Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, but the Cleveland Cavaliers hold his rights—and the answer to how the balance of power in the Eastern Conference will shake out next season.
FILE – In this Feb. 27, 2017, file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving talks with a teammate in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Cleveland. Two people familiar with the situation says All-Star guard Kyrie Irving has asked the Cavaliers to trade him. Irving made the request last week to owner Dan Gilbert, said the persons who spoke Friday, July 21, 2017, to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team is not commenting on the star’s demands. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Irving reportedly requested a trade from Cleveland earlier this month, seeking to play for a team that would be designed around his unique, explosive combination of skills. As LeBron James’ running mate for the last few seasons, Irving strived to be a co-star to James’ heroics. But he often shined on his own stage, such as when he delivered a backbreaking three-pointer to propel the Cavs to their first championship in 2016. Trading Irving could be tricky for Cleveland, however, as they may not get an even return for the All-Star point guard. Should the Cavs move Irving? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate this question.
Riley: If Irving wants to be traded, then the Cavs should move him without hesitation. Everyone is gearing up to take out Golden State, and you’re definitely not beating the Warriors with tension flowing inside your team. Irving has been a standout alongside James, so he may fetch a sizable return should Cleveland move him. Perhaps they should seek out a more defensive-minded guard or a combo wing to take pressure off of James. The only competition for Cleveland in the East is Boston, but I can see the Cavaliers trumping the Celtics even without Irving as long as they get something back of value in a trade.
Green: Irving is one of the most skilled guards in the league, providing deep shooting, ball handling and a player who can score from inside and out. He gives James exactly what he needs in a co-star, providing floor spacing and an outlet who can create his own shot. If Cleveland trades Irving, there’s no way they get the same value in return. It would be a step back for a team that’s already pulling its hair out trying to assemble a roster that can compete with the Warriors. Losing your best scorer and second-best overall player isn’t the recipe for winning a championship. The Cavs don’t have to trade Irving and they won’t. The value simply isn’t there.
Riley: Cleveland doesn’t have to trade Irving, but it’s clear they have to retool if they want to compete with the Warriors next season. If they can’t, they risk losing James, again. It’s all about titles for James at this stage, and he’ll either leave Cleveland once more to find them, or stay and whisper to management how he wants the team constructed. Moving Irving wouldn’t return a comparable player, but they could get a nice package of players and/or draft picks. This might be the Cavs’ best chance of reworking the roster and making a splashy move. It’s going to come down to Irving or James. Either Irving gets traded, or James leaves after next season as a free agent. With Irving as the focal point while James was in Miami, Cleveland won less than 30 percent of its games. Since James returned in 2014, Cleveland has been to the Finals every season. Even if Irving never came forward and requested a trade, Cleveland may have been forced to deal the diminutive guard anyway simply to try to hold onto James.
Green: It might not matter whether Irving leaves, James leaves or if everybody stays, because this team isn’t beating Golden State. Period. Unless a mega-star free agent is willing to take less money to join up with Cleveland, as Kevin Durant did when he joined the Warriors, then what difference will it really make? The Cavaliers could find both Irving and James gone by the time the 2018-2019 season starts. Irving is under contract until 2020 at around $20 million a year, which is incredible value when you consider some other players’ recent contracts. Moving Irving now would be pointless unless management absolutely feels that James will leave next summer. And even if management suspected James might leave, it would make more sense to try to move James and keep Irving on his “modest” NBA salary. With his skill set and compensation, holding on to Irving makes the most sense for Cleveland at this point.