Kyrie Irving sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' in rehab for kneecap

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving is heading into the homestretch of his rehabilitation after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left kneecap nearly five months ago. Despite his team's insistence there is no timeline in place for his return, Irving revealed he does indeed have a return date in mind.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel," Irving told ESPN.com before the Cavs hosted the New York Knicks in Wednesday's 96-86 victory. "In terms of a date, I do have one in my head, but obviously, I'm not going to share it for a little bit. I think all the rumors that everyone said in terms of [a] January [return] or whatever, I'll let them stay out there. But for me, I'm just trying to take it one day at a time, and I'm just continuing the process."

Irving said the challenge he faces at this stage of his rehab is not pushing too hard and causing a setback.

"The biggest thing now is just not trying to overdo it," said Irving, a three-time All-Star. "Just trying to maintain the same consistency and get back into game shape. I think that's the biggest thing. I haven't been cleared for contact yet, but there's nothing stopping me right now from fully sprinting and doing basketball game things. There's no drills that I'm not able to do right now in terms of my own workouts that's limiting me. It's just about getting stronger in the weight room, strengthening my leg up again and getting back into game shape."

Irving said his days have consisted of three-hour rehab sessions starting at 6:45 a.m. and then sticking around the Cavs' practice facility to be a part of the team's group session, if only as a vocal participant.

"This has been the biggest learning experience for me in terms of my body and being able to be ready to play," Irving said.

The Cavs started the season 3-1 in Irving's absence, with Mo Williams and Matthew Dellavedova filling in admirably as a two-man tandem at point guard. The pair has combined to average 22.6 points, 11 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals through four games, keeping pace with Irving's personal averages of 21.7 points, 5.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game last season.

"It's been difficult, but for me, it's just about being there for my teammates," Irving said. "I mean, I think everybody knows by now I'm the biggest supporter of our teammates and one of the leaders on the team, and I'm going to continue to do what's needed from me as a leader. And that's continuing to use my voice, be there every single day and be there before everybody gets there [until] my work is done."

As Irving's body has improved, he has worked himself back into team activities. After skipping the Cavs' first road trip of the season through Chicago and Memphis to stay back in Cleveland with a member of the training staff, Irving joined the team on its second trip to Philadelphia. On Wednesday, Irving joined the Cavs' local television broadcast on Fox Sports Ohio with Fred McLeod and Austin Carr for the second quarter.

While Irving's spirits were high and he said his progress was "going pretty well," he admitted he is still haunted by the timing of his kneecap injury, which occurred in overtime of Game 1 of the NBA Finals. On Tuesday, for instance, Irving posted a photo on Instagram congratulating LeBron James on reaching 25,000 career points earlier in the week, and he included the hashtag "#westillhavebusinesstohandle" in the caption.

"Not being there and not being able to be out there with [James] and be out there with my teammates, especially at the biggest stage, is something that I've dreamt of as a kid and those big stages I thrive on," Irving said. "So it's a little disheartening, but it was a learning experience, to say the least. Now coming into this season as a fifth-year player, this is my first season where I haven't come into the season healthy. So it's been a learning experience from that aspect, but it makes my job a lot easier when I have guys like this.

"I mean, we have an incredible team with our first and second unit. We're learning more and more about each other, and our culture here is still being built, but we still have guys that are returning from last year, so we feel pretty good about it."