Point/Counter: Is Kyrie Irving worth having on your team?

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Current Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The superstar is one of the most controversial figures in the NBA, and The Daily Campus debates whether or not he is worth having.  Photo courtesy of Erik Drost via Flickr

Current Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The superstar is one of the most controversial figures in the NBA, and The Daily Campus debates whether or not he is worth having. Photo courtesy of Erik Drost via Flickr

Kyrie Irving is back in the news this week for some unfortunate reasons. He is getting surgery on his shoulder that caused him to miss extended time early in the season and now the rest of the year playing just 20 games. Irving has immense talent, but given his history with both injuries and some questionable character flaws, we are debating whether having Irving on your team is beneficial or not. 

Danny Barletta: 

This one is too easy for me, because I’ve had Kyrie Irving on my favorite team, and it was not beneficial whatsoever. However, I am going to try to be as objective as a Celtics fan can be about Mr. Irving. He has the talent to be one of the top five — if not the top three — point guards in basketball, but he has one fatal flaw: He thinks he can lead a team, and he’s proven time and time again that he cannot. Let’s look at his track record. In his first three years in Cleveland, he played some great individual basketball, but the team was terrible, finishing far under .500 in every season. Once LeBron James and Kevin Love came to town, Irving was able to become a secondary guy on the team, and the Cavaliers went to three straight NBA Finals. They won one in 2016, coming back from down 3-1 to beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors. Irving was terrific in those games, even hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7, but that was clearly LeBron’s team. After losing in the Finals in 2017, Irving demanded a trade, basically saying he was tired of being in LeBron’s shadow and wanted to be the main guy on his own team. He got his wish and went to the Boston Celtics, a team oozing with young talent. So Irving, being the great player he is, must have been able to lead that team to glory right? Nope. What if I told you that the Celtics went further with Terry Rozier as their point guard than they did with Irving? It’s true. Irving got hurt before the 2018 playoffs, and the Celtics, led by a rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Rozier, came one game away from the NBA Finals. The next year with Irving healthy, the Celtics fell way short of high expectations. Irving stunted the growth of Tatum and Brown, became a distraction throughout the season with his comments about the team and completely folded in the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks. Irving is not a leader. He’s a gifted basketball player but a bad teammate. I’ll pass on that. 

Kevin Arnold: 

For me, Kyrie is one of my favorite players in the league to watch. He’s an All-NBA caliber player, with the accolades to match, who finds ways to routinely drop jaws. It boggles my mind that anyone wouldn’t want him on their team. And that’s the thing here, it’s still a team. If you look at Irving’s first all-star season in 2012-2013 he was the youngest player on the roster and averaged 22 points, five assists and shot 42% from the floor. Sure Cleveland was a sub-.500 team, but that will happen when your next best player is rookie Dion Waiters. His talent was finally put to use when LeBron came back and they were able to play meaningful basketball games. I’ll never forget seeing the two of them each drop 41 points and combine for nine made 3-pointers and 13 dimes in a Finals game. Then he got tired of playing behind LeBron and wanted a trade. I can think of someone else who demanded a trade away from a very successful team (RIP Mamba) that, instead, could’ve ended in more rings. Boston, while it still stings for fans, was ultimately a failed experiment. Irving has the talents to elevate a team, but not on LeBron’s level. The leadership skills are lacking in some regards, even in Brooklyn, but he’s not “the guy” there. He has Kevin Durant and even then Irving has dropped 50 points, not once, but twice in his limited time on the floor. If I’m the Nets, I cannot wait to see the two of them share the court and am excited for where they can take the franchise that has long been in the gutter. 

Barletta: 

I’m with you; I feel Brooklyn will ultimately be a solid fit for Irving because he can reprise the role he thrived in with Cleveland. He’ll be a secondary player on KD’s team, which is fine as long as he accepts that role, which I think he will now that he realizes it takes more than talent to lead a team. But the fact that Kyrie has to be in that exact situation in order for a team of his to have any success is precisely the reason I don’t want him on my team. He’s a prima donna who whines and lashes out when things don’t go his way. He couldn’t accept that guys like Brown and Tatum were potential stars if they could be utilized correctly and instead threw them under the bus for being immature. Fast forward a year later and Tatum has emerged into one of the best players in the East and Brown has been playing at an all-star level. Now who looks immature? Replacing Irving with Kemba Walker was a perfect move for the Celtics because even though he’s not as talented as Irving, he is such a great teammate who is letting Tatum, Brown or even Gordon Hayward be the focal point of the offense on any given night (all while still averaging 22 points). The Celtics are miles ahead of where they were last year with a worse roster on paper. The reason is chemistry, something that Irving ruined last year while Kemba is embracing it this season. Kemba wants to win by any means possible, while Kyrie only wanted to win on his terms. That’s a toxic mentality that breaks a team down instead of bringing it together. 

Arnold: 

Alright, c’mon. It’s a bit over-the-top to blame everything that went wrong on one player. Yes, he was the most talented player on the roster and deserved to be the center of attention, but there’s more to it than him being a “prima donna.” You mentioned Jaylen Brown. He came right to Irving’s defense at the beginning of this season. “Kyrie, a lot of the blame was undeserving,” Brown told Brandon Robinson, reported by NY Daily News. “It wasn’t his fault that certain guys couldn’t take a step back. It wasn’t his fault. That was the front office and coaches’ fault.” Marcus Smart was another to quickly defend Irving and said, from the same article, “To come into a situation knowing this is a group of guys that had something going before I come here. How will I fit in? He didn’t want to disrupt that. That says a lot. This is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about, and he’s talking about coming in and not disrupting us.” Irving’s former teammates obviously hold no grudge against him for his time in Boston and even wished him the best in Brooklyn. Irving also has a history of some mental health issues, issues that were blown out of proportion when he had an “episode” on a team trip to China. The NBA is full of acceptance toward Demar DeRozan and Kevin Love when they share their battle stories with mental health problems, but Irving is automatically relegated to the villain. He’s human like the rest of us and isn’t even 28 yet. He’s going through growing pains and may have finally started to figure things out when he signed with the Nets. “I don’t have to be perfect for anyone here, nor do I have to be perfect for the public,” Irving said, as quoted in the article. “So I’m not here to dispel any perception, I’m just here to be myself.” 


Danny Barletta is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.barletta@uconn.edu. He tweets @dbars_12.

Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu. He tweets @karnold98.

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