Late last week, before training camps were underway, we got a chance to chat with Cleveland Cavaliers guard and 2013 All-Star Kyrie Irving. The 2012 Rookie of the Year was locquacious while talking about the changing culture in Cleveland and all the additions they’ve made this offseason as they look towards making their first postseason since you know who left.
First, let’s preface this little dialogue by saying Irving had just gotten done signing autographs and talking with other writers for the hour before we were ushered in by the excellent PR staff. We were in the midtown Manhattan Toys R’ Us, but the Cleveland star didn’t let the surroundings get in the way of telling us all about his creation of the Uncle Drew character, his wooing of Andrew Bynum to Cleveland, the story behind Tristan Thompson changing his shooting hand, and a lot more.
Here is an edited transcript of our chat.
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Dime: Your coach [Mike Brown], was calling you the “Pied Piper of Cleveland basketball.” Who were you working out with this summer, some of the new guys?
Kyrie Irving: Haha. Everybody. Not everybody was together at the same time, but most of them were everywhere I was.
Dime: They were following you around because you were traveling so much, like in South Africa?
KI: No, not in South Africa, not overseas, but everywhere in the United States. You know Miami, L.A., Vegas. The main spots where we can all meet up and enjoy ourselves.
Dime: So you’ve gotten to know some of the new guys like Jarrett [Jack] Anthony [Bennett] and Andrew [Bynum]?
KI: I’ve gotten to talk with all three of them. Three different personalities, I’ll tell you that. But they all bring the same heart and grit and talent that we need on our team to do something special this year.
Dime: Did you talk to Chris Grant [Cavs GM] at all about the guys they were bringing in?
KI: I knew a week before we drafted Anthony. But it was really weird the way everything happened. I talked to Jarrett in Miami during the Finals, and he was like ‘Cleveland called my agent,’ and I was like ‘wow, that would be great if you came to our team.’ So then we talked and it just happened. We [the Cavs] made it happen in the summer. And then Andrew, I talked to a week before the deal was made. I had Chris Grant give me his [Bynum’s] number and I just gave him the sales pitch. I told him that this would be the best place for him in terms of medical attention and then just the best place for him to be who he wants to be, a great post guy, our big guy.
Dime: Speaking of the medical attention, you guys have been pretty dinged up recently. [Anderson] Varejao last year —
KI: Yeah, we haven’t had the greatest luck —
Dime: Have you been doing anything — in terms of the offseason workout — to get through that grind because you’ve had some weird, freak injuries?
KI: That’s to say the least. Very weird and freakish. In terms of my shape, I’m just putting armor on. Everybody knows I have the confidence and the ability to do something great, but now I have to kind of perfect my craft and do the things off-the-court to stay on the court. That’s what I did this summer. I changed my body completely. I came into my second year thinking I was changing my body, and I was no where near the weight and shape I wanted to be in for the season. This offseason, I actually took the time to get a chef, take care of my body throughout the whole summer. And this summer I got a chance to be in the gym and perfect my craft. In and out, every single day.
Dime: So you’ve been putting on weight?
KI: Oh yeah. I’ve been ready to go this season for the past month and a half.
Dime: Have you talked to the new coach at all about the weight gain? Watching film of you, just in terms of going over high screens, you need that added weight and strength to get through them.
KI: Last season I just had to find a balance, in terms of the offensive production I had to put out every day; I was kind of pacing myself throughout the game so I could have enough to have a chance to win at the end of the game. And that’s not what makes the great players great, but that’s what I was figuring out these last two seasons. Just finding that balance [between offense and defense]. Now it’s gotta be a consistent effort. And that’s why I’ve been training myself to do that: preparing myself for all four quarters and not just a span of six minutes and I’m good and then I disappear, especially on the defensive end.
Dime: Are you doing anything specific on the defensive end?
KI: Nah man, it’s just effort. It’s a choice. Defense is a choice. Offense takes picking and choosing your spots, but defense is an effort. That’s something that you can control and just figuring out the defensive principles and where I can be. Now I have a great understanding of [those principles]. When coach [Byron] Scott used to talk to me about defensive principles, I used to be like, ‘what? I can’t do that; I can’t be here and be there.’ It’s just you have to find a defensive balance. It’s my third year, so I’m just watching a lot of film and picking things up.
Dime: With all the additions, it sort of relieves some of that [offensive] stress. Do you think Jack bringing the ball up sometimes or initiating the offense will allow you to bring it on both ends more?
KI: Yeah. Even as a starter, it’s gonna be a challenge, and I’ve accepted that. To be the best point guard in this league, you have to stop other great point guards. It’s not about Jack coming in and relieving some of the defensive pressure. No, I’m going to have to guard everybody and anybody and it doesn’t matter [who they are]; I’m ready for everybody, so it’s just preparing every single day. Watching a lot more film, and dedicating myself to the game. That’s it.
Dime: Is there anybody you look up to in the game, like a point guard you grew up watching, or someone you want to model your game after?
KI: Well not anymore. Not anymore — [laughs]
Dime: — You’re your own guy…sort of thing?
KI: Yeah. When I was in high school and college of course it was CP [Chris Paul], he was my favorite player. But now it’s just finding my own niche. Everybody has to find their own niche. Everybody goes through different experiences that make them who they are.