To ask a rookie to come in and lead, to be the face of an NBA franchise is unfair to anyone. People remember Magic Johnson’s rookie year but that was Kareem Abdul-Jabar’s team until 1984. Michael Jordan took time to learn how to lead. It’s true of everyone.
Including Kyrie Irving. He was asked to do that, as are more and more young top picks. The Cavaliers’ point guard has quickly risen to be one of the top point guards in the NBA in his first three seasons, but on a young team he was just not yet equipped to be a leader.
While with Team USA in Chicago, Irving admitted as much in a conversation with Real GM (hat tip Waiting for Next Year).
“Everybody asks me if this is my year to be a leader … I haven’t been so far though, not at all,” Irving said. “I’ve just been a kid trying to figure it out. There’s no perfect way to be a leader, and coming in as a 19-year-old kid and having everything bearing on your shoulders, there are a lot of ups and downs. Now it’s about being the best every single day and not being afraid.
“I’m more than excited with our new veterans. I’m really excited just from the standpoint of how the locker room is going to go and how to really be a professional. I’m not saying that the veterans that we had weren’t professionals themselves, but we didn’t have enough. Given the right and wrong things to do in the league, I’ve had to learn on my own and that’s what some of us been doing.
“Now, we have guys who’ve been in the league for years, guys who’ve won championships and have had to give a piece of their game for the greater good of the team. It’s something I admire and something I’m going to learn from.”
That’s a mature outlook from Irving. The kind a leader should have.
This is LeBron James’ team now, and guys such as Mike Miller and Shawn Marion are certainly professionals. Things will be much more clear in that locker room, there will be a pecking order.
But Irving just signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension — he is now by definition one of the leaders. That kind of payday makes that happen. Just now he has some good role models to follow.