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NBA PM: Where The Cavs Should Trade Kyrie Irving

The Cleveland Cavaliers are saying all the right things, but if they ultimately have to trade Kyrie Irving, where is the best spot to trade him?

Basketball Insiders

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Where To Trade Kyrie Irving?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are saying all the right things about their relationship with star guard Kyrie Irving.  However, it seems inevitable that the marriage between the Cavaliers and Irving is headed towards an end. The question is where should the Cavs trade him and for what kind of return?

In what is a weekly Thursday feature, we asked three of our Basketball Insiders to weigh in on this idea, and give us their thoughts on “Where To Trade Kyrie Irving?”

Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Portland’s Damian Lillard are two elite point guards with an All-Star background about to just enter their respective primes, but perhaps with two different goals in mind?

After speaking with Sports Illustrated in an interview earlier this week, Lillard said the following about Irving’s desire to get away from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to be the focal point of a team.

“I mean it’s a lot of hard work [being the face of a team],” he told SI. “I’m not even sure that’s true, but I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to The Finals every year? I think they’ve been to The Finals the last three years, so. I would love to do that.”

Lillard was then asked if he would ever ask for a trade if he were in the same predicament as James’ teammate.

“I don’t know because I’ve never played with LeBron,” he responded. “But just watching from the outside, you see how easy he makes the game for everybody else. I’m not sure what it’s like playing with LeBron the person, but the player, I don’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to play with him.”

Let’s get this out of the way, first and foremost: In no way, shape, or form is this Lillard vying for a trade to the Cavaliers. He’s an incredibly loyal person and teammate when it comes to the Portland Trail Blazers. You’ll find evidence from past quotes and on Twitter multiple times that the recently-turned 27-year-old wants to remain with the franchise that drafted him until his career is finished.

However, if you’re new Cavs GM Koby Altman and you are looking to make a splash and find a solution to this situation with an unhappy Irving, why not pick up the phone and see if Neil Olshey is interested in a swap of sorts?

The similarities are striking between both players. They possess the clutch gene, they’re incredible in isolation situations and have the ability to single-handedly take over games at any time.

Lillard is a better rebounder and more aggressive in getting to the free throw line, but Irving’s slightly more efficient offensively and a couple of years younger with a championship under his belt.

Both players are under control for at least the next two years (Irving through 2018-19 with a player option for ’19-20, Lillard through ’20-21).

A straight up, one-for-one deal probably wouldn’t entice the Trail Blazers enough to make a move, but say Cleveland includes Iman Shumpert. It’s no secret that the team has been trying to shed his hefty contract for over a year now.

Portland just shipped off Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets for the same reason, but they’ll still need to fill his spot in the rotation, right? Shumpert could slide right into that backup wing role and provide some defensive help in the second unit for Terry Stotts.

It’s a heavy burden, but that’s still at a much lower salary than what Crabbe was making, but with more experience and, like Irving, championship experience.

Dan Gilbert and Altman would need to do a lot of convincing, though, for this to work. Portland loves its backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum as they continue to grow and feed off one another as one of the best duos in the NBA. For that reason, and the fact that the Cavaliers get no future assets back either, this trade scenario might be tough to pull off on both sides.

Irving’s value is off the charts. He’s a champion and is still yet to show what he’s capable of on a nightly basis as the star of the show. That should yield a worthy return for Cleveland, so Altman will have to do his due diligence to ensure that he gets the best possible return.

Landing Lillard would accomplish that goal.

–          Spencer Davies

The Cavaliers are in an impossible situation as it relates to Kyrie Irving. As for the best place to trade him, it’s a question whose answer will vary in accord with the responder’s thought process. On Sunday, I made the case for trading him to the Sixers, but I did so mainly because I am functioning under two assumptions: first, the Golden State Warriors are going to win the 2018 NBA Finals and, two, LeBron James is going to leave Cleveland next summer.

If only I had a crystal ball…

Here’s the thing: nothing is promised. Although we all consider the Warriors to be the favorite to win their third championship in four years, an injury to either Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant would change everything. For that reason, if you’re the Cavs, it would be difficult to trade Irving away for young assets that wouldn’t help you in the immediate term. In the event that, for whatever reason, the Warriors aren’t able to win the West, the Cavs should want to be well-equipped to represent the East again. They could probably beat any other Western team in the NBA Finals. So, behind Door No. 1, you have the “Well Equipped” train of thought, which would say that the Cavs, if they do trade Kyrie, should net at least one rotation player that can help them in the immediate term, just in case…

On the other hand, if we knew for a fact that two assumptions laid out above were true, the Cavs should position themselves to build for their future, as they would have neither James nor Irving one year from now. In that case, the primary concern should be netting draft picks and/or young players in exchange for the 25-year-old phenom. We’ll call that the “Build For The Future” train of thought.

