Star point guard Kyrie Irving has demanded to be traded from the three time defending Eastern Conference champion (and one-time NBA champion) Cleveland Cavaliers. There are a multitude of potential destinations through trade and a littany of rumors from Irving preferring to land on the New York Knicks to LeBron James using backdoor discussions to aid in talks to Cavs general manager Koby Altman coming out and saying that everything is being overblown in the media.
Regardless, it has been a crazy week of Kyrie Irving coverage. Here are a few closing thoughts on the week.
Where were you on the “Kyrie is elite” spectrum over his career?
Andrew: I mean, there are plenty of things that Kyrie Irving can do on a basketball court that nobody else can do. On a day by day, game by game basis, sure, he lacks the consistency of the game’s true elite, but how do you put a price tag on Kyrie’s ability to take over a game and simply get you points when you desperately need them? That is an elite skill and Kyrie’s ability to break down a defender, get into the lane, and finish an impossible layup is next to none. And oh yeah, he can shoot the ball pretty darn well, too. I’m not going to try to play down Kyrie’s ability just because he wants a trade. Kyrie Irving is an elite talent and it really sucks that he doesn’t want to play for Cleveland anymore.
Bode: I haven’t watched the Cavs much the past three years, but I was all aboard the Kyrie Irving train when he was at Duke and his first few seasons in the NBA. His handles while changing direction on the basketball court defy intuitive knowledge of the limits of human ability. Irving supplements them with an uncanny knack at using space in the paint and a good outside shot. Irving will forever be debated due to his style not fitting the traditional aspects of the position, but he is an elite talent without question.
Corey: “Elite” is a frustratingly elusive adjective, but throughout his career Kyrie Irving has distinguished himself with the ball, in the lane, at the cup, and from deep. I have never in my life seen anyone as deft as him when it comes to laying in the ball from point blank range, in traffic, with the game on the line. In my book he is already “elite.”
Scott: He is, without a doubt, one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NBA. No one else in the league has his below-the-rim wizardry, slaying angles that would appear otherwise impossible. Irving is also, without a doubt, one of the worst defensive starting point guards in the league, forcing teams to compensate for a lack of pressure at the top of the key or in transition. This said, what he did with LeBron James on the bench in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals was simply masterful, and is exactly what the Cavaliers should be showing other teams when discussing trade possibilities. Kyrie isn’t ever going to be Kobe Bryant, but he’s a lot closer (offensively) than most would care to admit.
Should the Cavs trade Kyrie or attempt to force him to reconcile the situation? If they do trade him, then should they wait it out past December 14 when recently signed players will be available to trade?
Andrew: I hope the Cavs are patient with this. I’m still clinging to whatever faint hope there is that somehow this can be salvaged, but realistically, a trade is probably going to happen. But I do not want the Cavaliers to rush to take an early offer that looks good. Let this play out, get multiple teams interested, spark a bidding war. Kyrie’s value as a player on the court and his superstar status off the court carry weight and I would absolutely make any team pay a real price to get him. I don’t want to set any kind of hard deadline. If it takes waiting past December to do it, so be it. Just make sure you get the best deal you can get and never come across as desperate.
Bode: I love the idea of the Cavs giving him the Little Big League speech. The problem is that basketball, as much or more than any other sport, requires five players acting as one on the court. In a season where LeBron James is expecting to contend for a championship and can decide to go elsewhere if he feels the team did not put forth their best efforts towards one, the Cavs are sort of stuck. A malcontent who doesn’t get along with the best player in the world needs to go- no matter how talented. The sticky portion of the whole thing is the December 14 date on which players who signed this summer can be traded. Given that Jeff Teague is a player the Cavs might be interested in1 and the Minnesota Timberwolves are a team that Irving wants to land on, patience might be a key component here.
Corey: It is worth remembering that the Cavaliers do not have to do anything. There is no reason for the club to panic and deal him before training camp starts. Koby Altman would be well within his rights and due diligence to bring Kyrie back into town for a real heart-to-heart (ideally with LeBron James present). Much of the fallout has taken place while Irving was touring through China, without a GM, and with the roster scattered to the winds. I’ll allow that the differences may be irreconcilable, but I’d rather be thorough than hasty.
Scott: I think this ship has sailed. As a fan, I would love for some sort of movie-like reconciliation where all parties air their grievances, hug it out, and dominate the Eastern Conference once again. As a realist, I think Irving has both feet out the door, and Koby Altman’s legacy as a general manager will hinge on what he’s able to do in terms of negotiating a return.
If Kyrie is traded, then how what would be the proper way for Cleveland fans to act when he returns to The Q for the first time in an opposing uniform?
Andrew: I’m really not one for telling fans how to react. Sure, it’s going to be weird when the guy who hit the biggest shot in team history (and maybe NBA history) gets booed, but I’m not interested in doing the mental gymnastics required to say this is a normal situation and that Kyrie should be above it. The reality is, he is asking out. He doesn’t want to play with LeBron anymore and he doesn’t want to keep competing for Championships in Cleveland anymore. I wouldn’t dare expect fans to accept that with a smile. This isn’t a fun situation for anyone, I’m sure. But on a personal level, yes, I will always be grateful for Kyrie’s part in bringing a title to Cleveland and for all the fun years of watching him play. He’s my favorite Cavalier of all time and I’m really crushed that he wants out.
