In the latest Open Floor Podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver take a look at Kyrie Irving's MVP case.
Ben Golliver: Can I make a prediction? I think Kyrie Irving has a pretty strong MVP case that will be fairly well-lasting if they keep playing like this. I think he’s going to be one of those guys who’s just on that top five short list going forward for a lot of the season if this keeps up, or anything close to this keeps up. I think someone out there is going to write the column that character counts and you can’t be the MVP if you’re brainwashing the youth. I think that’s coming. I don’t know exactly who is going to write that column, but we’ve seen some pretty insane awards takes over the years.
Somebody had an anti-Draymond take at one point. I can’t remember if it was because of his on-court behavior or the officials, but it got a little strangely personal against Draymond for Defensive Player of the Year. I’m wondering if someone is going to go all-out against the flat earth stuff and just say, ‘Look, he might be brilliant on the court, but this guy is leading our youth astray and we cannot in good conscious vote for him for MVP.’ Could that happen?
Andrew Sharp: I thought about it, and I have been on the record as not being offended by Kyrie’s stance, but I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of the NBA having a flat earther MVP.
Golliver: So you might write the column I’m imaging then. Is that what you’re saying?
Sharp: It might be like, ‘Alright, Kyrie, you’re the best player in basketball this year. You get MVP, but cut out this flat earther s---. This unacceptable, you’re a representative of the league now.’
Golliver: OK, I now want to walk away from that take that I just had, because we have spent too much time on this podcast clowning Kyrie for the awkward stuff and not enough time giving him credit for what he’s doing on the court. He’s playing very, and I’m sure you’re going to come back and me and say. ‘Oh, it’s still part of the Boston hype machine.’ Yes, he might not be the greatest player ever in basketball history, which in certain circles of the Massachusetts media is making him out to be.
They’re playing very well, he’s off to a really nice start and we questioned his leadership, we asked if he could be the guy who holds it together after the Gordon Hayward injury. Can he be the guy who balances the team and young guys kind of look up to? Can he lead by example on the defensive end? Can he make his teammates better and keep role players involved?
I expected individual brilliance from Kyrie this season. I’ve seen stuff from Kyrie that I’ve never seen from his previously in his career, whether it’s night-to-night defensive commitment, whether it’s playmaking and running an offense, keeping five guys in tune with each other, just the flow aspect on offense, that really was not the case with him in that role at any point during his Cleveland tenure with or without LeBron. And if I’m LeBron, I’m definitely posting Arthur memes with balled up fist, saying where was this Kyrie for the last three or four years. I’ve been looking for this guy. What happened?
Sharp: I have a couple different reactions to what’s happening with Kyrie right now. First of all, I don’t disagree with anything you said there. He is playing exceptionally well, and the Celtics are playing really well. Which, again, we both sort of expected. We did have an emailer right in quoting me over the summer saying I’d rather have Paul George than Kyrie Irving as like sort of a ‘never forget.’ And, first of all, I don’t agree with that now. If Kyrie is the only star on your team, I’d rather have Kyrie. But if you’re talking about a team with multiple stars, I think it’s still pretty close. It’s been three weeks and it’s probably a little too early to declare Kyrie the victor, but I might be wrong on that, too. I mean, Kyrie’s been really, really good.
Golliver: Slow down, slow down…You’d rather have Kyrie with Brad Stevens than Paul George with Russell Westbrook. Not exactly a fair combo.
Sharp: Exactly, exactly, that’s what I’m saying. The idea that there have been a couple Boston fans who have framed that as like a hot take for me and it’s not. It’s just an interesting basketball question with two guys that are very close in the second tier of superstars in the NBA. And with Kyrie, what bugs me is that people are acting like he’s Steph Curry all of a sudden, and I don’t quite see it. He is playing smarter than he has and he’s been more consistent. His shooting is sort of quietly streaky, like Al Horford has been more impressive to me through the first couple weeks than Kyrie has. So he’s good, but the idea that he’s suddenly transformed is a little bit crazy to me, and it seems like everyone in Boston is kind of in the honeymoon period with Kyrie right now.
Golliver: I think sometimes when players improve or they do take meaningful steps forward or they do benefit from an improved environment—all of which I think applies to Kyrie. In terms of the perception of his individual game, it’s just so much easier to see how well he’s playing without LeBron there, without that shadow and then with Stevens in an offense that really lets him do what he wants and brings the best out of him.
I think there’s a tendency for people who were upset at criticism of their favorite player or a guy they follow closely to view improvement as proof that the criticism was incorrect. No, that’s not how it works. You can’t rewrite history. The things that he’s improved or the reason we can judge that improvement is because that’s not how it was in the past. He wasn’t locked in night to night defensively for years. Just because he’s done that now for a month doesn’t mean we have to go back and say we were wrong about Kyrie’s defense or we were wrong about how well he can lead an offense as the main guy or how he can make his teammates better. To be honest, we need to come out here on this podcast—which I think we’re doing—and say he has made that progress, give him credit for it now, but that doesn’t mean we have to take back anything we said previously.
Sharp: If you’re defending the Celtics deal this summer, first of all, none of us, as we analyzed that trade, had any idea how bad Isaiah’s health was. And the second thing that you can definitely say is that Kyrie has a skill that’s super valuable at a championship level, and so going and grabbing another star to put alongside Kyrie, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward, that made sense. But the idea that Kyrie is himself the transcendent star who’s going to put them on a championship level, I’m not really sold on that.
Golliver: And also, I don’t think we should say Cleveland had a bad trade. If Kyrie wanted out, they had to trade him. We’ve been through this. How many point guards were available and then what were their other needs. Would you rather have Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to go against Golden State in the Finals next year? Or Eric Bledsoe? That might have been the only other above average point guard who was even on the market for them to try to trade Kyrie for, and if Kyrie doesn’t want to go to Phoenix as sort of recent reports indicate, maybe you can’t even get Bledsoe. So their options were limited. I still think Cleveland’s side of the trade was fine. They just shouldn’t have let it get to the point that Kyrie wanted out so badly that he was willing to push to get out. That’s really where the ownership and front office went astray.
Sharp: Credit to Kyrie, though, he learned how to play chess from LeBron and he played this brilliantly. He’s in a great situation and this is going to be a great year for him individually, so I’m happy for him in that respect. Rather than running it back with that depressing Cavs team, this is a great move from him.