Looking for Leadership in All the Wrong Places

Kyrie Irving Cavs fans

Ralph had the conch. Kevin Garnett swaps out the mollusks opting, instead, for the scowl. At an allegorical level, both items — despite one being inherently more tangible than the other — serve as governing instruments, helping groupthink trump individuality with hopes of ultimate success. Said instruments also occasionally result in tears, be they from the ducts of Piggy or Big Baby Davis.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have Byron Scott. Lord Byron has certainly enjoyed his fair share of winning both as a player and as a head coach. While championship contenders assuredly have their sideline archetypes, the on-court policing and locker room lambasting often rests in the over-sized hands of the stronger personalities who don the jerseys.  Leaders lead by example, but the best ones effectively put the fear of God into their constituents; high expectations and unrelenting accountability certainly have a way to keep one focused. The eye on the prize.

At the end of the day, Scott provides leadership in terms of philsophy and X’s and O’s. But who is the legislative force actually wearing Wine and Gold?

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together,” said Scott on Tuesday afternoon. “We have to hold each other accountable just like I have to hold them accountable.  That’s what great teams do. You always have someone on that team who’s jumping on somebody’s case if they miss an assignment. We just kind of let them go by.”

Sure, Scott can police his players with playing time and roles. Just ask Christian Eyenga. While he likes to think that he has a suitable amount of players who can step up and voice their displeasure, he’s admittedly unsure. Daniel Gibson was one of the more vocal players following the team’s recent loss to the Utah Jazz, but he’s struggling from the floor. Anderson Varejao, a cagey veteran in his own right, would typically be animated, but he’s relegated to designer suits and freshly shined wingtips. Antawn Jamison speaks highly of guys like John Starks and Terry Cummins and their impact on an otherwise young late-90s Warriors team.

On a roster littered with players being compensated per their rookie contracts coupled with a pair of veteran leaders who prefer to guide by example more than placing forefingers firmly in the chest of their counterparts, could the 19-year old — the youngest player on the roster, the one who has suited up for the fewest number of games over the last two seasons — be the lodestar to steer an entire locker into the same direction? Scott is desperately in search of someone to step up, to get in the faces of those not carrying their own respective weight, but is faced with a dearth of options, instead being forced to resort to tough, physical mid-season practices despite a condensed slate of contests.

Kyrie Irving, the future and face — despite consistent attempts to the contrary — of the franchise is the likely option. With all of 32 professional basketball games under his belt, the kid shows all the markings of a leader, placing his team squarely on his still-developing shoulders in countless fourth quarters. But taking the reigns via quick, cunning moves to the rim is wholly different than yanking on those of his teammates, all of whom have spent more time on earth as well as more let alone on an NBA floor.

“I think as a rookie, especially as young as he is, I think [Kyrie] holds back at times,” said Scott. “I don’t think he’s fully comfortable in that role right now, which is understandable. Chris Paul was the same way — he had problems yelling at guys who had been in the league for ten years, nine years, seven years.

“I see the same similarities with Kyrie. There’s nothing wrong with that. All that says is to me is showing that you respect the fact that a guy has been in this league and done some good things. I think as he grows in his game, he’ll start to be an outspoken leader when the time is right.”

As the quarterback of the team, Scott assures his young prodigy of his freedom to direct his teammates. Owning said comfort is up to the player. Following Tuesday afternoon’s practice Irving was all over the gym working with assistant coach Nate Tibbetts on pick-and-pop situations, doing Muhammad Ali-like circles around Scott near mid-court, then running full-speed, head down, in the direction of Luke Harangody while the White Whale attempts to work on his mid-range jumper clear across the gym. “LUKE!,” Irving yells as the power forward cocks back to shoot.

Kyrie is a practical joker, always smiling. In just a few short months, he’s stared in commercials where he is pulled out from under the cushions of an RV couch as well as taken an ice bath surrounded by Pepsi Max. All of his teammates are incorporated within his daily hijinks, be they long-time veterans or rookies or the 15th man. 

William Golding dubbed Ralph as the island’s chief due to his “genuine leadership,” the charistmatic and athletic type, embodying ever-wholesome intentions. But he stepped right in and attempted to instill order. Chris Paul, Scott’s perpetual point guard juxtaposition, took several seasons to become a fraction of the leader he is today in Los Angeles. Garnett’s voice was seemingly amplified once he was traded to the big stage and bright lights of Boston — put him in front of players half his size and look the hell out.

Kyrie Irving is 19 years old. He’s played 32 games at the NBA level. The leadership will undoubtedly bubble to the top in due time. For now, the kid will play ball, and play ball well. The fire, the sense of urgency and the locker room accountability have to be provided by the veteran contingent.

Someone fire up the conch.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • mgbode

    you can’t force vocal leadership.   you can amp up a little, but if you try to be someone you are not (in games, practice and off-court), then you will likely fail to achieve what you are trying to do.

  • Garry_Owen

    “Leadership is the thing that wins battles.  I have it, but I’ll be damned if I can define it.  It probabaly consists of knowing what you want to do, and then doing it and getting mad as hell if anyone tries to get in your way.  Self-confidence and leadership are twin brothers.”

    George S. Patton, Jr. 

  • Harv 21

    I’m always a little wary of tossing around the L word if it’s not well-defined. There’s babysitters (“locker room presence”) and there are players who set a winning or losing tone and who others emulate. On the floor, in all sports, players tend to follow the lead of the best players, not ones that are washed up or have simply carved out long careers. And if that player does not play his best under pressure the team follows. I’m thinking Gilbert Arenas on a team that otherwise had a good roster and decent coach.

    If we step back a little, Cavs are in the second year of a 2-year demolition of roster and bad contracts. During a demo it’s amazing they have anyone on the roster good enough and old enough to lead. Andy was that guy and they are wilting without him, surely in part b/c of his missing skills but the competitive nature he brought is not being consistently emulated throughout games by anybody, including Kyrie. This is one of the reasons I changed my position about trading Andy. He’s more valuable to us in the next few years than anyone we’d get in return, because Kyrie and Tristan and next year’s pick need to bask in his intensity until it starts adhering.

  • Dan Dickau

    I forgot everything that goes wrong with the Cavs is Antawn Jamison’s fault. 

  • mgbode

    that’s what happens when we trade the city’s favorite player for you.

  • Dan Dickau

     The same player that we got back 30 days later, who did nothing to help our team win and was rendered useless in the playoffs. Oh, right, that was Jamison’s fault too.

  • porkchpxprss

    “I’m no leader, I do what I do, sometimes people follow along.”

    Edgar Friendly

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Leadership isn’t the problem it’s talent pure and simple.  Young talent. 

  • mgbode

    hmm, mine was a joke.  but, this serious angle is fun too.

  • Garry_Owen

    I had to look that up. 

    I’ve been out-Dennis-Miller’d. 

  • http://twitter.com/azv321 Amin Vafa

    Sucks to your CavsMar!

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Well played

  • porkchpxprss

    Nah, you got Larry the Cable Guy’d on a blind squirrel nut run.

  • Steve

     Who was rendered useless in the playoffs? It certainly looked like Jamison to me. Ilgauskas and Varejao was easily the best big man pairing we put next to Lebron, and yet we were forced to watch Shaq and Jamison.

    And, oh yeah, Jamison is a pretty crappy player.