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Irving's broken hand healed, set to build off rookie season

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Associated Press
10/1/2012 6:52:18 PM
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Posing with his arms folded across his chest, Kyrie Irving waited for instructions from another photographer.

He was asked to smile.

"You don't have to force me to smile," Irving said before beaming.

Healthy and happy, the NBA's reigning rookie of the year is ready for his second season.

Irving, who broke his right hand this summer in a moment of frustration during practice, was the centre of attention Monday as the Cleveland Cavaliers held their media day, an annual preseason ritual of redundant interviews and photo opportunities that precede the opening of training camp.

Irving said his hand has completely recovered, and the 20-year-old even joked that the injury has made him a better player.

"My left-hand floater is something serious right now," he said. "I can actually tie my shoe with one hand. My right hand, I'm 110 per cent. No problems."

That's welcomed news for the Cavs, who endured numerous injuries while going 21-45 last season. Irving was one of the club's only bright spots as the No. 1 overall draft pick joined Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson and LeBron James as the only top picks to average 18 points and five assists in their first season.

Irving was sensational. Cavs coach Byron Scott believes his young point guard can do even more.

"I expect him to build off that," Scott said. "I expect him to be better than he was last year. I think Kyrie is going to have a breakout season."

Irving will not have any restrictions on him as the Cavs open camp or "Camp Scott" as it has been called since Scott arrived in 2010 and pushed his players to their physical limits. Irving broke his hand in July, not long after he practiced with the U.S. Olympic team.

The Cavs were working out at a high school gym in Las Vegas on July 14 when Irving misfired on a pass to rookie Tyler Zeller. In anger, he slammed his hand into the padded wall and immediately knew something was wrong. He underwent surgery four days later, and for nearly two months he couldn't do anything with his right hand.

The injury probably could have been avoided, but Irving said it hasn't changed him.

"It wasn't so much a lesson," he said. "It was one of those things that was just a freakish accident. Honestly, it could have been me being smarter, but going forward, I'm staying away from pads."

While Irving could have prevented this injury, there have been others in recent years. He missed 15 games last season with a concussion and shoulder injury and played in only 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a foot injury. Those medical mishaps have some wondering if Irving is fragile, a label he and Scott dismiss.

"I'm not worried about being injury prone," he said. "Not at all."

Scott isn't concerned either.

"The one that happened in Vegas, that was just a freak injury," Scott said. "I'm not worried about history of injuries, things like that. It's just a matter of him going out there and playing basketball and not getting too hyped up as he told me when he slapped the wall. I told him when he slaps things, things break. So he just has to be very under control at all times."

Irving added five pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame during the off-season to better handle the more physical pro game. Because he likes to drive the lane, Irving wants to be able to take a hit -- and maybe even give one back.

"I feel like I added another piece to my game, which is my post game," he said. "Coming down the court, I feel like me just adding that piece and being able to withstand a whole entire game without getting knocked down, and just being more ready. Players are more physical in the NBA and I just wanted to be more prepared this season."

On the flip side, the Cavs were pleased rookie guard Dion Waiters had shed a few pounds. The fourth overall pick in this year's draft, Waiters said he's lost 8-10 pounds since summer league, when he showed up out of shape because of some injuries sustained before the draft.

"Baby fat," Waiters said, adding his body type explains some of his girth. "I'm just thick."

Cavs centre Anderson Varejao has recovered from the broken right wrist that kept him out of more than 40 games last season. Despite the injury, the 6-foot-11 Varejao said he will not change anything about his all-out hustle game. He plans to dive, bounce, scratch -- whatever's necessary -- to get a loose ball or rebound.

"I'm going to keep playing the same way," he said.

As for Irving, Scott expects him to be a more vocal leader and take charge of a young Cavs team that won't have veterans Antawn Jamison or Anthony Parker around.

"I think Kyrie going into this year feels a lot better in his position of being one of the leaders on the team and his experience of being here last year," Scott said. "I expect that to grow as well. I expect him to be a great leader. As I told him, you have to lead by example."

Irving said he "held back" last season, and now that he knows what to expect believes he can take his game to another level.

Cavs guard Daniel Gibson, who played with James, said the NBA is in for a treat in Irving's second season.

"I know what's about to happen," Gibson said. "The rest of the world should be prepared from something special, because he is. Very few players come around like him. He comes in the gym and he doesn't warm up or nothing and we get out on the floor and he's doing all kinds of moves. It's just him.

"That's Kyrie. He's just a special talent that the world will get to see real soon."

Kyrie Irving (Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)
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