Irving admits Cavaliers “definitely would’ve won more championships” if he’d been more mature

Former Cavaliers stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

In 2016, Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot in Cavaliers’ history, the NBA Finals series-winner in Game 7 over Stephen Curry that sealed a historic 3-1 comeback and gave Cleveland its first pro sports championship in 50 years.

By the 2017-18 season, Irving had forced his way out of Cleveland, wanting to get out of the shadow of LeBron James and believing LeBron had wanted him traded. A year later, LeBron was out of Cleveland and on to Los Angeles. The “what if” of LeBron and Irving staying together in Cleveland is a favorite topic of fan speculation around the league.

Irving admitted recently that those Cavaliers would have won more titles if he had been more mature at the time, if he had spoken to LeBron rather than being closed off. Irving appeared on the latest “I Am Athlete” episode and opened up, as reported by Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

“If I was in the same maturity line and understanding of who I am, and I look back, we definitely, definitely would’ve won more championships, because there would’ve been a better man-to-man understanding about what I’m going through. I didn’t know how to share my emotions,” Irving said. “I didn’t know how to do that. So instead of sharing, I isolated myself.

“I just started pouring myself more into the game — I had one of my better seasons but I wasn’t connecting with everybody as much during the championship year. So 2017, it was a different year for us. We went against Golden State, we went against a great team. When you’re not a great team and not clicking on all cylinders and together, you’re easily defeated. You’re defeated before you can get to the arena.”

Whether the Cavaliers would have won again with LeBron and Irving is debatable. The Warriors responded to the 2016 loss by bringing in Kevin Durant and forming a powerhouse that won the next two NBA championships and might have won more if they had stayed healthy. The Toronto Raptors with Kawhi Leonard loomed out there. And then came the pandemic, and who knows what happens in the bubble.

But it’s possible — a Cavaliers team with LeBron and Irving would have stayed in the title mix.

How will Irving’s maturity and desire to win another ring impact his decision on his $36.5 million player option for next season, and his upcoming negotiations with the Nets about a contract extension/new deal? After Irving missed much of last season due to his refusal to get vaccinated in the face of a New York City mandate — and Irving taking time off in the middle of the previous season — the Nets are demanding more availability from Irving with any new contract. They want him committed and on the court. Irving is a person with diverse interests, which is a good thing, but with basketball paying the bills the Nets want that to be the priority and focus.

If it is, a more mature Irving could help bring a title to Brooklyn. At least we know he is open and communicating with Durant in a way he never did with LeBron. It’s a good start.