Heading into his third NBA season, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is focused, confident and ready to lead his team back to prominence. He took the time to chat with Bleacher Report on a wide range of topics, covering everything from the additions to his game to directing commercials.
Bleacher Report: I heard you say you took the weight room seriously this past summer. Was that something you decided on your own, or was it something you got from other players or the front office?
Kyrie Irving: It’s just a necessary thing you have to do off the court to stay on the court. It was just all the bumps and bruises I was taking my first two seasons…Whether it was a front-office decision or my decision or our trainer’s decision…I don’t want to be out any more games. In order to do that, I just had to take it more seriously, add a little bit more armor so I could withstand the grind of the season.
B/R: In your division, specifically, all of the front lines are huge—including yours with Bynum joining Varejao. You’ve got Sanders and Henson in Milwaukee, and you’ve got the Pistons' big front line. Over the summer, did you get any extra reps in with the floater to try to avoid some contact with those bigs?
KI: Yeah, you know, just playing in that 10- to five-foot area, just working on my floater. At my position, I was one of the guys at the bottom of the list at finishing in that in-between area. At the basket and from the free-throw line extended out, I was one of the best. But in that in-between area, I was kind of one of the worst, so that was something that I had to work on—getting that floater up and working on my pull-up jump shot in that area.
B/R: With Mike Brown coming on as a defense-first guy, is there anything he’s specifically asking you to do on that side of the ball that’s different from what you’ve been asked to do in the past?
KI: No, it’s just effort. That’s it.
B/R: So, no X’s and O’s changes? Just commitment?
KI: Just effort. You know, defense is a choice, simply put. Last year and in my first year, I had a lot of offensive burden. Basically, I was saving energy and guys were coming at me, but I was going right back at them. But this year, it’s not about trading buckets; it’s about trying to shut my man down as best as possible—not only for myself, but for my teammates to have a chance to win.
B/R: When you talk about the burden you were under last year, I’m wondering if you feel the pressure to live up to being crowned the franchise savior after LeBron left Cleveland. Do you feel the pressure to live up to that billing, especially this year when you guys are expected to make a lot of noise?
KI: No, I’m not worried about it at all. Nobody has higher expectations than I do for myself, so I’m not really worried about what anybody else is saying. I’m just worried about the interior, the guys that we have and building a rhythm and a brotherhood for years to come so we can win a championship in Cleveland. Obviously, LeBron left—going on about four years now, or three years now—and I’m just focused on moving forward and getting to work with the teammates I have. That’s what I keep my focus on.
B/R: With those new guys you have—you took Bennett first, you’ve got Bynum there, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters are both young players. Who have you seen so far in workouts or preseason games that is going to surprise us?
KI: Preseason can be a little biased. Guys aren’t playing starters’ minutes. I think it’s not gonna be just one guy. It’s not gonna be just one guy who’s gonna surprise. I think it’s gonna be a whole team effort.
B/R: What do you see Bynum adding as soon as he’s ready to play?
KI: Being himself. Clogging up the paint on the defensive end, locking up his guy and being one of the best low-post scorers to ever play this game. His footwork is unbelievable, as we can all attest to. And we just want him to come back whenever he’s ready or whenever he’s 100 percent and just be himself and work his way back into the game.
B/R: A couple of years ago, you mentioned that Steve Nash was one of the toughest matchups you faced because of all the screens and motion that was part of the Suns offense. Who was your toughest matchup last year at the point guard spot?
KI: Tony Parker, for sure.
B/R: Same reason?
KI: Same reason, but what separates Tony from Steve Nash is his ability to create with the ball and without. The Spurs are a veteran team, and he’s coming off triples, coming off staggered screens, coming off pindowns, just making plays with a whole bunch of veterans on the team. He just picked us apart. He’s a hard person to guard.
B/R: What can we expect from the new Uncle Drew stuff you have coming out? Can you give us a hint for what’s coming up?
