With just one game standing between Irving's Cavs and the end of a completely lost season, the increasingly frustrated star turned up the volume on his team's obvious malaise.
Per Jodie Valade of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Irving said:
It's disappointing based on our effort. Our fans definitely don't deserve it, especially at the end of the season. We preached it and said we wanted to finish strong, but teams are just getting the best of us. Just our effort level wasn't there. It's disappointing and we have to be disappointed in ourselves. The last two games, the fans don't deserve it.
It's hard to disagree with Irving, whose comments referred to a pair of recent losses to the bottom-feeding Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers are right there alongside those clubs in the lottery, but given the superior talent on Cleveland's roster, there's no excuse for those results.
Unfortunately, Irving's words ring hollow because of his own mail-it-in efforts in those very games. He made just 7-of-27 shots and handed out four assists combined in Cleveland's losses to Milwaukee and Boston. And since this is Irving we're talking about, we know his defensive effort was nonexistent as well.
He's entitled to be disappointed about his teammates' play, but he also has to acknowledge that as their leader, he's the one who's supposed to set the tone. If the Cavaliers' secondary players aren't giving maximum effort as a unit, it's probably because they're taking cues from him.
With an extension offer likely coming this summer, Irving will have his first chance to send a clear signal about his future intentions. Accepting such an offer to stick around would quiet the ongoing speculation about his unhappiness in Cleveland.
In addition, a commitment to stay would assure Cavaliers fans that their current star won't follow the example set by their last one. If Irving were to leave town, he'd tear open the still-raw wound LeBron James inflicted back in 2010—not to mention set the franchise back another few years in the process.
It's hard to know what Irving will decide, and he's not helping to clarify things by making cryptic comments like the one he tweeted after the loss to the Bucks on April 11:
Some of the more optimistic Cavs supporters hoped the tweet was literal:
That's one way to interpret it. More than likely, it was just another outlet for Irving's frustration. He's stuck in an unenviable situation with inept ownership, questionable coaching and locker-room squabbling. Worst of all, Irving himself has been more a part of the problem than the solution.
Irving is right: The Cavaliers' recent effort has been disappointing. But so has nearly every second of his tenure in Cleveland.