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NBA PM: Where The Cavs Should Trade Kyrie Irving

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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.

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