The NBA’s Eastern Conference finals will help answer a question all of America, or at least all of this column, is asking:
Who needs Kyrie Irving more?
The Celtics or the Cavs?
Both teams have gotten to the East finals without Irving. But at some point during the next four-to-seven games, the absence of the league’s most self-absorbed, sharpshooting, whirling-dervish, drive-and-finish egoist is going to result in one of the teams wishing they had him.
The loser of the best-of-seven series has a built-in excuse.
For the Celtics it would be, “If we had Irving …”
For the Cavs it would be, “If we hadn’t traded Irving …”
Two Irving-less teams playing for all the Eastern Conference marbles.
Since Irving suffered a season-ending knee injury March 11, the Celtics’ winning percentage, counting the playoffs, is .649 (24-13).
Since trading Irving to the Celtics for Brooklyn’s first-round pick and a bag of wet towels, the Cavs’ winning percentage, counting the playoffs, is .624 (58-35).
In other words, minus Uncle Drew, both teams have hardly floundered. They’ve actually flourished. The Celtics went 8-4 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Cavs went 8-3.
They are clearly the two best teams in the East.
Still, as great and dramatic as the Eastern Conference finals figure to be, it’s missing the companion piece to what otherwise would have been a series subplot that could have been drop-dead dripping with deliciousness.
On one side, the Cavs still have The King.
But on the other side, the absence of Captain Insidious is a major downer.
Think about what we’re missing.
Cavs vs. Celtics.
LeBron vs. Kyrie.
An ageless player for the ages vs. a LeBron wannabe.
In Cleveland, the two stars couldn’t coexist. One of them — the bigger star — embraced the status quo. But the other one decided that being famous was more important to him than being a winner, so he asked/demanded that the Cavs trade him, and even reportedly threatened to have knee surgery if they didn’t.
What the Cavs should have done then was trade Mr. It’s All About Me to Phoenix or Memphis, the two biggest losers in the league.
What the Cavs did instead was trade him to an emerging power and Cleveland rival, the Celtics, who are now four wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals.
You’re welcome, Uncle Drew.
The decision by the Cavs to cave in to Irving’s demand, despite the fact that at the time he was still under contract with them for two more years, triggered a near-catastrophic season and series of events that only the incandescent brilliance of LeBron James was able to thwart.
While Irving was leading the Celtics to a 55-win season — five more than the Cavs — and the No. 2 seed in the East, the Cavs lurched about in choppy waters like a lost cruise ship in search of an iceberg.
In trading the best-scoring point guard in the league to Boston, the Cavs, in return, got no immediate help. What they got was immediate headaches that led to numerous chemistry brush fires, leading to a full conflagration, and a contentious team meeting that could have imploded their season.
Instead, the Cavs executed a desperation midseason roster blowup — typically the tactic of a team going nowhere.
Miraculously, the Cavs then went somewhere.
LeBron: You’re welcome, Cleveland.
Say what you will about his sensational statistical season. Marvel, as you should, that an athlete at his advanced age is still doing the jaw-dropping things he’s doing. Salute, as does everyone, with the exception of the MVP voters, the fact that he is still the greatest player in the world, INCLUDING the NBA.
But being able to do all that, while leading and holding together a team that has gone through all the internal and external combustion and upheaval — chaos that would have torpedoed any other team’s season — makes this the single greatest season in LeBron’s unparalleled career.
Only because of LeBron have the Cavs been able to survive Irving’s demand to be traded, the Cavs’ ill-advised, ill-fated compliance and their subsequent tumultuous regular season, punctuated by an endless array of injuries that prevented the Cavs, for virtually the entire regular season, from having their anticipated starting five on the court at the same time.
Then, in the playoffs, LeBron gave Indiana and Toronto The Full LeBron, and here we are.
If Irving truly wants to be The Man on his team and in this league, let him do something like LeBron did this year.
That, in the end, is why it’s a shame Irving won’t be playing in the East finals. The King vs. Little Lord Fauntleroy would have further fueled a series that, even without Uncle Drew, should still go six games minimum, more likely seven.
Who has LeBron?
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