Injury-Prone Kyrie Irving a Major Problem for Cleveland Cavaliers

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 19, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers's Kyrie Irving walks on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Kyrie Irving was supposed to be the exception for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For a franchise that has made an unfortunate habit out of misfiring on early lottery picks, Irving was the proverbial poster child for getting it right.

The No. 1 selection in 2011, he's since stuffed his resume with a pair of All-Star appearances, an NBA All-Star Game MVP and the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year award. An electric scorer (career 20.8 points per game), prolific shooter (career .447/.383/.860 slash line) and serviceable playmaker (career 5.9 assists), he has rarely run into problems—from an individual standpoint, at least—whenever he's stepped foot on the NBA hardwood.

Getting out on the floor, though, has been a bit of an issue. OK, a major one.

"He's missed many games, scared his team and its fans on countless occasions, and spent enough time in a mask that one of his nicknames should be the Phantom of the Quicken," B/R's Adam Fromal wrote.

Eric Gay/Associated Press
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If nothing else, Irving has at least been consistent. In keeping with that theme of regularity, he has once again made an alarming trip to the training room.

A strained left biceps tendon forced him to make an early exit from Sunday's 102-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. It will also cost him at least the next two weeks, although he will not need surgery to correct the problem, according to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald.

On the injury front, that's about as good as good news can get with Irving:

Irving's injury history would be concerning for a 35-year-old. It's nothing short of terrifying for a 21-year-old less than four seasons removed from his high school graduation.

Red flags were flying during his one-year stay at Duke. A nagging toe injury cost him all but 11 games of his college career.

Since joining the league, those flags have yet to come down. His laundry list of ailments include a concussion, sprained right shoulder, broken hand, broken index finger, fractured jaw, hyperextended knee, sprained left shoulder, right nasal fracture and bruised knee.

Have I mentioned that he's yet to clear the 200-game mark for his careercollege included?

People have been careful putting the "injury-prone" label on the young man. Once it's attached, it has the tendency to stick.

Former Cavs coach Byron Scott chalked up Irving's repeated appearances on the injury report to bad luck.

"He still is very young. His body hasn't fully developed. I'm just not that concerned about it, to be honest with you," he said last March, via ESPN's Tom Carpenter. "All the injuries that he has gotten have been legitimate injuries. It's not something that keeps recurring over and over again."

He's right, these aren't repeat injuries. Almost every piece of Irving's frame has broken down at some point. I'm not sure that's any better than struggling with a specific part of the body.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

For the short term, Irving's injuries have been more bothersome than problematic for the Cavs.

He's appeared in 64 of the team's 68 games, and this group still finds itself six games out of a weakened Eastern Conference playoff picture. As talented as he is, he's been hamstrung by the franchise's lottery bundles and coach Mike Brown's vanilla offense.

Where his medical woes could go from nuisance to catastrophe is when the two sides start up his impending contract extension talks. Should the Cavs deem him worthy of being their Designated Player, he could be staring at a five-year, max salary offer.

Finnan wrote in early November that the franchise will "undoubtedly" do just that.

Irving won't walk away from that kind of money. Even with rumors swirling about him putting one foot out the doorESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote earlier this season that "Irving has been telling people privately he wants out"—he's not leaving that type of bread on the table.

Carmelo Anthony didn't. Chris Paul didn't. LeBron James didn't. Irving won't buck that trend.

The real question at play here, though, is whether the Cavs should actually give him that option. After watching James bolt for sunny South Florida in 2010, they may feel as if they don't have a choice. Irving's unending bout with the injury bug paints a different picture.

He's a special talent. With yo-yo handles and a deft shooting touch, he's averaged 21.2 points or better both this season and last. His player efficiency rating has never dropped below 20 (league average is 15).

But he gives back a lot of what he gets at the defensive end. The only time Cleveland's defensive rating drops below 100 is when he's off the floor (99.5).

He's still probably worthy of a max deal for his offensive gifts alone, but that argument loses some steam with each trip to the training table.

The Cavs aren't in a position to let someone with his skill level walk, but he brings more risk than a typical cornerstone piece.

Since James' departure, nothing has come easy for this franchise. Irving is no exception.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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