Dime Q&A: Kyrie Irving On Tristan Thompson’s Free Throws, Recruiting Andrew Bynum & More

Late last week, before training camps were underway, we got a chance to chat with Cleveland Cavaliers guard and 2013 All-Star Kyrie Irving. The 2012 Rookie of the Year was locquacious while talking about the changing culture in Cleveland and all the additions they’ve made this offseason as they look towards making their first postseason since you know who left.

First, let’s preface this little dialogue by saying Irving had just gotten done signing autographs and talking with other writers for the hour before we were ushered in by the excellent PR staff. We were in the midtown Manhattan Toys R’ Us, but the Cleveland star didn’t let the surroundings get in the way of telling us all about his creation of the Uncle Drew character, his wooing of Andrew Bynum to Cleveland, the story behind Tristan Thompson changing his shooting hand, and a lot more.

Here is an edited transcript of our chat.

*** *** ***

Dime: Your coach [Mike Brown], was calling you the “Pied Piper of Cleveland basketball.” Who were you working out with this summer, some of the new guys?
Kyrie Irving: Haha. Everybody. Not everybody was together at the same time, but most of them were everywhere I was.

Dime: They were following you around because you were traveling so much, like in South Africa?
KI: No, not in South Africa, not overseas, but everywhere in the United States. You know Miami, L.A., Vegas. The main spots where we can all meet up and enjoy ourselves.

Dime: So you’ve gotten to know some of the new guys like Jarrett [Jack] Anthony [Bennett] and Andrew [Bynum]?
KI: I’ve gotten to talk with all three of them. Three different personalities, I’ll tell you that. But they all bring the same heart and grit and talent that we need on our team to do something special this year.

Dime: Did you talk to Chris Grant [Cavs GM] at all about the guys they were bringing in?
KI: I knew a week before we drafted Anthony. But it was really weird the way everything happened. I talked to Jarrett in Miami during the Finals, and he was like ‘Cleveland called my agent,’ and I was like ‘wow, that would be great if you came to our team.’ So then we talked and it just happened. We [the Cavs] made it happen in the summer. And then Andrew, I talked to a week before the deal was made. I had Chris Grant give me his [Bynum’s] number and I just gave him the sales pitch. I told him that this would be the best place for him in terms of medical attention and then just the best place for him to be who he wants to be, a great post guy, our big guy.

Dime: Speaking of the medical attention, you guys have been pretty dinged up recently. [Anderson] Varejao last year —
KI: Yeah, we haven’t had the greatest luck —

Dime: Have you been doing anything — in terms of the offseason workout — to get through that grind because you’ve had some weird, freak injuries?
KI: That’s to say the least. Very weird and freakish. In terms of my shape, I’m just putting armor on. Everybody knows I have the confidence and the ability to do something great, but now I have to kind of perfect my craft and do the things off-the-court to stay on the court. That’s what I did this summer. I changed my body completely. I came into my second year thinking I was changing my body, and I was no where near the weight and shape I wanted to be in for the season. This offseason, I actually took the time to get a chef, take care of my body throughout the whole summer. And this summer I got a chance to be in the gym and perfect my craft. In and out, every single day.

Dime: So you’ve been putting on weight?
KI: Oh yeah. I’ve been ready to go this season for the past month and a half.

Dime: Have you talked to the new coach at all about the weight gain? Watching film of you, just in terms of going over high screens, you need that added weight and strength to get through them.
KI: Last season I just had to find a balance, in terms of the offensive production I had to put out every day; I was kind of pacing myself throughout the game so I could have enough to have a chance to win at the end of the game. And that’s not what makes the great players great, but that’s what I was figuring out these last two seasons. Just finding that balance [between offense and defense]. Now it’s gotta be a consistent effort. And that’s why I’ve been training myself to do that: preparing myself for all four quarters and not just a span of six minutes and I’m good and then I disappear, especially on the defensive end.

Dime: Are you doing anything specific on the defensive end?
KI: Nah man, it’s just effort. It’s a choice. Defense is a choice. Offense takes picking and choosing your spots, but defense is an effort. That’s something that you can control and just figuring out the defensive principles and where I can be. Now I have a great understanding of [those principles]. When coach [Byron] Scott used to talk to me about defensive principles, I used to be like, ‘what? I can’t do that; I can’t be here and be there.’ It’s just you have to find a defensive balance. It’s my third year, so I’m just watching a lot of film and picking things up.

Dime: With all the additions, it sort of relieves some of that [offensive] stress. Do you think Jack bringing the ball up sometimes or initiating the offense will allow you to bring it on both ends more?
KI: Yeah. Even as a starter, it’s gonna be a challenge, and I’ve accepted that. To be the best point guard in this league, you have to stop other great point guards. It’s not about Jack coming in and relieving some of the defensive pressure. No, I’m going to have to guard everybody and anybody and it doesn’t matter [who they are]; I’m ready for everybody, so it’s just preparing every single day. Watching a lot more film, and dedicating myself to the game. That’s it.

Dime: Is there anybody you look up to in the game, like a point guard you grew up watching, or someone you want to model your game after?
KI: Well not anymore. Not anymore — [laughs]

Dime: — You’re your own guy…sort of thing?
KI: Yeah. When I was in high school and college of course it was CP [Chris Paul], he was my favorite player. But now it’s just finding my own niche. Everybody has to find their own niche. Everybody goes through different experiences that make them who they are.

