When news broke that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade from the Cavaliers last summer it stunned the NBA world. Many questioned why Irving would want to leave a team with the best player in the world in LeBron James that was a perennial favorite to make the NBA Finals.
Irving eventually offered some explanation, stating that he simply wanted to find out how good he could really be, insinuating that as long as he was next to LeBron he would never get the chance to personally develop into the best version of his basketball playing self. Prior to his injury with the Celtics, we saw Irving spread his wings a bit more and find a tremendous level of success in Boston, although his numbers posted this year were eerily similar to those of his best years in Cleveland.
In any case, Irving’s honesty in explaining why he wanted to go it alone without LeBron earned him praise from some around the league. His former GM David Griffin, who left the Cavs in June last year prior to Irving’s request, is among those that has been understanding of his decision to want to part ways with LeBron. Griffin recently joined The Bill Simmons Podcast, where he further explained why the Kyrie-LeBron pairing was never going to be a Jordan-Pippen type combo, simply because where Jordan needed Pippen to be at his best, LeBron didn’t need that from Irving.
“Somebody has to be Pippen and somebody has to be Jordan, and I think that’s true,” Griffin says. “But Scottie Pippen got to the league because he was a freakishly gifted defensive player. Everything he had that got him to the league helped him grow and evolve to the point he was as good as he was. But it wasn’t like the situation in Chicago precluded him from showing those things. Michael needed everything that Scottie was, so they fit together.
“And I think the fit of LeBron and Kyrie was difficult because Kyrie was so gifted offensively and had been carrying the load offensively for a bad team. Hadn’t been raised to understand how to lead and help you win necessarily. Hadn’t been given that opportunity yet and just when we were going to be good LeBron shows up and it’s his team. So he never got the chance to take the natural progression in his career to carry the load and see how good he could be. And he really wanted that. He’d been doing it on a bad team.
“He wanted the chance to do it on a good team. It wasn’t about being the man, it’s about how good can I be? What am I capable of? LeBron can score, he doesn’t need me to score. LeBron can make all the passes, he doesn’t need me to do that. I’m not a better defender than he is. So I think you get to the point where the fit and the need LeBron had for Kyrie wasn’t going to allow him to become Scottie because he didn’t need Kyrie to fill in the gaps.”
It’s an astute point made by Griffin and illustrates in better terms than most have used why it made sense that Irving wanted out of Cleveland. It wasn’t that he wanted to be the only star, but he just wanted the chance to maximize his talents and next to LeBron that was never really going to have a chance of happening.
In Boston, he’s surrounded by other very good players, but when he returns to the starting lineup he won’t feel the need to defer to any of them in any moment or because they’re simply better at the things he does best. With the Celtics, he’s the best ball-handler, 1-on-1 scorer, and facilitator they’ll have, which allows him to do all of those things with confidence and see how much better he can get at all of them. In Cleveland the only thing he had on James was pure ball-handling skill and the rest LeBron had the edge.