Kyrie Irv­ing’s po­ten­tial re­lo­ca­tion would be the big­gest off­sea­son nee­dle-mover yet.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider Nick Kos­mider: 303-954-1516, nkos­mider@den­ver­post.com or @nick­kos­mider

The flat-earth truther who drib­bles the round ball as well as any­one on the planet is the most in­trigu­ing player to hit the NBA trade mar­ket since Carmelo An­thony left the Nuggets more than six years ago.

That was my thought upon see­ing the re­cent news that Kyrie Irv­ing — he of ap­pear­ances in three straight NBA Fi­nals — re­quested that the Cleve­land Cava­liers trade him else­where.

In a re­mark­able NBA off­sea­son that fea­tured all-stars Paul Mill­sap, Jimmy But­ler, Chris Paul, Paul Ge­orge and Gor­don Hay­ward chang­ing teams, leav­ing the league firmly in the pub­lic con­scious­ness long af­ter the War­riors won the ti­tle in June, the po­ten­tial re­lo­ca­tion of Irv­ing would be the big­gest nee­dle-mover yet.

Here’s a guy who hit one of the big­gest shots of the last decade — the Game 7 dag­ger against the War­riors in 2016 that lifted Cleve­land to a long-awaited cham­pi­onship — is only 25 years old and still has his best years ahead of him, ask­ing to leave a team, led by the best player in the world in Lebron James, that is ear­marked for an­other shot at a cham­pi­onship next June. That pedi­gree, at that po­si­tion, at that age, with that im­mense tal­ent — that player doesn’t get traded of­ten.

Yet, a trade of Irv­ing, whose pub­lic in­sis­tence that Earth is flat has no di­min­ish­ing ef­fect on his bas­ket­ball tal­ent, seems en­tirely likely if not im­mi­nent. And the ques­tion al­most ev­ery team in the NBA out­side of Golden State has prob­a­bly asked: How can we get him?

It’s a ques­tion, ESPN’S Adrian Wo­j­narowski re­ported Fri­day, that has been asked di­rectly by at least 20 teams that have reached out to the Cava­liers. Al­though the Nuggets have re­mained quiet since a news con­fer­ence wel­com­ing Mill­sap to Den­ver more than two weeks ago, it would be hard to imag­ine they are not among that group.

The young tal­ent that pres­i­dent of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions Tim Con­nelly and his staff have com­piled through the draft in re­cent years — Nikola Jo­kic, Ja­mal Mur­ray, Gary Har­ris, Juan­cho Her­nan­gomez, Ma­lik Beasley and Em­manuel Mu­diay — has cre­ated one of the league’s more cov­eted col­lec­tion of as­sets.

As a re­sult, the Nuggets prob­a­bly have enough goods to of­fer Cleve­land what it is seek­ing, ac­cord­ing to Wo­j­narowski: a pack­age that re­sem­bles what the Nuggets fetched from the Knicks when they parted with a dis­grun­tled An­thony.

Even a good pump fake couldn’t help you avoid the irony here. The re­turn for the Nuggets when they shipped Melo was Wil­son Chan­dler, Danilo Gal­li­nari, Ray­mond Fel­ton, Ti­mofey Moz­gov, the Knicks’ 2014 first-round draft pick, the Knicks’ 2012 sec­ond-round pick, the Knicks’ 2013 sec­on­dround pick and $3 mil­lion in cash.

Add that all up and the Nuggets got a re­turn that helped them win a fran­chise- record 57 wins in 2013. The Knicks got a player who, while re­main­ing among the NBA’S best tal­ents, has led them past the first round of the play­offs only once.

As a re­sult, Den­ver’s haul in the trade of Melo has been viewed as a stan­dard for what a team should get back if it makes the ag­o­niz­ing de­ci­sion to ship a su­per­star. But it also left the Nuggets with­out some­thing they haven’t had since Melo left: a big box­of­fice at­trac­tion.

The at­ten­dance fig­ures for the Nuggets — last in the league the past two years — are a prob­lem. There’s no way around that. The Nuggets made a splash when they signed Mill­sap. But Irv­ing could be the can­non­ball that could wash fans back into the Pepsi Cen­ter. It’s part of the en­tic­ing pack­age that would come with adding the four­time all-star.

I asked Nuggets pres­i­dent Josh Kroenke be­fore the NBA draft in June about the bal­ance be­tween build­ing a sus­tain­able pro­gram long term and mak­ing moves with the idea of boost­ing at­ten­dance im­me­di­ately.

“For me, I don’t ever want to put those guys in a po­si­tion where they’re mak­ing a bas­ket­ball de­ci­sion sim­ply to try to help our busi­ness side,” Kroenke said then, re­fer­ring to his front of­fice. “Be­cause win­ning bas­ket­ball games over the long run is go­ing to help our busi­ness side more than any move we might make in the short term will. We have con­ver­sa­tions, but it’s good for me to be in the room with those guys to help them weigh those types of equa­tions be­cause, even though they are fo­cused on the bas­ket­ball side of things, they un­der­stand where the met­rics are and where our at­ten­dance num­bers rank. That mo­ti­vates them as much as any­thing. They want to show Den­ver a great bas­ket­ball team.”

So the ques­tion for the Nuggets is whether a move for Irv­ing would meet both cri­te­ria. There is no doubt No. 2 Nuggets jer­seys would fly off the shelves. And fa­thers and moth­ers would bring sons and daugh­ters to see Irv­ing’s sweet-han­dling, ac­ro­bat­icfin­ish­ing style of play at the Pepsi Cen­ter.

But does it make them a win­ner long term? Irv­ing’s con­tract lasts two sea­sons and he could bolt af­ter that. In the mean­time, the Nuggets would have to give up plenty. Jo­kic is as close to off-the-ta­ble as you’ll find in a young player. But would Den­ver be will­ing to part with Har­ris and Mur­ray as part of a pack­age that would in­clude sev­eral other pieces as well? That’s a lot to ask, par­tic­u­larly if the Nuggets truly be­lieve, as they’ve con­tin­u­ally pro­fessed, that Mur­ray is a fu­ture star in the league.

The view here is the Nuggets need to make a ma­jor push for a player who would im­me­di­ately in­ject life into the city’s sports scenes. But not if it means mov­ing heaven and flat Earth to make it hap­pen.

Tony De­jak, As­so­ci­ated Press file

An ESPN re­porter said Fri­day at least 20 NBA teams have asked the Cleve­land Cava­liers how they could ac­quire all-star guard Kyrie Irv­ing.

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