A superstar is supposed to be someone transcendent, someone who dominates, someone who makes everyone around them better. LeBron James is a superstar. Chris Paul is a superstar. Kyrie Irving is not.
While not a superstar, Kyrie Irving was an All-Star in 2013, and has since found his way into the national spotlight. The journey to the forefront of NBA circles began with his Rookie of the Year winning freshman season in the league, then was thrusted forward with a wave of hype that began rolling during last year’s All-Star weekend. Despite having won the Rookie of the Year the previous season, most around the country had yet to get a good look at the former Duke Blue Devil.
That changed last February in Houston when Kyrie broke the ankles of Brandon Knight in the Rising Stars Challenge. He made it rain in route to a 3-point shootout victory, and then showcased some crafty yo-yo dribbling and circus finishing in the All-Star game itself. As far as the world was concerned Kyrie Irving had arrived among the NBA’s elite. The buzz around Irving continued to grow with the third installment of Irving’s genius “Uncle Drew” marketing campaign for Pepsi, and heading into the 2013-13 season Irving was ranked by ESPN as the league’s 8th best player.
Apart from all the national attention, the narrative of Kyrie Irving’s rise has been set against the backdrop of 49 wins and 97 losses1, a success rate of just over 33%. Sure, the majority of those losses were in his first two years — years that are supposed to be formative and allow for mistakes, but here we find ourselves in year three of the Kyrie Irving experience and the wins still aren’t coming. Incredibly so, Irving has his team losing more astoundingly in his third year in the league than he ever did during his first two forays through the NBA calendar. This season the Kyrie led Cavs have lost a staggering 11 games by 15 points or more, including thrashings of 29, 30, and 44 at the hands of Minnesota, San Antonio, and Sacramento2
A superstar doesn’t allow his team to lose by 44 to the Sacramento Kings. It’s that simple. LeBron James, Chris Paul, or Kevin Durant do not ever let that happen to their teams. No way.
How special is he?
Since Kyrie is clearly not playing at a superstar level this season3 it’s perplexing to me that everyone assumes he’s worth superstar money. Every few weeks you’ll hear talking heads on the radio ranting about whether or not Kyrie will end up re-signing with the Cavs, and making the assumption the decision lies exclusively in the Irving camp. That perception is perpetuated by videos such as the little boy asking Kyrie “if he was going to leave like LeBron?”
The city was burned once by the hottest girl on the planet and now we’ve all fallen irrationally in love with the first pretty face we saw. I’m all for spending money on a pretty lady, but before I’m willing to write off all other options and give her that fat rock I better be damn sure she’s the one I want going forward.
Of the top 40 players in the league based off of PER, 12 are point guards.4 With the league making a point to keep defenders’ hands off of ball handlers, life for point guards in the NBA has never been better or easier. In turn, the league is churning out good, young point guards. With the average age of those aforementioned 12 point guards a ripe 26 years old, don’t expect the league to have a shortage any time soon. All of this only decreases the value of Kyrie Irving. Since good point guards are a dime a dozen these days, it should require a point guard to be leaps and bounds above the average to command a max contract.
Much of this is why the Wizards took heat this off season for pre maturely offering John Wall a max extension. In his three years in the league out of Kentucky, Wall had shown flashes of the superior athleticism and ball skills that made him a number one pick, but hardly enough to warrant a 5 year max contract that puts him in the same air as someone like Paul George.
The good news with Irving is he’s still young, and because this will be his second NBA contract and not his third, the Cavs will be able to pay him around $5 million less per year than Chris Paul is earning in Los Angeles. With a Kyrie max contract worth around $13.5 million in his first year it really isn’t much more than the $12.5 million Tony Parker earns or the $10.8 million Ty Lawson pulls in. At the end of the day it may make sense for Dan Gilbert to overpay a little to ensure a dance partner instead of getting stuck alone at the punch bowl.
Irving has super talent, and because of that he is sure to get his NBA pay day — that much he has earned. However, to be considered a genuine superstar and someone a championship team can build around he has to do more than just be talented. He has to win more than one out of every three games. He has to lead instead of pout when the s**t hits the fan. And most importantly he has to make damn sure he never loses by 44 points to the freaking Kings ever again.