KI: It’s gonna be exciting. It’s something I’m looking forward to. Just showing the fans and getting in touch with them. That’s all.
B/R: You wrote and directed the last one, right?
KI: Yeah, all three of them.
B/R: Is there anything, like a joke or a line you were in love with that an editor or a lawyer along the line said, “yeah, maybe we gotta cut that out?”
KI: You’re gonna have to wait and see. But in terms of the writing and directing, it’s more or less of a feel, and I kinda tell what I want the actors to say and I plan out what I’m gonna say and if it works, great. If it doesn’t, we know not to put it in the next one. It’s just more trial and error I’ve learned from making these commercials. If it’s funny to you and it’s funny to me, then I feel like it’ll be funny to other people. That’s just how I come up with the stuff.
B/R: Is it getting harder to pull it off? I imagine the first time around, when you went out to the courts, people didn’t know. Is it getting tougher now that people have seen the other spots?
KI: It gets more difficult to make them, of course. But we always leave it kinda like a cliffhanger. Always having the consumer, or the viewer, wanting more. And that’s how you keep the attraction, and that’s what I’ve learned. We’re putting the team back together, and now everybody’s wondering who my next teammate is. And we’ll just continue to make this until it has an end. That’s kinda how I thought about it and the plan that I had.
B/R: All this NBA rank stuff that ESPN did has got everybody fired up, which is kind of the point, I guess. But it has to be impossible for players to ignore it, so I’m wondering if it matters to you at all, or as players, if you talk about it?
KI: That stuff doesn’t really matter to me. I mean, it’s all opinionated, and everybody has a reason for why they put this person there, that person there, but at the end of the day, we all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have talents. We’re all talented at our position. That stuff we leave up to the media and the fans to decide. That’s up to them. And we go out and we compete for our teams. That ranking stuff, we’ve all been through it since high school. I’ve been dealing with it since I was in high school, so that stuff doesn’t really affect me. What I’m worried about and what I’m concerned about is going out and trying to win a championship with my team.
B/R: You’ve been a guy who has been marked by his confidence for a long time. I feel like every NBA player’s got to be that way just to make it, but you’ve always been especially confident. Was there a moment coming up in high school, or even before when you thought, “oh, hey, I’m really good, and basketball can be a real thing for me. I’m better than everyone I’m playing against right now.” Was there a moment when that struck you?
KI: The thing about the NBA that’s good is that we get to show those moments in our play. When we go against our matchups and we go against different guys, I leave that for the court. That off-the-court stuff—writing who’s better, who’s better at doing what—I just leave it for the court. I just go out there and play, and that’s where my confidence stems from: on the court. I’m totally different off the court, but on the court, I learned how to compete and just destroy. And that’s just how I was raised.
B/R: Who’s in your all-time starting five?
KI: Michael Jordan, Big O, Wilt Chamberlain, Isiah Thomas and Bill Russell.
B/R: You know, you’re one of the first guys to put Isiah Thomas in there. Is that a guy you’ve modeled any of your game after?
KI: Yeah, and like I said, we all have our biases and our favorite guys of all time. That’s how it all goes. We could argue Magic or other point guards, but Isiah, for me, is in my starting five.
B/R: You had a great game Oct. 21 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and I noticed you wrong-footed guys at least twice. Is that something you’re consciously doing to be unpredictable, is it something you work on or does it just happen?
KI: It’s more instinctive. It’s something I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s more or less using the rim as protection, jumping off the wrong foot and having the ability to use both hands so you don’t necessarily have to make a decision early. Once you get in the air, you just make a decision.
B/R: This season with the Cavs, what needs to happen at the end of the year for you to say, “that was a success”?
KI: That we came together as a team, that we changed the culture here and the Cavaliers this season were a contender, no matter what.
B/R: So not stopping at the playoffs? You guys are looking above that?
KI: We’re just looking to be a contending Eastern Conference team, to be in a position to win it all. That’s what we’re focused on. That’s what I’m focused on.