INDEPENDENCE — Love was in the air Monday when guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters met with the media together following a Cavaliers practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
“We actually come to work every day together and play together,” Irving said. “We hang out. I’m pretty sure we’re OK. What do you think, ‘D’?”
“Bro, I’m good,” Waiters said. “You good?”
“I’m OK,” Irving said. “Thanks for asking.”
The guards were reacting to comments made in an ESPN interview by Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who lives in the same building as Waiters.
Gordon said he spoke with Waiters often and there was a rift in the Cavs locker room. He compared Waiters and Irving to alpha males vying for the spotlight.
“That’s his opinion,” Waiters said. “Everybody has their own opinion. He’s entitled to say what he felt. He’s a man at the end of the day. We’re men. If we said something and we’ve said it, we’ve said it.
“I just think throughout this whole year, with (Waiters and Irving) not liking each other, it’s total B.S. We’ve been friends before we even made the NBA, before any of this. … Yeah, we still need to learn certain things. I think at the end of the day, we’re genuinely friends. I love him as a friend, teammate, everything. I just want everybody to know that. I don’t hate this guy.”
The 22-year-old Waiters said he played pool with Gordon on Sunday night, still considers him a friend — “Everything’s cool,” he said — and put him in touch with Irving.
“I just let him know that the whole situation kind of got blown out of proportion,” Irving said of his conversation with the Browns receiver. “There was no disrespect to him or anything he does. I have the utmost respect for him.
“What I was just trying to clearly say is what Dion has been reiterating: What goes on with us, we kind of want to keep it within. We’ve had numerous occasions where we’ve been in the media about me and Dion’s relationship. Me and him are kind of just tired of it. I just want to move past it and play basketball.”
The next step for Irving and Waiters is to develop better chemistry on the court.
Waiters began the season starting in the backcourt with Irving, but coach Mike Brown, saying he wanted more punch off the bench, switched the Syracuse product to a reserve role.
When Irving strained a tendon in his biceps on March 16, Waiters moved back into the starting lineup and put up big numbers. He’s continued starting since Irving returned, with the Cavs, who will be eliminated from the playoffs if they lose a game or Atlanta wins one of its next six, going 1-2.
“With Kyrie coming back, I didn’t want to take Dion out of the lineup when I thought he was playing good basketball and trying to play the right way,” Brown said. “They both have to play at a high level. They both have to play the right way in order for us to have success, especially success at a high level going forward.”
That has rarely happened in almost two full seasons together. Both guards like to have the ball in their hands, and they often seem to be taking turns rather than playing off one another and making each other better.
“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” second-year man Waiters said. “We’re still young. We’re still putting this thing together. We’re still working. We’ve got great communication.”
“It’s part of the game,” third-year pro Irving added. “It’s a learning process. Like he said, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’ve had to figure each other’s games out. … Honestly, off the court and on the court, we’re the best of friends.”
The inability of Irving and Waiters to mesh on the court has led to speculation one will be traded — most close followers of the team think it would be Waiters — but the players insist they’re good friends and will work things out basketball-wise.
“I think their relationship is good,” he said. “In practice, they compete together. In the locker room, they’re great. You hear a lot of stuff, but it’s not evident here.”
Waiters, who did more talking than Irving during their interview, wants the focus to return to basketball for the final four games of the regular season.
“We’re trying to make a run for the playoffs,” he said. “We don’t need any more negativity. We’ve been through it all year. Everybody’s name’s been out there for a lot of different reasons. At the end of the day, we’re just focused on winning games and trying to finish the season strong.
“Putting something out there this late in the season, I just don’t think it’s right,” he added. “On behalf of (Irving), myself, I just think we’ve been in so much media this year, it’s not fair to either of us.”
Brown said weekend losses to Atlanta and Charlotte won’t change the way the Cavs approach the rest of the season.
“For us, it’s still the same,” he said. “We want to get better every time we step on the floor. It’s no different. … We’re playing to win.”
• Rookie Anthony Bennett rejoined the team after being excused to attend to a family matter in Toronto, but Brown said there was nothing new regarding the forward’s recovery from knee soreness.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.