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Cleveland Needs Kyrie Irving

It wasn’t even a year ago when everything was different. Young. Exciting. Most of all, fun. But being from Northeast Ohio is tough right now. Learning to swallow your pride and bearing the brunt side of jokes takes a toll. “Cleveland Stays Takin’ Ls.” It’s become a slogan. The economy is down. The basketball team can’t win. You would think the sun hasn’t shown up above Lake Erie for months.

Still, it could be worse. At least the fans are showing up. Cleveland could be New Orleans, a city wrecked by the forces of nature, a still uneasy, rebuilt culture just coming back, an organization that can never tell from week to week how much support it will get or from year to year what the future holds.

Duke lost this past week. You’re probably rejoicing. They lost in part because Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving couldn’t rework the magic that had fizzled out during Irving’s three-month absence from a toe injury. The chemistry wasn’t there. Still, the freshman did his part: 28 points on 9-of-15 from the field in the season-ending embarrassment against Arizona. He wasn’t exploding like he did early in the season. He was revving up, but couldn’t take off. Someone snipped his wings. Instead, he was hitting floaters, sidestepping and playing at a pace just slow enough to annoy the ‘Cats. Scouts said the injury could’ve destroyed his shot at the top pick on draft night. All we found out from it is that dude knows how to play, and doesn’t need two good wheels to dance.

Is Irving gone? Would you turn down $5.3 million? Didn’t think so. Maybe someone at Duke will convince the 6-2 point guard to come back to school, but I doubt it.

Because there is one team that desperately needs him. There’s one fan base aching for something to clasp onto. Cleveland needs Kyrie Irving. They don’t have to have him. But to reward all of those fans, the ones who stuck around after LeBron left, Harrison Barnes or Jared Sullinger or Derrick Williams won’t do. It’ll take a general to command. It’ll take Irving. Cody Byers, one of the lead writers at the popular Cavs’ blog, Fear The Sword, believes Irving will reach an elite level:

I think the Cavaliers would be wise to go after Kyrie Irving with their first pick. Irving could be a huge help to the team giving them long-term stability to the point position. He has the talent to be an All-Star point guard in the league and help steer this team into making the playoffs again as he matures. Kyrie should be a good fit in Coach [Byron] Scott‘s Princeton Offense and his high basketball IQ should assist him picking up the philosophy in a huge contrast to the struggles the team had this year with implementing it.

As good and maybe even as great as those other soon-to-be rookies might become, Irving has the chance to “Chris Paul” Cleveland. Back when the Hornets drafted Paul in 2005, he took over immediately, wooshing oxygen back into the city. He was the Rookie of the Year and led the team through Katrina to Oklahoma City and back again. Without him, basketball might’ve already abandoned New Orleans. Without him, the Hornets might be dead.

Paul never allowed it to happen. The second he signed on the dotted line, it was on. During his first season, he averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 assists and 2.2 steals a game and the team won 20 more games than the previous year. Paul helped turn David West into an All-Star and Tyson Chandler and Emeka Okafor into serviceable offensive players. He helped give Scott his coaching career back. He did more with less than just about any other superstar in the league while playing in front of a half-empty home arena.

How much would everyone on the Cavs benefit from having a point guard like Irving? J.J. Hickson is on his way to being a very good player; Irving would blast that process into turbo. And while Irving often looks for his shot first, as he did throughout Duke’s three NCAA tournament games, the team’s two best guards – Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions – often completely forget they aren’t playing alone. In fact, there isn’t one player on the entire Cleveland roster that can consistently get shots for his teammates.

Byers points out that the Cavs actually also own the Clippers’ first-round pick this year through the Davis trade. With a likely second Lottery pick, some other players like Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight or even a few small forwards may be floating around. Obviously though, any plan starts with Irving. Byers says:

Some Cavalier fans make the argument for Derrick Williams, which may be a fair point as he is more of a “known” factor at the NCAA level while Irving has only showcased his talent in a handful of games in the NCAA. Realistically, I don’t think the Cavaliers would be lucky enough to get both Lottery picks high enough to snag both of them. But if going with Irving, the Cavaliers may have a good chance to snag UNC’s Harrison Barnes or at the very least Kentucky’s Terrence Jones … If the Cavaliers do get this opportunity to bring in Kyrie and a top SF in the Draft, I think it would be a huge boost in morale for Cleveland and it’s whole fan base after the hard season.

Not trying to bite off Bill Simmons, but do you ever see players live for the first time in hopes of finding out whether they can make it? You want to see if they have that “it” factor. Especially with highly-touted high school players, normally, you come away either underwhelmed or indifferent. Irving was different. The first time I saw him as a high school senior, he was commanding when he had to be, passive when his teammates needed him and aggressive when the game was on the line. He was by far the best player on the court during a game between two of the top teams in the nation at the time, St. Patrick and Findlay Prep. Michael Gilchrist was playing. So were Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph. In the second half, Irving made them look like jayvee players. Hitting floaters, finishing three-point plays in the lane, Irving was matched up with Joseph and made the blue-chipper look like a one-star recruit at times.

Despite a key missed free throw at the end of the loss, Irving scored 10 straight points in the clutch. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually excited about a Dookie.

Even with the toe injury, this past year has done nothing but reinforce what I already thought of him. Can he become the best point guard in the league? That’s a moot point. There are about five best point guards in the league right now. Take your pick. But I know Irving will win, and he will win quickly. For Cleveland, that might mean 30 wins instead of 16. That’s okay. It’s a start.

Is he Chris Paul? Obviously not. But the positive impact he could bring to a franchise that desperately needs it right now could be similar.

Cleveland needs their own Chris Paul. If it’s going to happen, Kyrie Irving will be their best shot at it. It won’t be hard to improve; it can’t really get any worse. But Irving will help institute that change quicker than anyone else.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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