Kyrie Irving is participating in the USA basketball minicamp this week with several other young basketball stars. I'm sure that Kyrie is dominating the competition and there's no doubt that he will be a big part of USA basketball's future. But it seems he is much more concerned with his career in the NBA and the future of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's reportedly very excited about the additions that the front office has made to the roster this offseason, but he knows that he has a lot of improving to do as well, according to a story from SportingNews.com.
In the article, Sean Deveney breaks down his areas of concern into three categories: defense, conditioning, and leadership. The quotes from Irving in the article speak directly about these three aspects.
"I don't want to be known for being the guy that gives up games off or takes plays off or anything like that. I want to have a consistent effort and be known as a great player. What makes those great players great is just the consistency every night, and that's what I have to bring."
That's exactly what we want to hear. Kyrie was the subject of some criticism during the season when he told media that he wasn't fully engaged in certain games after the all star break. And despite Kyrie's modest improvement on the defensive end, he hasn't always brought the necessary effort on that side of the ball. Mike Brown will assuredly force Kyrie to play defense at a higher level this season.
Of course, in order for him to bring that consistency, he needs to be in top physical condition.
"It was a little fatigue and kind of pacing myself for the offensive end, especially at the end of games," he said. "It can't be that way. I have to take the challenge defensively, and that is what I am doing."
This is also what we want to hear. It might sound like an excuse for why he wasn't always giving max effort on defense, but it's an excuse that he can do something about. It's understandable that he would save his energy for the offensive end. But now he has to get into better shape so that he doesn't have to do that. Furthermore, he ought to have a lot more help on offense this year and that should play into it as well.
Finally, Deveney writes about Kyrie improving his leadership. The best player on a team doesn't always have to be the leader in the locker room, but it certainly helps. Personally, I think Jarrett Jack and Tristan Thompson figure to be two of the most vocal guys on the team this year, but Kyrie can definitely lead by example. I've been saying for a while now that Kyrie had some maturing to do (what 21 year old doesn't?), and it's nice to see that he has come to the same conclusion.
"There were a lot of maturity things that I had to get rid of. For me, it was just about being OK with being in that position and having all the expectations put on me. Taking responsibility for the team, taking control of it. Taking this team head-on. I kind of shied away from that at times, but now I am ready to take this team full-on and be the leader. Like I said, I had a lot of growing up to do."
Maybe this is just another example of an athlete saying all the right things, but I don't think so. Most of the talk about Kyrie is about how amazing he is at basketball, and rightfully so. But it's clear that the few negative things about Irving's first 2 years in the NBA have stuck with him and he wants them to go away. He has the talent to be right up there with Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook. And you never hear anybody critique their leadership, conditioning, or defensive effort. If Kyrie wants to maximize his talent and become a top-5 NBA player, he has to master these areas as well as all of those other areas that he has already mastered. And it sounds like this season he's prepared to do just that.