Cavs enter interesting offseason
INDEPENDENCE (AP) — Kyrie Irving was already wearing his jacket and a Louis Vuitton backpack as he conducted his final postgame interview.
He seemed in a rush, which was understandable. He wasn’t going to the playoffs.
Once Irving finished answering questions, Cleveland’s All-Star point guard quickly left the locker room. His third NBA season — one filled with highs, lows and ultimately disappointment — was finally over. The postseason remained out of reach for Irving and the Cavs, who had a turbulent six months together.
Their offseason could be as choppy.
With coach Mike Brown’s future in question and owner Dan Gilbert faced with difficult decisions on his front office, roster and whether to offer Irving a maximum, five-year contract extension, the Cavs are in flux. And again, the highlight of their summer will be taking part in the NBA lottery, a drawing Gilbert vowed to avoid.
“We came up short,” Irving said. “I came up short.”
Unable to overcome a 9-21 start in the season’s first two months, the Cavs said their goodbyes on Thursday not knowing if Brown will return. In the first season of his second go-round in Cleveland, Brown improved the Cavs defensively — they jumped from 30th to 12th — but he couldn’t end their postseason drought, now in its fourth year.
It was hardly his fault, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t take the blame for the Cavs’ disappointing season. Remember, Gilbert fired him after the 2010 season, when the Cavs won 61 games.
“I’d like to see coach come back,” guard Dion Waiters said. “We’ve been together for a year. The ups and downs he stuck with us, we stuck with him. I know he wanted to win just as bad as we wanted to win. I don’t think we need any more changes right now. I think coach fits the team.”
Waiters, though, isn’t positive Brown will get a second year to develop one of the league’s youngest teams. Gilbert has shown impatience before and most recently in February, when he fired general manager Chris Grant. The knee-jerk move rattled all of the Cavs, particularly Waiters.
“You never know with this business,” he said. “It’s not about friendships or relationships. It’s about wins and losses, so that opened my eyes up that anything can happen any given day.”
Brown said as much following Wednesday night’s 114-85 win over Brooklyn, a victory that eased some of embarrassment from losses to Milwaukee and Boston in the past week. Brown, who had five straight winning seasons when he was here the first time, said he would not plead with Gilbert to keep his job.
“It’s his team,” he said, “and whatever decision he makes with anything I’m going to support.”
Although he didn’t always seem to be buying into Brown’s system, Irving sounded hopeful there wouldn’t be a change.
“I’m pretty sure coach Brown will be back, which I’m happy about,” he said. “We all finished the season strong and it’s a brotherhood.”
Gilbert did not attend Cleveland’s season finale and was in New York on Thursday for the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meetings. In the days ahead, he’s expected to decide on Brown’s fate and that of interim GM David Griffin, who took over when Grant was dismissed. Under Griffin’s watch, the Cavs went 17-16 over the final nine weeks.
Once there’s clarity at the top, the Cavs’ next play will center around Irving. The supremely talented 22-year-old managed to stay healthier this season — he played a career-high 71 games — but he wasn’t always in sync with Waiters and there were too many nights when he seemed uninterested.
As they weigh his long-term value, the Cavs have to decide whether he’s worth an extension while not knowing if he’s truly committed to Cleveland. The team can’t officially make an offer until July, but by then they should have a pretty good sense of his intentions. If there’s some doubt, the Cavs may consider trading him.
Irving’s image took a major hit this season, highlighted with him being named MVP of the All-Star game. However, he lost some luster with his selfishness on the floor and a perceived arrogance for someone yet to make the playoffs.
All along, Irving has said the right things. That was the case on Wednesday when he came as close as he has yet to saying he would accept the potential deal.
“I’ve been a part of this and I want to continue to be part of this,” he said.
A year ago, Irving was criticized for storming off the court after the home finale and not taking part in fan appreciation festivities. On Wednesday, Irving not only gave away his jersey and sneakers, but returned to the floor and threw more shoes into the seats.
It was a small gesture, but perhaps a good sign.
“We’re making strides in the right direction,” Irving said. “I want to be part of something special.”