injuries

INDEPENDENCE — Kyrie Irving has impressed at every level of basketball. He’s also gotten hurt at every level of the game.

When the Cavaliers open training camp this morning at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year will be looking to continue one trend and end another.

Kyrie Irving

Of course, the supremely confident and optimistic 20-year-old has already found a way to turn the broken right hand he suffered during summer league practice into a positive.

“My left-hand floater is something serious now,” Irving said Monday afternoon at the team’s annual media day. “I can actually tie my shoe with one hand now.”

Irving twisted a lot of opposing point guards into knots as a rookie, when he averaged 18.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists, and continued to impress over the summer while practicing against the United States Olympic team.

“I had a chip on my shoulder,” said Irving, who drew raves from LeBron James and several other members of the eventual gold medal-winning squad. “I was going out there to prove why I was on the select team and why I should be on the (2016) Olympic team. I just wanted to put my bid in early.”

It would seem the 6-foot-3, 191-pound Irving — he said he’s actually added five pounds in an attempt to improve his post game and be stronger throughout the season — would be a lock to play for the United States in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The one question about the young man chosen with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft would be health.

Irving played in just 11 games in his one season at Duke due to an injury to his big toe, then missed 15 games as a rookie due to a concussion and injury to his right shoulder, which he also hurt in high school.

After proving to be a star among stars while practicing against the Olympic team, Irving broke his hand on July 14 while practicing with the Cavs’ summer league team in Las Vegas. The injury occurred when he hit a padded wall in frustration.

“That one that happened in Vegas, I think that was just a freak injury,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “I’m not worried at all about his history of injuries and things like that.

“It’s just a matter of him going out and playing basketball and not getting hyped up and slapping the wall. When he slaps things, things break. He has to be very under control at all times.”

Irving showed remarkable control as a rookie and also demonstrated the ability to take over games in the fourth quarter, but Scott will ask him to do even more this season, especially from a leadership aspect.

“I expect him to build off it,” Scott said. “I expect him to be better than he was last year.”

Immensely confident, Irving has no intention of letting down his coach, with whom he’s already developed a great relationship on and off the court.

“I was asked the question why I wasn’t talking (on the court) last year,” Irving said. “I said I was so tired on defense I just couldn’t talk last year.”

Then, turning serious, he added, “I definitely have to take that vocal role up another notch to be the point guard for Coach Scott.”

A former shooting guard who played with Magic Johnson and coached point guards Chris Paul and Jason Kidd, Scott’s goal is for Irving to be such an extension of him on the floor that the two can communicate without talking.

Always quick with a joke when it comes to the coach he admires, Irving said that won’t be a problem.

“I won’t be looking at Coach Scott unless I make a turnover or unless we call timeout — from the get-go,” he said.

“I feel like our relationship has developed over the summer and last year. We definitely have a feel for each other and he definitely trusts me with the ball.”

Beyond that, Irving wants the ball. Make that, demands the ball. Cavs swingman C.J. Miles, signed as a free agent after spending seven seasons in Utah, noticed that from two time zones away.

“He didn’t look like a rookie last year,” Miles said. “That’s the biggest thing guys talk about. He came in and was confident.”

Miles added that Irving has something else in common with former Jazz and current Brooklyn Nets floor general Deron Williams.

“They both make the game easier for guys on their team,” he said. “I don’t think you can ask for anything better from a point guard.”

A perfectionist who wants to be an All-Star on a yearly basis and become one of the best and most feared players in the game, Irving will always ask more from himself. That’s why, when evaluating his rookie season, he wasn’t completely satisfied with his performance.

“I need to do more every single night for my team and myself,” he said. “I expect the best out of my teammates and myself.

“I feel like last year I wasn’t in the best shape in order to do that. I was still productive and our team was successful, but I felt like I held back.”

Irving, who has been going through full-court, full-contact drills since Sept. 15, vows not to do that this season.

Successful at all levels of the game, he also vows to be a player who can be counted on to be there every night.

“I’m not worried about being injury prone,” he said. “Not at all.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.