INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- A few days before Dion Waiters began strutting in front of the media wearing skin-tight shirts to show off his new upper body, Kyrie Irving sat on a podium during media day interviews and admired his growing biceps.
"I'm just going to come out and say it: I look good," Irving said to a room of laughter. "This is probably the best I've felt coming into a season, just from the standpoint I've been healthy the whole offseason. There haven't been any problems. I dedicated myself to my craft and what I want to be and what I want to accomplish with this team."
Yes, the Cavs are growing stronger, both figuratively and physically.
In his first two years in the league, Irving has won the Rookie of the Year award, was named an All-Star, won the Most Valuable Player of the Rising Stars challenge and won a 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend.
When asked what was next on his to-do list, Irving never hesitated.
"To be the best player in this league," he said. "That's it."
It's an awfully high expectation, and one he'll be unlikely to reach this season. Before he can become the best player in the NBA, Irving must first become the best at his position. That's always a subjective conversation, but he'll certainly get stiff competition from Chris Paul and guys like Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, if they're healthy.
That's part of the irony in all of this. For once, the list of elite point guards either hurt or coming off significant injuries doesn't include Irving. And if he wants the Cavs to offer him the full five-year, $80 million max contract he is eligible to receive next summer, Irving must manage to stay healthy all season for the first time in his career.
He's off to a good start. Toe surgery slowed his summer work two years ago, when the Cavs selected him first overall. A broken wrist suffered during a summer league practice last year hindered his offseason work entering last season.
Irving spent this summer traveling the world but found time to squeeze in a handful of workouts with his Cavs teammates when he was stateside. He went to Australia (where he was born) for a basketball camp, visited schools across South Africa with UNICEF and danced with the children in various videos that quickly went viral.
Those weren't the only viral videos involving Irving. An Instagram video surfaced about two weeks ago of a boy in elementary school asking him, "Are you going to leave us like LeBron left us?"
Irving laughed in the video, told the small boy it was a good question and then answered, "No, I'm not leaving."
The video exploded across national websites in recent days, leaving the impression it was just taken. In truth, it was shot during the lockout two years ago, before he ever played a single game for the Cavs.
Irving hasn't said much about the decision facing him next year. He avoided the topic when asked about it in July, just a few days after his friend John Wall signed a max extension with the Washington Wizards.
No player coming off his rookie deal has declined a max contract from the team that drafted him, and aside from sulking toward the end of last season, Irving has never really given the impression he wants out. When he won the MVP of the Rising Stars challenge during his rookie season, he instructed the photographer shooting him with his trophy to, "Make sure you get the Cleveland," referring to his jersey. He also laughed off a report from a New York radio station during the summer that he would leave Cleveland at his first opportunity.
Still, given the fragile psyche of Cleveland fans and the painful history of the way James departed, fans will likely remain nervous Irving will leave up until he signs an extension.
"I love being here and I love being here with my teammates," Irving said on media day. "This summer was genuinely fun. We had work and play, we met each other everywhere and we built a brotherhood here."
As for his desire to become the league's best player, he's handicapped a bit just by the position he plays. Today more than ever, the NBA is a point guard-driven league, yet they are rarely considered the game's best player for the same reason that makes them so valuable -- they spend most of their time worrying about everyone else.
Cavs coach Mike Brown, who has coached two of the game's greatest ever in James and Kobe Bryant, discussed with Irving what it would take for him to be considered the greatest player in the game.
"I believe that's truly what he wants to do. If he believes that, I'm all for it," Brown said. "Keep showing it to me. It doesn't just happen during the regular season, it happens during the offseason. He had a pretty good first offseason with us. He's got to continue to grow in that area if he wants to accomplish what he's saying he wants to accomplish."
The Cavs spent the summer encouraging Irving to take ownership in this team. That includes owning their dismal 45-103 record since he entered the league. He didn't have much roster help the past couple of seasons, but that changed this summer, which might explain his upbeat approach and lofty expectations for this season.
"Great players are on great teams," Irving said. "In order to be the best in this league, I have to win with my team. I put in a lot of hard work with my teammates and I feel we have the pieces to do something special this year."
(c)2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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