Bode: No matter what happens, Kyrie Irving will always be the player that hit the most important basketball shot in the history of the franchise. Not LeBron James, not Mark Price, not Austin Carr. Still, you don’t tell a team and city that you want out and expect a heroes welcome. If fans need to boo or burn their jersey or donate them to Goodwill (more constructive) to move on, then so be it. It’d be pretty perfect if the fans gave him raucous cheers during the introduction, then booed him mercilessly during the game, but we live in an imperfect world.
Corey: Follow your heart. Keep the gasoline and laundry far apart though. It’s easy for a city to get known for a thing (turn of the century Columbus and couch burning, anyone?) and I’d really prefer if Cleveland were known as The Town that Burns Jerseys.
Scott: As someone who is staunchly anti booing, I’m not sure I’m impartial enough to answer. I’m all about celebrating accomplishments without having strings attached. We can romanticize the days when players like Cal Ripken Jr. stay with the same team forever, but this is the NBA in 2017. Does it suck that Irving wants out? Yes. Does his potential trade remove that banner from the rafters in The Q? It certainly does not. For years we talked about just wanting one championship. We got it. Moving the goal posts is oftentimes considered the right of the fan, but that doesn’t make it realistic.
What would be your ideal trade return for Kyrie (that could reasonably happen)?
Andrew: I don’t think I can answer this with specifics. I would like to see them get at least one piece with some significant upside and some pieces that genuinely bolster the depth of the team and who can play against Golden State in a potential rematch. I’m much less excited by draft picks.
Bode: I don’t know enough about the NBA enough to answer this with specific players. However, there are some fantastic potential narratives. The Cavs could trade Irving to the Los Angeles Lakers to help block James from signing there next offseason. Or, the Cavs could trade Irving to the Boston Celtics and just watch the fireworks in the media all season, then see a focused LeBron James annihilate his biggest Eastern Conference rival. Another fun one would be seeing the fall out from Andrew Wiggins being traded to the Cavs after James ignored him for a full month while lobbying to trade him to Minnesota for Kevin Love.
Corey: The bench is not deep at point guard — I am not sold on Derrick Rose as a starter — so Altman should look for someone who can step in Day 1 and facilitate the offense. I also want to see another Banana Boat man to keep James happy and a couple draft picks thrown in for good measure. I don’t want picks in 2026 or some distant future though; focus on 2018-20.
Scott: Draft picks will be the deciding factor, but there are a litany of young players I’d consider when it comes to a deal. If Koby can steal Kristaps from New York, he deserves a statue. A 6-5 point guard like Malcolm Brogdon is a great start if you can get someone like Khris Middleton (a 6-8 shooting guard) as well. You immediately get longer and more athletic in the backcourt while getting a wing who shot 43 percent from three point land last season—the perfect skill set to take on the Golden State Warriors. I’m intrigued about a deal surrounding Andrew Wiggins, as well as prying Josh Jackson from Phoenix. (For the record, I’ll be extremely critical of any deal with PHX that doesn’t include the rookie.)
Could the Cavs be a better team next year without Kyrie than they would have with him?
Andrew: I find that incredibly hard to believe. I suppose there’s a scenario where Derrick Rose stays healthy all year and pans out that could make the Cavs a better overall team if they get good return in a trade. That’s possible. But it’s just so hard to replace what Kyrie brought to the Cavs’ offense. His ability to shoot from outside and also attack relentlessly made him nearly unstoppable. We just heard Avery Bradley say that Kyrie Irving is the hardest player in the league to guard. Just a few months ago Zach Lowe was writing about how devastating the Kyrie and LeBron pick and roll play is. Kyrie has not been just another piece around LeBron. Kyrie has been a true sidekick and No. 2 to LeBron. Over three years of building on-court chemistry together, it’s really hard to picture them just replicating that with other players over one season. I highly, highly doubt any of this has a storybook ending for Cleveland.
Bode: Trading star players in the NBA rarely nets an equal return, and those that do usually take years to obtain it. However, the Cavs are in a bit of a unique case here. There is no logical way that the offense will be better without Irving. He is too gifted on that end of the court. So, the only way it could be true (or close) is to find a two-way point guard, then supplement additional pieces that help the overall team as well. It is the entire reason why players such as Eric Bledsoe and Jeff Teague will find their names mentioned. The Cavs will almost certainly still end up worse though.
Corey: I would be shocked if this were the case. Truth be told I’d be hard pressed to even imagine this offense without Irving running the point. LeBron tends to make his teammates better so could he boost the ceiling of a young, talented player such as Eric Bledsoe? Perhaps. The problem is whoever starts at point guard will be known as “the guy who replaced Kyrie Irving” which means the expectations will be high.
Scott: It will all come down to health. Every player linked to deals with the Cavaliers have their own issues. Brodgon is young and inexperienced. Middleton has had a history with injuries. Eric Bledsoe’s knees are always a question mark. Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose. I see a secnario where the Cavs can actually acquire players who would be better from a matchup standpoint against the Golden State Warriors (as described above), but I don’t necessarily know if this makes them a better team.
- I have no inside knowledge other than Teague is a good player but one the Twolves would likely trade for Irving along with other assets. [↩]