Irving, Cavaliers eye the playoffs as season nears

AP - Sports
Irving, Cavaliers eye the playoffs as season nears
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) -- Kyrie Irving was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 2012, then played in his first All-Star game last season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard has set an even loftier goal for his third campaign.

''I want to be the best player in this league,'' Irving said. ''In order to do that, I know we have to win a lot of games. But I'm the leader of this team, and I'm ready to take responsibility for it by helping us make the playoffs. This is the best I've ever felt coming into a season.''

Optimism ruled Monday as the Cavaliers held media day at their suburban training facility. There were smiles, laughs and even predictions of the postseason, which Cleveland hasn't participated in since 2010 with a player named LeBron James running the show.

Three years later, Cleveland is finally forging ahead. The Cavaliers went 24-58 last year, fired coach Byron Scott and rehired former coach Mike Brown on April 24.

The Cavaliers also added center Andrew Bynum from Philadelphia and point guard Jarrett Jack from Golden State in free agency, and made UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

''With the work that (general manager) Chris Grant did over the summer assembling this talent, and looking at the individual talent on this team, it's built to be a winner,'' said Brown, who compiled a 272-138 record as Cleveland's coach from 2005-2010. ''There are people out there who are going to say, 'Well, they're just coming together' or 'The team is too young,' but I don't look at those as excuses.

''We have to figure out a way to get the job done.''

Having a healthy roster would be a great place for the Cavaliers to start.

Bynum, who last played in an NBA game on May 21, 2012, resumed limited basketball activities two weeks ago. The 7-footer underwent bilateral arthroscopic surgery on both knees in March, and no timetable has been set for his return to full-contact practices.

''Andrew is going to be on the court soon, but we're not going to set a specific date when he might be ready to play,'' Grant said. ''Everything is good, though, and he hasn't had any setbacks. He's running up and down - full court at full speed - and is working like crazy here every day.

''If that means he's back in two weeks, great. If that means he's back in a month and a half, great. We're just not putting any hard timetable out there.''

Though Bynum will not be medically cleared Tuesday when Cleveland opens training camp, the former All-Star said he ''definitely'' will play this season. He signed a two-year, $24 million contract that only includes $6 million in guaranteed money. He did not play a single game as a 76er last year.

''I'm not completely there yet, but I've dropped 18 pounds and am right at 290, and I feel great,'' Bynum said. ''Honestly, once I'm back on the court, I'm going to be productive, so I don't see why I can't be an All-Star again.

''This is definitely a playoff team if we're healthy.''

Irving missed 38 games to injury in his first two seasons, while center Anderson Varejao has only appeared in 81 contests over the last three years. Additionally, Bennett had left shoulder surgery on May 8.

Varejao was leading the league in rebounding last winter when he suffered a season-ending right knee injury that caused him to develop blood clots in his lungs. He is the last remaining member of the 2007 Cavaliers, who advanced to the NBA Finals.

''We have the chance to be a really respected team,'' Varejao said. ''It's been a little rough the last few years, but we want to win a championship. This is our mentality.''

Cleveland opens the preseason Oct. 8 vs. Milwaukee.

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