Click to find out what area of the floor Irving is working on, the changing culture in Cleveland and more…

Dime: We don’t know how much you look at stats, but preparing for this interview we took a look at some of your shooting numbers on the floor and some video. You shoot a high percentage from deep obviously, and you can finish at the rim in the restricted area; your midrange game is tight too, but there’s a dip in your percentages in the floater range, like 5-9 feet from the basket. Have you thought about — just in terms of keeping you healthy — working on a little floater, almost like Tony Parker does so you don’t have to bang against the big guys down low?

KI: The in-between game. Yeah. It’s crazy that you bring that up. It’s been an emphasis of my training this offseason. Like you said, not always going in there [the restricted area]. Last year, it was a decision that you have to make. It’s hard too. Between the foul line and the basket, it’s a decision you have to make once you get in-between that. It’s a fine line and a split-second, so you can stop at the free throw line and pull-up, or you can be at the basket. Most people are going to do either-or. But now you watch D Rose, you know, he’s shooting a floater; CP, he’s shooting a floater; you watch Tony Parker, like you said, shooting floaters. And that in-between, that split second — it’s a decision, you know.

Dime: So playing pick-up and stuff you’ve made an effort to do that?
KI: Oh yeah. Now it’s a concerted effort, and you have to train yourself. Once you play a certain way, no matter what level you are, it’s going to be a certain habit. So that was my habit: I was either going to shoot jumpers, or try to get all the way to the basket to finish. Now, it’s that in-between game that’s going to separate me from everyone.

Dime: The playoffs, that’s been something you’ve [Cavs] been talking about a lot this offseason. How much of an emphasis have you put on that for the young guys?
KI: Well it’s a big emphasis. We’re all aware of it. We try to tell them [the young and new players] we’re not just trying to make the playoffs; we’re not trying to be the 8th seed in the East just to get in. That’s not our goal. We want to be up there with the top tier Eastern Conference teams. It’s a lot of work. A lot of sacrificing. It’s a lot of sacrifice of everybody’s else’s goals. You know for Andrew [Bynum]. I know he wants to be one of the best big men in the league again. That’s a sacrifice I have to make. I have to sacrifice some of my abilities so he can be great. Jarrett wants me to be the best point guard in the league. He’s going to do everything in his power to make sure that happens. Just like I’m going to everything in my power to make everybody else’s goals happen. Our one common goal is to win. Do something special this season and be a great team. That’s what makes the game fun. You have a great group of guy. You start from training camp and you change the course and the culture. There’s change in Cleveland now.

Dime: Have you noticed a difference in the first two years?
KI: Oh yeah. The energy, it’s a totally different vibe. Mr. Gilbert is changing everything. I mean, he re-did the court three times already. It’s like he’s so freakin’ excited for this season. The culture is changing and we’re starting to form a great thing in Cleveland.

Click to hear about Tristan Thompson’s shooting hand change and the impetus behind the Uncle Drew character…

Dime: Tristan [Thompson]. We were watching the shooting hand change, and looked at some video from last season because he only attempted something like 10 shots outside of 15 feet. Did you notice that or did you talk to him about the shooting-hand change?
KI: We were in — I can’t remember exactly where — but Coach [Byron] Scott was like ‘let’s practice shooting right-handed.’ We compared it. We compared his free throws, and Tristan was just joking around. But his right hand looks way better than his left. We all can say Tristan’s shot was disgusting from the free throw line. It was disgusting to watch, and I’ll tell him that too. But it went in 58 percent of the time [Eds Note: 60.8 percent], and now he changed it and shot 78 percent in the FIBA World Games playing for Canada. That’s a drastic change. For him to make that sacrifice for our team, we commend him and it’s going to make our team that much better.

Dime: It’s tough to do that mid-career [switch shooting hands] —
KI: — But we did the calculations. Every NBA game last year, was decided by 2.6 points. If Tristan goes from 58 percent to 78 percent, he gets us 1.25 points, I think.

Dime:Wow. So you guys really broke it down?
KI: Oh yeah, we broke it down. It’s gonna be fun to see.

Dime: How did the Uncle Drew thing come about and Kevin [Love]’s involvement?
KI: It’s a joint partnership between me and Pepsi Max. I came up with the idea, wrote it and directed it.

Dime: How did you come up with the idea? Did you see an old man come on and kill it on the playground?
KI: Nah Nah. It was a guy who went to a skate park, and he went there dressed up as an old guy. He started doing all these tricks and all these skaters were just looking at him like ‘what the hell.’ He stayed there for about an hour and he was doing all these tricks, and not only like board tricks, but flipping the skateboard up and catching it and then landing on it. Just straight up, not even getting on the pipes or anything. Just doing tricks. Then he packed his skateboard in a suitcase and — with his he had a cane — just walked off.

Dime: Did the guys know when you were filming? They must’ve known?
KI: The second time [they knew]. The third time, which we just filmed, obviously everybody’s gonna know Uncle Drew, but now it’s just about putting the team together and kind of just surprising everyone.

Dime: So you got a third guy coming, but you can’t say?
KI: Yeah, I’m not gonna say. It’s gonna be fun.

What do you think?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.