Many great young players, from former Rookie of the Years to sophomore All-Stars, have been led astray by the inability to handle success. Familiar with the dangers of such a quick ascendance, Kyrie Irving doesn't want that to happen. It's why he's taking this summer so seriously.
Behind a 23-point outing, the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard led his USA minicamp team to a 128-106 win in Thursday's intra-squad scrimmage. It was hard proof that Irving isn't taking his past success lightly, and his words to The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer echo that.
"This is part of the plan that I've kind of planned out for my career and how I want it to go in terms of the third year for different guys in the league,'' Irving said. "They either get worse or they continue to get better. The third year is a big year for a person in my position ... kind of on the cusp, on the fence between being good and great."
Relatively speaking, regression isn't uncommon among Rookie of the Year winners. Before Irving, it was Blake Griffin, Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant in that reverse-chronological order. But the hype surrounding the most recent cases before Irving -- Griffin and Evans -- has already been overwhelmed by criticism. Is Griffin more than a dunking machine? Can Evans' talent be manufactured into wins for his team?
Fair or not, Irving knows he can avoid such questioning.
In the Cavs' season finale, Irving didn't stick around for Fan Appreciation night and instead made a beeline for the locker room. The frustration had welled up as the Cavs lost 16 of their final 18 games and Irving battled constant injuries. The former No. 1 pick apologized after taking time to think through his mistakes.
"I wouldn't blame it solely on the losing, but just a lot of maturing, things that I had to get rid of," he said to The Plain Dealer, speaking in general terms. "It's about being OK with being in that position and having all the expectations put on me, taking responsibility for the team, taking control of this team head on. I felt like I shied away from it at times.
"Now I'm ready to take this team full on and be the leader. Like I said, I had a lot of growing up to do."
In his first two years, Irving's statistics have been consistent. He's already been labeled as one of the best, if not the very best, ball handlers in the league. Year 2 saw Irving taking on a larger load in terms of shots and playing time, leading to nearly 22 points per game. Meanwhile, his shooting has impressively hovered around 45 percent despite his size and style -- elite from beyond the arc (39 percent), his career PER of 21.5 is near star-level.
The numbers show the talent is already there and has always been there. Irving knows it.
The next step is about leading a young Cavaliers team to surprising results.