The last time the Cleveland Cavaliers took the court, it was without Kyrie Irving, whose broken kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals kept him out of the rest of the series. Already missing Kevin Love at the time, Irving’s injury left the Cavs with just LeBron James as the only active member of their Big Three for the Finals.
While Love expects to be fully ready for the start of the regular season in October, Irving’s same injury could still cut into that number. According to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, sources have indicated that Irving’s “chances are slim” to play on opening night Oct. 27 in Chicago, and that Cleveland could hold Irving out until January in an effort to be completely cautious about his recovery.
Long recoveries can trigger the alarm among fans sometimes, but based on Haynes’ report, the Cavs’ approach to Irving’s injury has nothing to do with severity or complications, simply an effort to be as careful as possible with a young player who has struggled to consistently remain healthy thus far in his career.
It’s the right move too, since Irving represents a crucial piece for the Cavaliers both in the present and future. Cleveland can’t compete for a championship without their Big Three being fully healthy, so taking steps to ensure that Irving will be playing at the end of the season rather than the beginning is a good place to start. The Cavs need Irving on the floor in June, not in November and December, and based on the reality of his injury history, a conservative approach seems like the best way to handle such a serious injury.
Thinking beyond next season, Irving is also the youngest member of Cleveland’s star trio by a longshot, and if all goes as planned, would seemingly be the heir apparent to LeBron James as the city’s next basketball star. Obviously the Cavaliers have more immediate goals concerning James and Irving as a pair, but they’re not about to mortgage their future for the sake of adding a couple of extra wins this winter.
The team’s approach is partly due to general concern and carefulness about ensuring Irving’s health, but it’s also because Cleveland has the luxury of not having to worry about their squad without Irving.
During the offseason, the Cavaliers signed Mo Williams, a reunion that seemed like a great move to solidify Cleveland’s bench at the time, and now looks even greater. Williams should provide a versatile, low-key fill in for Irving, with the ability to score effectively in several ways and a firm grasp on what’s expected of him. The team’s decision to re-sign Matthew Dellavedova, who had a couple decent performances filling in for Irving during the Finals, now comes in handy, since he gives them more depth at the position.
Cleveland also still plays in the Eastern Conference, which, although improved this offseason, still remains the lesser of the two conferences in the league. Even without Irving, the Cavs still match up well with virtually anyone else in the conference outside of the Bulls, and many of those other squads will still be integrating new additions and figuring out team chemistries during Irving’s hiatus. Most of their foes during the season’s first two months come from the East as well, since Cleveland doesn’t have a serious West Coast road trip until late December and into January. They might have their star point guard back on the court by then.
Removing Irving from the equation does give LeBron James and Kevin Love an opportunity to work together as the main two scoring options for the Cavaliers, something that didn’t happen last year and could bode well for the pair’s relationship. The two had a bumpy start to their ride together as teammates in Cleveland, but by the time the Cavs faced the Celtics in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Love was finally playing a strong role and put together three of his best all-around games of the season.
Finally recovered from the separated shoulder he suffered in the fourth game of the Boston series, Love now has a chance to find his role on offense in the absence of Irving and develop a strong rapport with James and the rest of his Cleveland teammates. Obviously, being a member of the team’s Big Three, the better and more effectively Love can gel with his teammates, the greater the Cavs’ chances of taking home a championship.
Irving’s injury, provided it’s not worse than they’re letting on, shouldn’t impeded the team’s ability to chase a title, and it could even be disguised blessing for team development. The Cavaliers have prepared well to deal with a long recovery from their point guard, and this could even become a situation where facing adversity simply makes a team stronger.