ORLANDO, Fla. -- A source familiar with Kyrie Irving's rehabilitation told ESPN.com the fifth-year guard is “ready to play” both mentally and physically and has been that way for about a week. Yet, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt said after practice Sunday that “we won’t see” Irving on the court Tuesday against the Boston Celtics.
Blatt even went on to say Irving “practiced well” and “he is looking good and he is feeling good.” So, again, what is the holdup?
Basically, it comes down to the Cavs exercising extreme caution when it comes to their three-time All-Star point guard. And it comes down to approaching the season with a championship-or-bust mentality, rendering the urge to play Irving in any December game, no matter the flash the matchup may provide -- a playoffs rematch in Boston, a top-flight point-guard battle against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, etc. -- insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Irving has stayed true to the Cavs’ plan to take the measured route back to the lineup, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. As Cleveland.com previously reported, Irving has indeed been pestering the coaching staff and front office to allow him to return to the point that he has become “pissed off,” according to a source. However, he has channeled that frustration into extra work on the court, as witnessed by him joining James as the last two players going through shooting drills after Sunday’s practice while teammates had long since started icing their knees.
Making matters less dire, the Cavs have proven they can play .650 ball without Irving. Sure, with him maybe they could be playing .800 ball as they did in the second half of last season. But that temptation to see Cleveland in its full form at this early stage of the season does not outweigh the franchise’s plan to be whole when it matters most.
Does that mean that the Thunder game is already ruled out for Irving? No. He could play. Then again, a source familiar with the Cavs’ thinking told ESPN.com he wouldn’t mind if Irving sat out until February if it meant his chances of being healthy for an extended playoff run would increase.
Blatt added that Irving still has some testing to complete before the team clears him. Those tests -- the same ones the Cavs administered on Irving in the Eastern Conference finals this past spring before allowing him back on the court -- measure the pressure Irving is applying on his joints when he makes plays on the court and also determine if the muscles supporting those joints are strong enough to do their job.
To give you a sense of what happens to Irving’s body when he makes one of his patented moves, Nike employed ESPN Sports Science host John Brenkus to break down Irving’s game as part of its promotion for his new sneaker, the Kyrie 2, which was released this week.
“With an average ball speed of 21 miles per hour -- nearly twice as fast as an average NBA player’s dribble -- Kyrie can complete a crossover in less than one-third of a second,” Brenkus said, according to a release. Brenkus found that Irving pushes off the court with 770 pounds of force when he executes a crossover, which is a G-force greater than what an astronaut can experience during a rocket launch.
At some point very soon, the Cavs could cross the threshold of simply being cautious with Irving and turn into being unnecessarily overprotective. Up to this point, however, the slow steps have been justifiable.
“We’d like him to work a few more days in practice,” Blatt said.
And for now, Irving’s presence has helped in that regard at the very least, upping the competition level in practice sessions with him leading the second unit against James and the starters.
He’ll be bringing that same competitive fire against the opposition soon enough.