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John Wall, Kyrie Irving and letting young point guards grow

Now may be a good time to pile on Kyrie Irving, but keep in mind the parallels between he and John Wall at the same age.


I'm sure many fellow Wizards fans have been reading the latest reports out of Cleveland with glee. Kyrie Irving, the much-adored 21-year-old point guard that many feel has been anointed too soon, is reportedly grumbling about the Cavaliers' direction and perhaps wants out. This initially came from ESPN's Chad Ford:

Virtually every GM in the league believes that Grant will be gone this summer if things don't get turned around this season. He doesn't have much time. The thinking is that there's no way Dan Gilbert is going to let him make another lottery pick if that's the direction the Cavs end up heading. Grant's goal (via his owner) is to get this team competitive and into the playoffs. The Deng move was supposed to help. But so far ... nothing. Chemistry is a major issue there and some of that is on Mike Brown. But more of it is on the collection of players in Cleveland at the moment. Something has to happen quick. Kyrie Irving has been telling people privately he wants out. Cleveland can't afford to lose him and LeBron. They know the urgency. I expect them to be major players at the deadline.

This led to Irving denying all rumors with the directness of someone that is trying to conceal his true intentions. Ever play poker? If so, you know one central theory: Players who act strong are usually weak, and players who act weak are usually strong. This is strong public stuff from Kyrie:

"There's been so much so-called reports coming out that I don't want to be here. That's what you guys get paid to do, but that's just so much negative attention," Irving said following the Cavs' 117-86 loss to the Knicks. "I know we're struggling, but it's not about me. It's about our team. It's about us fighting every day for each other and me fighting for my teammates.

"Yes, I'm in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That's what it's about. It's not about me and it's not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?' I'm still in my rookie contract and I'm happy to be here. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to be here for a long time. I'm not saying anything to tell the future, but I'm pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here."

All this coverage has shifted attention to the Cavaliers, a 16-30 mess of a team that is underachieving significantly and looks increasingly unlikely to make the playoffs in one of the worst conferences in memory. And while there are so, so, so, so many problems with the team that go beyond Irving, this was also supposed to be the year where he would produce and lift a team actually going places. It certainly hasn't happened.

To the question of whether Kyrie was "anointed" too soon, the answer is ... well, sure. In his third year, Irving is still dribbling too much, still playing matador defense, still taking poor shots and still struggling to actually lift his teammates instead of just himself. There's been enough smoke about his surly on-court demeanor and inability to accept coaching for us to question that as well. It's also the league's worst-kept secret that he doesn't get along with fellow backcourt mate Dion Waiters.

But that's not really what I want to discuss here. I bring all this up because there are obvious parallels between Irving and John Wall, and not just in terms of "look how much better our guy is!" Both players show how the narrative on players can shift really quickly.

Two years ago, Wall was in a similar spot to Irving. His growth was stagnating, his on-court demeanor was discouraging. He, too, was being accused of failing to lift his less talented teammates. His own head coach accused him of developing bad habits from too many summer pickup games. All this negativity was having an effect, and Wall's attitude showed it. If things didn't turn around, he too would continue to play like he had checked out and think about escaping at the first opportunity. Perhaps Wall was better at keeping all this out of the press or saying the right things, but otherwise, the situations were about the same.

But things changed. Wall himself had some growing up to do, and he took steps after realizing that. His training regiment has improved, his film study more frequent. And the Wizards, sensing the discontent of their star, began shifting strategies, trading for veterans that could keep him grounded and consistent. Wall now didn't need to star AND be the babysitter for his peers. He could just do the former.

We can debate the merits of the Wizards' strategy. In prioritizing Wall's formative years, they may have simultaneously jeopardized maximizing his prime. (I am especially worried this will happen). Still, those moves, along with some growing up from a 21-year-old that was probably asked to do too much, too soon, helped rehabilitate Wall's image and convince him to happily sign on for five more years instead of fighting for an early opt out.

Could the same happen to Irving? You could argue the process is already starting with the Cavaliers' trade for Luol Deng, and it'll surely continue as more adversity strikes. Things also may continue to go haywire, with Irving either accepting a new deal with an opt out or being traded before that point. We don't know at this point.

But while it's more fun to gloat about Wall's stature and Irving's fall from grace, the truth is more complicated. Just as Wall was given some room to grow up, so to should Irving. The formative years of a great point guard prospect are never as neat and tidy as you'd think.

Besides, it's more fun when both players are at the top of their games and Wall beats Irving anyway.