The time Kyrie Irving responded to coaching advice with: ‘That’s No. 23’s job’

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Jackie MacMullan’s fantastic feature for ESPN revealed plenty about Kyrie Irving‘s exit from Cleveland – how they tried to trade him even before his request, how they sought – and were denied – a long-term commitment from LeBron James.

But this anecdote might be the lasting memory of the story (which, again, you should read in full).


During a rare practice in the middle of last season, coach Tyronn Lue, who was standing next to assistant coach and Irving confidant Phil Handy, called out to his young point guard.

“Ky,” Lue said, “I want you to play a little faster.”

“Why?” Irving asked.

“Because if we play faster, we get shots off easier.”

“I don’t need to play faster to get my shot off,” Irving replied. “I can do that anytime.”

“I’m not talking about your shot. I’m talking about RJ and JR,” Lue said, citing teammates Richard Jefferson and Smith.

“Well, that’s No. 23’s job,” Irving replied, referring to James.

According to members of the Cavs organization who witnessed the exchange, Lue ended the conversation by walking away, shaking his head.

Both Lue and Handy, whom Irving affectionately calls his “OG,” confirmed the incident but declined to elaborate. “Kyrie is a great player,” Lue says. “Please tell him I wish him the best.”

Irving, for his part, laments the fact that his conversation with Lue ended without a resolution. “At that time, we had probably lost a few [games],” Irving says now. “[Lue] is coming up to me and saying, ‘We’ve got to play faster,’ and I probably wasn’t willing to accept it at the time. So maybe I’d like a do-over on that.

“But those conversations go on every day in the NBA. In this case, instead of those things being addressed so you can move forward, it gets held on to, and it becomes a big thing. I was trying to figure out where I fit in and at the same time asking myself, ‘What’s best for the team?’ Sometimes, I didn’t know the answer. I had to figure it out on my own. It wasn’t like I was getting answers from everyone else.”

You should play faster. To get better shots. For your teammates.

Maybe Irving recalls the details of the story differently, but those sure sound like answers to me.

And, “That’s No. 23’s job”? What a perfect illustration of a chilly relationship.