Irving wants to leave Cleveland so he can be the “focal point” somewhere else, per Windhorst. Irving “no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James,” according to the report.
That begs a simple question: why would anyone not want to play with James?
James is the greatest player of his generation. He’s also unselfish on the court and has helped Irving win a championship and make three straight NBA Finals appearances since he returned to the Cavs in the summer of 2014. Irving also averaged a career-high 19.7 field goal attempts last season while sharing the spotlight with James.
Now Irving wants out. Only Kyrie knows why he doesn’t want to play with LeBron anymore, but these are our best guesses.
He never really signed up to play with LeBron in the first place
Let’s go back to 2014. Before Irving agreed to a max extension on July 1, there were rumors that he didn’t want to be in Cleveland long-term.
Irving reportedly clashed with teammates and then-Cleveland coach Mike Brown early in his career. As he fought through multiple injuries that limited his first three seasons in the league, Irving was reportedly unsure if he wanted spend his prime with the Cavs.
Three months before Irving agreed to his extension, Windhorst detailed Irving’s frustration with Cleveland:
The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. That they don’t want him in Cleveland. He doesn’t like Mike Brown. He didn’t like Chris Grant. He doesn’t like Dion Waiters. He’s already gotten a General Manager fired. He might get Mike Brown fired. This is the last time – once he signs he loses all of his leverage – so this is the last time he gets to enact leverage. I know he’s said all the right things so, fine, on July 1, when they offer a max contract – which they will – and I don’t even know if he’s a max player, but you have to sign him – sign a five year, no out. That’s what a max contract is. A max contract is five years, no out. If you want out or you want three years, that’s not a max contract. You want three years? Okay, we’ll give you $12 million a year. We’re not giving you the full thing.
Irving eventually decided to agree to the max extension Cleveland offered. At the time, it looked like he would be the face of the franchise for the duration of his contract.
I'm here for the long haul Cleveland!!! and I'm ecstatic!! Super excited and blessed to be here and apart of something special.#ClevelandKID— Kyrie Irving (@KyrieIrving) July 1, 2014
Things changed when James made the decision to go back to Cleveland. James announced his intentions to sign with the Cavs on July 11. Suddenly, Irving was reduced to a sidekick.
Irving reportedly wasn’t happy in Cleveland while playing under his rookie contract. When he signed the extension, he was led to believe the Cavs were building around him. That promise never was fulfilled because James came aboard.
The two were successful in making the awkward marriage work, but it was never what Irving signed up to do.
Irving is sick of the constant drama surrounding LeBron
Playing with LeBron James isn’t always easy. Every season that doesn’t end in a championship is considered a failure. James demands excellence from his teammates and can be hard on them if they aren’t acting or playing up to his standard.
There was a game against the Jazz early in the 2015-16 season when Irving finished with 34 points but zero assists in a Cleveland loss. After the game, James gave Irving a lecture that those numbers were unacceptable:
After the game, James wasn't thinking about the loss or about that last defensive breakdown. He was miffed that Irving scored all those points without registering a single assist.
"He came up to me and was like, 'One, you can never have another game with no assists,' " Irving said, describing James' words. " 'You can damn near have just one, two, three, but you can't have zero.' And I was like, 'All right, cool, it won't happen again.' And it hasn't happened since that game."
There’s also the constant rumors that James could leave Cleveland again in free agency to put himself in a better position to win another title. If Irving is confident James is going to a new team in a year, it doesn’t make sense for him to waste his prime as the Cavs rebuild.
Irving feels like he needs to leave to reach his full potential
NBA history is littered with examples of players who needed to leave one team to achieve stardom on another.
The most recent example is James Harden. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when many weren’t sure if Harden was even deserving of a max contract. It was hard for him to show how good he really was alongside both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
As soon as Harden went to Houston, it became apparent he was one of the great players in the league and an MVP-caliber talent.
Joe Johnson once had a similar situation in Phoenix. Johnson was sharing touches with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion back in 2004 for a successful Suns team, but he knew he was capable of more. Johnson ended in Atlanta where he went on to be named to seven All-Star teams and make over $200 million in career earnings.
Irving feels like he’s capable of more than the 25.2 points and 5.8 assists per game he averaged this season. Going to a new team without James would mean the ball is in his hands more and would give him the opportunity to put up bigger numbers.
Remember: Irving never really signed up to be James’ sidekick in the first place. He reportedly wasn’t thrilled with being in Cleveland during his early years in the league. When he did agree to an extension, he thought he would the face of the franchise. Then LeBron James entered the picture.
James and Irving accomplished some great things together, including winning one of the most historic NBA Finals ever in 2016. Now Irving is ready to end the relationship. Maybe he never wanted it to start in the first place.