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Irving has done few interviews since the Cavaliers' season ended three-and-a-half months ago, but it hasn't taken long for questions to arise as to how happy he really is now that he has been talking. After three days of media availability with USA Basketball and listening to question after question about the friend he's tight enough with to call just "Bron," Irving finally exhaled and admitted it was hard to muster up the expected enthusiasm because he's pretty tired of discussing James' arrival.
That doesn't mean Irving's no longer excited about it. He's just sick of having the same delectable food for every meal. Irving brightened at the chance to talk about former Duke teammate Mason Plumlee participating with the USA Basketball Select Team this week, a nice change of pace from more LeBron.
"The excitement has kind of died down, because I'm getting asked this question a whole bunch," he said with a chuckle Wednesday at another LeBron query. "Like I can't smile anymore when I say, ‘I'm pretty happy.'"
Yet Irving, who remains peeved about the "bunch of BS" portraying him as disgruntled in Cleveland and unlikely to sign a contract extension to stay, is very clear that he's not at all unhappy about ceding the majority of the spotlight and a lot of the ball to a new teammate.
"I'm ecstatic just to be playing with him," Irving said. "[It's] the greatest player coming back home and back on the team."
To go from being the main man on a bad team to helping the "greatest player" on a contending team is no small adjustment, and Irving is aware of that. He said he has already discussed sacrifices with his young teammates, and it'll start with him.
Irving, 22, has already gone through three years of team failure. So any disappointment he might feel over now going from franchise player to sidekick—or even third-best player for some if Kevin Love arrives via trade—has to be muted.
"It's great to have help," Irving said. "Tremendous help from LeBron…"
There is alpha dog in that 6'3" frame, however. He was the 2014 NBA All-Star MVP, which only happens if you're special enough to stand out and, just as important, want to steal a big show.
Irving had the chutzpah to challenge Kobe Bryant to wager on a one-on-one game on this same Mendenhall Center practice court at UNLV two years ago. That was when Irving was merely a member of the Select Team of youngsters, in a sense only a Plumlee to Kobe and LeBron on the big club, but brash enough to believe in himself.
Irving has gone from the Select Team to the national team and from one NBA season to three. Individually, he has made a leap.
But the Cavaliers' record since Irving was their No. 1 pick post-LeBron is 78-152, meaning Cleveland has won only one out of every three games with him as the lead dog.
How did Irving sum up those years? "The grind of being that guy every single day."
As much as it is a responsibility he expected and wanted, it becomes a job when you feel alone in pursuit of greatness.
"I prepared myself every single day since I was a kid, and I've wanted it," he said, "but it gets a lot harder."
There is a delineation to be made between being capable of leading and being ready to lead. Irving has known all along that he wasn't truly ready—and still isn't.
"Being the No. 1 pick after Bron left, I quote-unquote became the face of the franchise, but I kind of shied away from that. I was just trying to come in as a rookie and figure my way out. Second year, same thing. This last year, same thing.
"I'm just figuring it out."
In those words you can hear it, no matter whether a smile accompanies it, that Irving is happy James has joined him.
Irving, who did sign that extension until 2020, also has a new head coach (David Blatt), a new associate head coach (Tyronn Lue) and a new general manager (David Griffin) to help guide him in this new direction. All three have come to Las Vegas to support Irving at the USA Basketball camp this week.
Irving has a chance to understand what most of us fail to figure out until later in life: It might puff out your chest to be known as the best guy, but it will swell your soul to be with other superstars firsthand and see what makes them great.
So much of our lives are about the standards we keep, and those standards rise and fall depending on the folks with whom we choose to surround ourselves. Our goals tilt one way around yes men, another way around those who demand excellence.
Beyond the completely different projection for winning games now, Irving gets to live a different life with James around—one of much higher standards.
Irving is already relishing that.
"Everybody's going to be coming for us," he said. "That's what you want as a competitor, especially in the greatest league that we play in."
Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.
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