Kyrie Irving remains in limbo. With Kevin Love practicing and performing in preseason games, and Tristan Thompson signing on the dotted line, the Cavs nearly have the band back together. But Irving, who was unquestionably the Cavs second best player a season ago, the most successful one in Cavs history, is in something approaching radio silence. We don't have a timeline as he comes back from knee surgery.
No one is really nervous, and it's not worth your trouble to get worked up at this point. The Cavs will roll out one of the best frontcourts in the league, and then LeBron James. Even with Iman Shumpert out, the team added professional dribbler Mo Williams to supplement Matthew Dellavedova to man the point guard position. In theory, Delly and Mo are flawed players that can provide things the Cavs will need. Delly can defend a bit and spot up off of LeBron James. Mo Williams can facilitate offense and get the ball up the court without James having to take the ball from him.
All of this is a long way of saying that while the Cavs probably won't reach world-beater status without Irving, they are equipped to survive without him. The question is: how long will they need to? I've seen speculation that if it were May or June, Irving would be ready to play now. I did some quasi-reporting based on stuff I heard around the Q during the playoffs that Irving was feeling a lot of pressure from teammates and the Cavs to come back from injury earlier than he'd like:
I don't love the January timeline for Kyrie Irving. I also believe there's a very good chance it's accurate and we don't see him until at least December. Why? I didn't "report" on it at the time (though some did), but it was an open secret that Irving and the Cavs didn't exactly see eye to eye on the best approach for Irving to take in dealing with the knee issues that plagued him throughout the playoffs.
It wasn't just the Cavs front office. Certain players on the team felt like there were games Irving could have played in that he sat out. There's a reason Irving came back and played Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals even though the team was up three games to none.
This leads me to believe that Irving will take his time coming back. On the other hand, there are some reasons to believe he will come back a bit earlier than January. First, Irving has an ego. He's made the All-Star game three years in a row, and lost his starting spot last season. He has his own signature shoe line. He was third team All-NBA, and while it was earned, there were guards like John Wall who had a solid case. Is Irving going to jeopardize a chance at making another All-Star game? If he misses too many games, and the Cavs are playing great without him, how does that affect his standing in the league?
Maybe it doesn't, and maybe that stuff doesn't matter to Irving anyway. I'd guess it does though, and I don't mean it in a bad way. He's competitive. He wants to be among the league's best. He wants to help his team win. Before long, he'll be itching to get back. What will he look like when that happens? I broke that all down in early August. He'll be looking to build on what was a transcendent offensive season:
In short, he became one of the game's premier scoring guards. Two NBA players used 24% or more of their team's possessions while on the court and boasted an assist to turnover ratio of better than 2:1 and a true shooting rate of over 58: Kyrie Irving, and Stephen Curry. He averaged 21.7 points per game on 47/42/86 shooting and handed out over five assists per outing.
The team scored 111 points per 100 possessions with Irving on the court, an elite number that would have ranked first in the NBA for the season had he never left the court. Of course, that's not all on Irving; he plays with LeBron James and Kevin Love. But coming in to the season, there was cause to wonder if he made his team or teammates better. When Irving and James shared the court, the Cavs scored a blistering 113.4 points per 100 possessions, a sample size of over 1800 minutes.
Read the whole thing, that guy knows what he's talking about. Irving's defense is improved, but still not good. It'll be interesting to see his mindset when he comes back. He was ridiculously good last year. He's 23. Is there another level?