CLEVELAND — For Cleveland fans and media at Progressive Field on Tuesday evening, Kyrie Irving’s departure brought a sense of the inevitable more than disappointment.
One fan, Greg Pramuka, was standing on the concourse just before the start of the Red Sox-Indians game, wearing a black Cavs t-shirt that said “The First," in honor of 2016.
Relationships fall apart fast.
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“He wanted to go out anyway,” said Pramuka, who's from the Akron area. “We heard about it on the way up and we’re like, Isiah Thomas, he’s got some heart. He’s a a gritty player and that [Jae] Crowder guy, he broke — I mean, look at what he did to Kevin Love.
“But, the scrappy players, Cleveland loves, because we’re always underdogs.”
Mike Hughes, Pramuka’s friend, was wearing an Indians jersey rather than Cavs gear. But he felt the same way.
“We don’t have that [scrappiness] right now as a team,” Hughes said. “We knew he was leaving.”
Progressive Field is just a stone’s throw from Quicken Loans Arena, and the press box and dining area naturally heard a lot of talk about the trade. Even more than normal, media members were glued to their phones as the first reports came out.
Jensen Lewis, a pitcher for the Indians from 2007-10 who hosts their television pre- and postgame shows, remembered the night LeBron James came back to Cleveland for the first time since The Decision.
Irving’s return won’t bring anywhere near that kind of animosity — at least not right away. Check back next spring.
“I just remember the security we had to go through to get in the arena, it was unlike anything,” Lewis said of LeBron's return. “I don’t even think it’ll be that close as far as that kind of like, just all hands on deck, people worrying.
“But, it’s gonna be interesting because there was still — [Irving] hit the shot that ended the drought. Now he’s going to come back in enemy territory and you guys know as well as anybody, you open the season there, and you get two guys that want to prove a point. So I think from that standpoint, it’s going to be great theater.
"[If] the Celtics and the Cavs play for the right to go to the Finals and he hits the shot to beat the Cavs, Oh my God.”
From a basketball perspective, no one was really lamenting the package Danny Ainge put together. What stood out was the destination.
Joe Noga of cleveland.com has spent the past two seasons covering the Cavs as well as the Indians.
“The timing of it, I think feels right,” Noga said. “They needed to get this done so they could get going and get moving and move forward and know what they have moving forward. I think they got enough for him.
“It’s a mix of guys who can help right away. And address problems that the Cavs had or have. Jae Crowder is a guy who can definitely do that. But, and I’m anxious, curious to see how Thomas fits in. You know, he’s going to provide offense, and the kinds of things that Kyrie can do, Isiah Thomas can do, to a degree. I think Thomas is more willing to be a defender but I don't think he’s as able to defend as Kyrie can be.”
But Irving has some areas to improve that the Cleveland media saw up close.
“The culture in Boston could change Kyrie, maybe mature him a little bit more,” Noga said. “And that’s something Kyrie definitely needs. It’s going to be a wake-up call for him as well. ‘Cause he could definitely get away with more in Cleveland than he’s going to be able to get away with in Boston, and Brad Stevens is going to hold Kyrie accountable. Like, from what I know of Brad Stevens, he’s not going to play around with Kyrie not playing defense, which is something that Kyrie got away with here. Absolutely.”
The fact that Irving was unhappy in Cleveland was unsettling to Cavs fans, and should perhaps be unsettling to Celtics fans too. Mike and Sherry McCoy were sitting in chairs in Indians gear along the Progressive Field concourse, with a rain delay about to end.
“Trust me if he did stay here, he’d get — Cleveland fans can be pretty brutal,” Mike said, before laughing. “Well, Boston fans can be too.”
Sherry McCoy saw the rift with James start to unfold on the court.
“Last year toward the end of the season though I think you could tell something was wrong,” she said. “Something wasn’t jelling.”
Zack Meisel, who covers the Indians for The Athletic, thought it was a shame it ever got to this point.
“I'm not sure the Cavs were going to win any trade in which they dealt away a 25-year-old superstar in a market where other teams knew their intentions,” Meisel said. “It forced the Cavs to consider both their short-term and long-term options, and maybe they addressed both with this trade, but Irving put them in a near-impossible situation and in the end, the Cavs dealt him to the only true threat in the Eastern Conference. I'm just left shaking my head at the whole thing.”