With his first season nearly in the books, Kyrie Irving â€“ the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick and likely Rookie of the Year, as well as our former cover boy â€“ chatted with us about his young career thus far. The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard won’t be leading his squad to the playoffs just yet, but he does have a full 82-game schedule to look forward to next year and a new partnership with Pepsi MAX. He also had a few things to say about Steve Nash, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, LeBron James and his NBA Finals prediction.
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Dime: What are you up to right now?
Kyrie Irving: I’m in Memphis.
Dime: How are you feeling about your rookie season as it comes to a close?
KI: My rookie season has been fun. It’s been a long ride. It’s been truly a grind, from a mental standpoint and physical standpoint. I’ve learned a lot, as a person and as a basketball player. I wouldn’t change anything from my rookie season.
Dime: What do you think you gained the most as a player this year?
KI: I feel like I gained the most from the experience, first of all from going through a lockout and a condensed season and playing so many games in so few nights. Playing the best every single night and being prepared for playing against the best on a day-to-day basis. So it’s been an intriguing season for me and my teammates and I’ve learned a lot.
Dime: What are you most excited about in terms of your relationship with Pepsi MAX moving forward?
KI: The commercial that we shot when I went to Miami was just a fun activity that I got to do with my agent and a couple friends of mine. It was a great experience. And just thinking about the future plans with Pepsi MAX and what we can accomplish is unbelievable. It will be something special having a traditional partnership and I think we can get a lot done.
Dime: Any hints of what we can look forward to on Instagram or with the upcoming Twitter Q&A you’ll be hosting on the Pepsi MAX account (@PepsiMAX)?
KI: It will be about my final week as a rookie, and I’m going to make it fun. Can’t really give any hints away but it will be a fun week on Instagram. Hopefully I make the “popular” page.
Dime: What’s been the toughest team you faced this year?
KI: The toughest team? Probably the two toughest teams I faced were Philadelphia and San Antonio.
Dime: Who was the toughest guy for you to guard?
KI: Probably Steve Nash.
Dime: What was your favorite moment from this past season?
KI: Winning the MVP at All-Star Weekend at the Rookie-Sophomore Game.
Dime: You were high school teammates with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. What are you expecting to see from him next season in the NBA?
KI: I’m just interested to see how he develops. He’s so young and he’s going to have to learn a lot coming to the NBA so young. The rookies coming in this season, that are about to get drafted, are going to have a longer grace period than the rookies that got drafted last season in terms of training camp and the opportunity to learn on the fly. But I think him and some of those other guys coming out (early) in this class will be fine.
Dime: You mention the difference in the offseason this past year with the lockout situation. You didn’t play a full season in college due to injury and then came out after just one year. Do you think playing only 66 games helped you because it was less than the normal 82, or was it tougher being crammed into such a short period of time?
KI: It was definitely tougher. I would not wish a lockout season on anyone, just because of the fact that â€“ I mean this whole month of April, we’ve probably only had three or four days of rest. I’m talking about days off. We played seven (games) in nine (days) and 11 in 13, and these last five games we’re playing five in seven. It’s just so condensed for one season. Just thinking that the playoffs start Saturday after the season is done Thursday â€“ my last game is Thursday â€“ it’s crazy to think about. This lockout season has just been a learning experience with how to take care of your body. It will be that much easier next year because the 82 games, you don’t have crammed in as much.
Dime: Who did you look to this year on the Cavaliers as a mentor to guide you through the grind of your first season?
KI: I looked to Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison. They definitely helped me as a person and they definitely helped me develop as a player, on and off the floor. Most of all, they taught me how to be a professional and how to take care of my body.
Dime: You have a prediction for a Finals match-up this postseason?
KI: I think it will be Miami and probably San Antonio…or OKC.
Dime: If you had to pick right now, who do you think will come out on top?
KI: Hmm…I would go with Miami.
Dime: What are you planning to work on this offseason in terms of your game?
KI: Just getting a lot stronger and working on my decision making. Just getting in the best shape I can. Just working hard as much as I can and getting with the rookies that are coming in. It feels a little weird honestly to say this, but I’m looking to take those rookies under my wing and give them advice about the NBA and what it takes to be good in this league.
Dime: With you coming to the Cavs and the situation they were in, you are always going to be measured against those LeBron-era Cavs. What do you think needs to happen, and how long do you think it will be before Cleveland gets back to that level of grabbing the top seed and making deep playoff runs?
KI: Well, there will never be another LeBron. That team they built, it was unheard of (here) and they definitely made their strides, especially as an organization and as a team when LeBron was here. But for me, I’m just starting my own era. We’re adding some new pieces, and I’m not sure how long it will take, but I’m here for the long haul in Cleveland. So whatever it takes, whatever we have to do, I’m sure the organization will do in terms of being successful. But like I said, I’m just building my own era here, along with Tristan Thompson. From this point on, it’s just going to be us two going forward with the pieces we have.
How much better do you expect Irving to be next year?
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