INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The burden has been lifted off Kyrie Irving, in more ways than one. The nagging questions and incessant rumors about his future are gone, dissipating the instant he agreed to a $90 million max extension with the Cavs.
Gone, also, is the burden of lifting the Cavaliers out of oblivion. Irving has been the face of this franchise since he arrived, and some of the scrutiny he faced was directly tied to the departure of LeBron James.
A 19-year-old Irving, after all, first had to answer questions about replacing LeBron while at the draft lottery three years ago when the Cavs won the first overall pick and the right to select him. The two stars have been in some ways connected, for better or worse, ever since.
“I’m happy he’s back,” Irving said Saturday during his basketball camp at Independence High School. “It’s going to be a pleasure to learn from him and grow with him these next few years.”
Irving is under the Cavs’ control for the next six years. James can be a free agent again next summer, but after his letter was published by Sports Illustrated, the Cavs are operating under the belief James will end his career here.
Irving sent James his congratulations after the announcement, but has otherwise left him alone.
“It’s an exciting time for downtown Cleveland. I’m excited,” Irving said. “Everything is happening so fast.”
But not as fast as Irving agreed to his extension. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, General Manager David Griffin, coach David Blatt and others traveled to New Jersey to have dinner with Irving.
While other teams spent the first few hours of free agency chasing other teams’ stars, the Cavs prioritized getting Irving’s extension done first. It didn’t take long. Gilbert tweeted out an agreement on an extension had been reached less than two hours after teams and players were allowed to meet.
“It was a huge monkey off my back, just from all the speculation, all the B.S. that was written,” Irving said. “I’m glad I got it out of the way. Now I can finally focus on getting better with this future team we have.”
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The Cavs have the ingredients to be one of the top teams in the East. Irving failed to reach the playoffs in each of his first three years here, but this team won’t resemble anything close to the Cavs teams of the past four years.
James and Irving create a dynamic pairing and there could still be more on the way. Rumors involving Kevin Love and the Cavaliers refuse to go away, although Irving wasn’t going to get drawn into that debate Saturday.
“This whole free agency period has been a whirlwind,” Irving said. “Until I get the call from our GM, I haven’t really considered anything.”