by Sam Allard
"As a rookie, Waiters seemed like he felt cornered when the collective media descended on him," wrote Gabriele. "Now, the sophomore from Syracuse holds court."
Nice "court" pun there, Joe.
Coach Mike Brown has noticed a change as well, complimenting the shooting guard on his work ethic yesterday and then jabbing him for the skintight shirts he walks around in when he "does the media.”
Sounds meaningless — the skintight shirt nonsense — but it's yet another strand in a curious narrative developing on the psychological fringes of these early practices. It's something related to "confidence" and "bravura." It expressed itself both in the alarming certainty with which players announced the team's playoff-readiness (before they'd assumed so much as a defensive stance), and the self-satisfaction they displayed in indexing their off-season physical preparation.
And it's not like the media shies away from that stuff, what would otherwise be totally nonessential invasive personal details. Reporters were frothing at the mouth to nail down weight loss numbers and training regimens. Andrew Bynum (down 18 lbs, but no timeline for his return), C.J. Miles (hop-scotching around the country to work out with Kyrie & co.),Tristan Thompson (he of the patented shooting-hand switch), and Kyrie Irving himself (Mike Brown's "Pied Piper) all took turns under the microscope at media day.
Irving, when asked about how hard he'd worked in the past few months — in a question which actually included the words "molding your body" — said this:
"I feel like I look good right now. I'm gonna come out and say it."
The few chuckles from the assembled sports writers were of the high-school-girl ilk. Because man, he does look good. Irving's always had something of a boyish frame — he was a teenager after all, and he looked his age — but he seems harder now. His arms aren't rippled, per se, but they're noticeably striated and definitely larger than last year. (So weird to write that last sentence, Good Lord).
Irving pointed to his intense off-season as evidence of a new and singular effort to dedicate himself to his craft, to lead by example.
Then this shocking exchange went down:
Reporter: Kyrie, you've been rookie of the year, you've been an All-Star. What's the next step for you?
Kyrie: To be the best player in this league. That's it.
That's it? Damn. I mean. Kyrie's one of the top point guards in the NBA — hands down — and may have one of the three most deadly killer instincts league-wide when it comes to closing out games. But for a player whose defense at least one reporter (Brian Windhorst) has called "atrocious," (and, let's face it, with LeBron James still alive) becoming the league's best player seems more whimsy than practical goal.
When asked how he'd accomplish his mission, Irving referenced teamwork and self-sacrifice — "Great players are on winning teams," he said, "so I've got to win games with this team."
And on the surface, that's terrific. That's what he's supposed to say. That's how mature players talk. They don't care about statistical performance — "that will take care of itself," said Irving — and are oriented always toward the postseason.
And this team, whether they're taking their cues from Kyrie or just individually maturing, all seem imbued with a hell of a lot more confidence: confidence in themselves — their improved skills, their improved physiques — and confidence in the team's prospects.
"People should be afraid to come into our building," said C.J. Miles, who's establishing himself as a voice of wisdom and counsel on a youthful bench. "We’re a young athletic team with one of the best point guards in the league. There’s no reason people shouldn’t come in here and be ready for a fight."
These attitudes are exciting to hear articulated — most of the reporters are fans, and were giddy as they scrawled in their memo pads — but they're also an eensy-weensy bit scary, if only because these boys for so long have all seemed like literal boys — "I'm only 22," said Tristan Thompson, joking after he was asked about where he'd like to improve, "I'm still trying to figure myself out" — and they're stepping into grown men's shoes, adopting the rhetoric of veterans with Championship rings.
And I'm prepared to be convinced that that's an exclusively positive sign. You can't become a winner unless you carry yourself like one, understood. Maybe the hesitancy about this new emotional tenor is more maternal. As fan-mothers, we've watched these ghastly rosters grow up, nurtured them, witnessed their confusing, shape-shifting relationship with facial hair (among other things).
And they've always been little babies! They've always been just incredibly young. There was a charm and innocence and bumbling fun to the Cavaliers, not totally unrelated to toddlers learning how to walk. We didn't begrudge them their abysmal performances (much) because there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and the tunnel itself had flashes of brilliance.
Now that the light is closer, it's not that I think the Cavaliers are incapable or ill-prepared for success. It's more that I don't want them to be changed by it.