Maybe Cavaliers should ditch Irving
The Cleveland Cavaliers do not have to trade Kyrie Irving.
They do not have to capitulate to the wishes of a point guard who cannot become a free agent until 2019.
But repairing the damage done inside the locker room by Irving’s request that leaked out Friday would be no easy feat. The Cavs’ “All for One” and “All In” mottos were torched in an instant. The report by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that Irving wants to be dealt to a team on which he can be a focal point and not LeBron James’ wingman carries with it the presumption that personal stardom is more important to him than winning.
If that’s the case, I don’t want someone that selfish on my team.
If that’s the case, I can’t see James and Kevin Love and J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson convincing him otherwise. It seemed a throwback to Irving’s younger days, when the Cavs’ first overall pick in 2011 seemed more focused on developing his brand as he slogged through three seasons with a 78-152 record.
Do the Cavs want to play with someone who hurt their chances of trading him for a high-profile player by not informing the team of his wishes before the June 22 draft? Although former Cavs General Manager David Griffin parted ways with owner Dan Gilbert on June 19, Griffin continued to assist the team until his contract expired on June 30. Had Irving voiced his feelings before the draft, the Cavs might have landed the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, or more likely the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, James’ close friend.
If Irving would rather make more money from shoes and endorsements and television commercials, would get more satisfaction from those than chasing another championship ring, then I’m ready to let the best isolation player in the league go if the deal is right.
But I’m not giving him away for Carmelo Anthony, 33, without a young player and/or draft pick along with him. The Chicago Bulls got the seventh overall pick and young players Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine (although LaVine is coming off a torn ACL) for Jimmy Butler. Irving should be worth that much despite his defensive liabilities. New General Manager Koby Altman’s phone should be ringing off the hook and one of the callers could be the Suns, who have a defensive-first point guard in Eric Bledsoe and fourth overall pick Josh Jackson of Kansas. On Thursday, the Suns hired the Cavs’ James Jones as vice president of basketball operations; Jones would provide Irving an immediate confidante.
I realize it’s not easy being Robin to James’ Batman. During LeBron 1.0, the Cavs never found anyone capable of handling the role. But the fact that the Cavs are 4-23 in the past three seasons without James doesn’t give much credence to Irving’s belief that he’s ready to carry a team. The fact that he reportedly mentioned the Minnesota Timberwolves, who traded for Butler on draft night, and the San Antonio Spurs, led by Kawhi Leonard, among four possible trade destinations is confounding as well.
Perhaps Irving has silently harbored resentment that he decided he could no longer bear. He agreed to a five-year, $94 million contract extension on July 1, 2014, thinking the Cavs were finally his team. Ten days later, James announced he was coming home.
Irving can’t be a true point guard with James, who often brings the ball up court and is the superior passer. It’s not hard to see how frustrating that could be. Irving spoke on more than one occasion last season about not knowing how much longer he would get the opportunity to play with James, although it was presumed he was talking about James’ decision in 2018 free agency, not one he would make.
Analysts were quick to point out Friday that this could turn out like it did for Irving’s idol Kobe Bryant, who asked the Los Angeles Lakers to trade him to the Bulls in 2007. Bryant did not get his wish, and won his fourth and fifth NBA championships after that.
But this situation might not be wrapped up in a wine and gold bow. I’m not sure that Irving and James can repair their relationship after Irving’s request left James “blindsided and disappointed,” according to Windhorst. Focused on another title, James might be able to co-exist. But Irving’s longing to be a team’s star doesn’t seem conducive to championship chemistry.