Some want him traded yesterday. Others want him around as long as possible, regardless of the cost. Some think he can be a savior. Others think he’ll never be a winner. Some think he’s the answer to a problem. Others think he’s the cause of it.
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, and most of those views lean strongly in one direction or the other.
In reality, the issue is as gray as the Monday sky, with sun possibly in the forecast.
Once the darling of Northeast Ohio sports fans, Irving now finds himself the negative subject of not only local radio talk shows, but national ones as well.
For that, he has largely himself to blame, but — to use a word Irving never should have — let’s not “brand” him with nothing but negatives. That’s not fair and it’s not correct.
To be sure, Irving has not yet helped the Cavs become a winner. One look at the team’s record proves that: The Cavs are 76-150 (.336) in his three seasons as a pro. That includes a disappointing 31-47 this season, which breaks down as follows: 26-41 (.388) with him and 5-6 (.455) without him.
To be sure, the 6-foot-3, 191-pounder is still a poor defensive player and often dominates the ball. Anyone who knows basketball and watches the Cavs play on a regular basis can see that.
To be sure, Irving and Dion Waiters have yet to consistently display they — and the Cavs — can prosper as a starting backcourt. There have been flashes, but usually it’s a case of the two young guns simply taking turns.
To be sure, Irving excels at things like the Rising Stars Challenge, the Three-Point Contest and the NBA All-Star Game, but has yet to demonstrate he’s the kind of player who can make his teammates better.
Given all that, the Cavs should simply trade Irving this offseason, right?
No, no, no, 1,000 times no.
For all the reasons we just listed — and several others dealing with maturity, mental toughness and unselfishness — Irving remains very much a work in progress.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact he’s 22 years old and extremely talented.
Let’s not rush to judgment and make a hasty decision that could ultimately do way more harm than good.
Let’s admit up front that Irving is good.
He’s real good.
He’s so good, despite his obvious shortcomings at the moment, that the Cavs will likely offer him a maximum contract extension in July.
If Irving accepts, fine. If he doesn’t, then the Cavs should start exploring trade possibilities, because the last thing they want to have happen is LeBron James, Take 2.
In the meantime — and on into the future, should he sign an extension — Irving needs to mature on and off the court. He needs to show he cares more about winning than his brand. He needs to prove he’s the kind of player that, with a little more help, can lead the Cavs not only into the playoffs, but deep into them. He needs to give us more defense, more ball movement and a lot less dribbling, a lot less Uncle Drew.
The third-year pro and two-time All-Star needs to quit taking to Twitter — especially after a horrific performance in Atlanta in the franchise’s most important game in four seasons — to complain about how he’s being portrayed by the media.
Irving is correct in that some outlets have gone overboard in their criticism and made it personal, but he also has to realize he’s brought a lot of this on himself.
The media didn’t create Uncle Drew, Irving did.
The media didn’t mention promoting his brand, Irving did.
The media is not responsible for opposing guards getting into the lane way too easily, Irving is.
We could also point out the media only asks Irving if he’s going to sign a contract extension, that it has been Irving who, while speaking positively about Cleveland and the Cavs organization, has not directly answered the question.
Handling the latter topic isn’t as easy as many fans and some media members think, however.
Yes, Irving could have come out in August, November or December and said he was staying, but how bad would he end up looking if the franchise had proceeded to make major changes, if signing with Cleveland ended up not being in his best interests, if he ultimately turned down an extension?
As a professional athlete, Irving has the absolute right to concentrate on basketball and say he loves Cleveland and his teammates, but that he’s not going to worry about contract negotiations until the end of the season.
At the same time, he has to realize there will be conjecture about his future. A lot of that conjecture will be aired or written based on unnamed sources, then repeated over and over again until some people accept it as fact. Right or wrong, it’s become the nature of the beast in pro sports.
To a large extent, there’s no way Irving can control that. What he can control are his actions off the court — no more Twitter outbursts — and on it.
Don’t just talk about the importance of defense, go out and give your best effort at that end of the floor every night.
Don’t just talk about moving the ball and playing unselfishly, do it.
Don’t just talk about being able to play with Waiters, show us.
Don’t just talk about winning being the most important thing, go out there and help the Cavs win.
Remember, though, that Irving is not the first young player to struggle with these issues. More importantly, if he does the right things, he won’t be the first young player to overcome them.
Remember, too, that Irving is 22 years old. He’s not a bad person. He will continue to mature. He’s extremely talented and his on-court shortcomings are fixable.
Remember, finally, that there are very few quick fixes in pro sports — and hastily trading Irving before offering him an extension is not one of them.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.