So, I am going to cheat.

If the Cavs want to be safe, the best landing spot for Irving would be either in Phoenix, or, believe it or not, New York. Eric Bledsoe, Josh Jackson and another rotation player or pick would be a great return for Irving and would simultaneously help the Cavs win the East and have a piece or two to build for the future. Meanwhile, trading Irving for Carmelo Anthony, Frank Ntilikina and the Knicks’ 2018 first round pick would accomplish the same. Only problem? Irving hasn’t given any indication that he’d re-sign in Phoenix, so giving up Jackson is improbable. On the other hand, Anthony remains committed to landing in Houston, so he won’t waive his no-trade clause.

In the event that the Cavs decide to punt their chance at winning the Finals should the Warriors sputter, I’d maintain that the Sixers make the most sense for Irving. He would get a team of his own, would presumably partner with an up-and-coming nucleus and would only need to help the Sixers qualify for the second round of the playoffs to be deemed a success. Almost anywhere else, he’d need to deliver a championship to get the same respect. For the Sixers, despite the fact that Joel Embiid has the fans of the franchise believing that the team is “back,” they are far from it. Any hopes they have of taking their rebuild to the next level rest on two players who have never played a regular season NBA game and one who has only managed to play in 31 of them. The process is far from over, but Irving would give them a sure thing and move them to the next level.

In the end, I still say Philly makes the most sense, but as an alternative, either Phoenix or New York could net excellent returns, as well.

–          Moke Hamilton

Star point guard Kyrie Irving finds himself in a tough situation. He is a very talented player with elite skills on the offensive side of the court, an NBA champion and the sidekick to the best player in the league, LeBron James. There are multiple reports indicating the last part of the equation – being a sidekick – has Irving looking for greener pastures. While there are several teams that would presumably be a good fit for Irving, there is one team in particular that should stand out among the rest: the Los Angeles Clippers.

It has only been a month since the Clippers lost their star point guard, Chris Paul, to the Houston Rockets. With Paul’s cooperation, his departure led to a return of useful assets, including a first-round pick, Sam Dekker and Patrick Beverly. With Blake Griffin re-signed and the acquisition of forward Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers are poised to be competitive as early as next season.

Why should Irving go to the Clippers? Griffin has proven to be a very good player but always ranked second in the pecking order to Paul. And yet, both players had large individual endorsements and national recognition, on top of being perennial contenders. In Los Angeles, Irving could take Paul’s place in this hierarchy and like Paul, Irving could take command of the team and have it play in a way that caters to his skills.  With Irving, the team would have a new lead star to take control and recover from the loss of Paul.

Be warned though, these are big shoes to fill and there are risks too. Griffin likely didn’t re-sign to continue sitting in a secondary star role. He has elite playmaking for a big that couldn’t be fully utilized due to Paul’s expert command as a ball dominant facilitator, go to scorer and de facto coach on the floor. In addition, Irving has a tough individual act to follow. Paul has overseen the single greatest stretch of basketball in Clippers’ history, was consistently a top player on both ends of the court and has arguably been the best overall point guard in the league over the last few seasons. Kyrie’s contributions, however great, may be diminished when compared to Paul’s success over the last few years.

With so many new players, the Clippers are not able to trade many of their otherwise moveable assets until later in the season. To trade for Irving now would likely require center DeAndre Jordan in exchange. An All-star center that can help cover teammates who are less than stellar defensively is invaluable and the Clippers should be reluctant to part with Jordan. With one year remaining on his contract, perhaps this would be an opportunity avoid the risk Jordan tries to leave again, as he did previously in restricted free agency a few years ago. Otherwise, the Clippers would have to wait for new acquisitions like Beverly, Dekker and center Montrezl Harrell to become tradable, which may be too late since other teams are reportedly lining up big offers for Irving.

Considering the Clippers’ roster, they would need to retain Jordan to have any hope of playing even passable defense next season. However, with Irving playing alongside Griffin and Gallinari, the team would score a lot, be exciting to watch and give Irving the opportunity to be spread his wings away from James in one of the biggest markets in the NBA.

–          James Blancarte

Every Thursday we’ll ask three of our guys to chime in on a common subject. If there is something you would like to see us address, drop it to us on Twitter at @BBallInsiders using the hashtag #ConversationThursday.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers and @Ben__Nadeau.

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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