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Should the Cleveland Cavaliers Trade Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving reportedly wants out of the Cleveland and this has been a nightmare season for the Cavaliers. Should they move Irving before the Feb. 20 deadline?

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This season has been a nightmare for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Entering the campaign, everyone in the organization believed that this would be the year that the Cavaliers ended their three-year playoff drought. They brought back a talented young core that featured Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, signed veterans Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum, hired head coach Mike Brown (who had coached his teams to the playoffs in every full season of his career) and added the No. 1 pick in the draft Anthony Bennett.

To say that things haven’t went as planned would be an understatement. The Cavs are currently 17-33 and the fourth-worst team in the Eastern Conference. Bynum was suspended and traded away in early January for Luol Deng, who has reportedly called the franchise a “mess” and decided to leave as a free agent this summer. General manager Chris Grant was fired on Thursday, and Brown is on the hot seat too. Rumors of Irving being unhappy in Cleveland continue to surface, and he hasn’t done much to dispel to notion that he wants out. Throw in many ugly losses, a confrontation between key players and a lot of drama, and you have Cleveland’s season in a nutshell.

So where do the Cavaliers go from here? Should they blow it up and trade Irving for a blockbuster package so that the new regime has more to work with while they rebuild? Basketball Insiders writers Lang Greene, Jessica Camerato and Joel Brigham weigh in:

Lang Greene: This is the fourth season for the Cleveland Cavaliers since LeBron James decided to take his all-world talents to South Beach and, in many ways, the franchise continues to regress. Despite drafting five players in the top 20 since 2011, the Cavaliers are still miles away from being relevant in the upper tier of the league – or even the Eastern Conference.

Cleveland emerged with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft and quickly selected the consensus top prospect in point guard Kyrie Irving.

To date, Irving has lived up to the billing as a strong player, earning two All-Star selections and quickly becoming a nightly 20-point performer. But you have to ask the question, seriously, have the Cavaliers improved as a unit with Irving serving as the alpha dog?

Sometimes we confuse a guy’s ability to put up gaudy stat lines, rivaling some of the league’s best, with that player’s overall leadership ability. Irving has one of the best handles in the game, is already a strong scorer, draws fan interest, is good at driving endorsement campaigns and doesn’t make waves off the court. Irving is a role model.

Those are extremely solid characteristics, but is Irving the guy you want as the centerpiece of your rebuilding project? Better yet, is Irving suited to be the true number one guy?

Oftentimes we make the assumption just because a guy has elite-level talent that those same attributes make the player an elite-level leader. This concept couldn’t be farther from the truth because those two dynamics are not related. History is littered with examples of elite-level talents lacking the necessary leadership ability to take a franchise to the next level.

Irving is charismatic and has the flashy game, but what do we truly know of his leadership ability?

Irving played just 11 games in his lone collegiate season at Duke. The guard then was drafted by Cleveland, where expectations were undoubtedly low post James’ free agency exit. This season marks the first time since Irving entered the league where expectations in Cleveland slanted toward making a playoff run.

But the fans who expected this season to be different have endured an absolute disaster and Irving’s inability to control his locker room is a primary driving factor in Cleveland’s struggles.

Earlier this season, there were reports of Irving and shooting guard Dion Waiters having friction and the latter wanting out of the organization as a result. Then came the suspension and trade of former All-Star center Andrew Bynum, who has subsequently been quoted as saying the Cavaliers’ locker room culture was dysfunctional.  Reports also surfaced from sources close to Irving himself suggesting the guard wanted out of Cleveland. Lastly, numerous players have been kicked out of Cavs practice this season, and the locker room turmoil was made even more real when it was reported that veteran forward (and class act) Luol Deng was frustrated within it.

The Cavaliers’ season has been a circus, to be kind. Taking things to the next level, general manager Chris Grant was fired last week in a move that is sure to bring even more change.

Irving is a likeable player but we can’t turn the blind eye to the fact his mind may already be on leaving the team at first opportunity.  Also, we cannot excuse Cleveland’s locker room deterioration when Irving is the team’s best player and the guy entrusted with keys to the franchise.

Players like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, guys who spend all of their careers with one franchise, are a rarity. The new normal are guys like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard who all left their original franchises at the first realistic opportunity.

Irving is a dynamic talent, no doubt about it, but no one in the league is above being in a trade discussion. So the Cavaliers should explore all of their options.

Joel Brigham: It’s absolutely fair to wonder whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers should trade Kyrie Irving because, let’s face it, there’s a reasonable chance that the Cavs continue to be awful and that Irving will one day start exploring greener pastures.  There’s a school of thought that says a team should trade a potentially disgruntled star like that while there’s still an opportunity to get a significant haul for him, but that school of thought isn’t really taking everything into consideration.

For starters, superstars are not often traded for other superstars in today’s NBA.  Take a look at the last handful of major stars that were moved via trade over the course of the last few years:

  • Orlando trades Dwight Howard to L.A. and Jason Richardson to Philadelphia in a four-way trade with Denver that returns them Nikola Vucevic, Mo Harkless, Arron Afflalo and three future first-round draft picks.
  • Oklahoma City trades James Harden to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick.
  • Denver trades Carmelo Anthony to New York for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Ray Felton, Timofey Mozgov, a first-round pick, two second-round picks, the right to trade first-round picks in 2016 and $3 million in cash.
  • Utah trades Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets for Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks and cash.

Here’s the trend with all of these deals: while there are plenty of nice assets moving to the superstar’s former team, not a single one of the players acquired in exchange for the superstar has made an All-Star team, and so far none of the draft picks have either.  Sometimes there’s some cap relief, and teams love young players and picks, but today’s trades involving an NBA superstar essentially amount to exchanging several smaller coins for a dollar bill (as Grantland’s Bill Simmons has always put it).

To make things even clearer here, with the exception of Harden, all of the aforementioned stars were traded at age 26, which for them was about the halfway point of their careers.  Only Harden was moved in his early 20s before the Thunder were able to make the most of his burgeoning talents, and guess which of the trades above have proved most regrettable for the team trading the superstar?

Kyrie Irving is a 21-year-old All-Star starter averaging 21.5 points and 6.3 assists in just his third season in the league.  This kid has tremendous room for growth but is already better than any player they’d receive back in trade or any player they’d be able to woo in free agency.  He is their franchise cornerstone, and to move him now would put the team back at square one only a few years after being at square zero.

Plus, Irving makes only $5.6 million this season and $7.1 million next season, meaning that even if he’s paired with someone like Anderson Varejao, it would be hard to return the sort of high-ticket talent that makes a trade worthwhile.

In other words, it’s not only silly, it’s also unrealistic.  Even in the midst of a nightmare season, trading Kyrie Irving would be a tremendous mistake.

Jessica Camerato: Point guards are a top commodity in the NBA. When a team has one of the best in their possession, it is crucial to get the max value in return should they decide to trade him. Regardless of how poorly a season is going, how dismal the outlook may be, dealing an All-Star, 20-point a night floor general is a transaction that should not be made until there is a clear direction of the organization’s future.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season has been a mess. Very little has gone right, yet Kyrie Irving’s performance has been a silver lining. They have a piece to build around, but how long that process would take and whether or not they actually want to do that is another story.

Irving will be sought after at the trade deadline. There are many teams around the league hungry to get their hands on a point guard of his caliber. But what would they be willing to offer the Cavs for him?

At 17-33, the Cavs are going nowhere fast this season. Their number one pick Anthony Bennett is averaging a whopping 3.4 points, adding him to the mix of former lottery picks who are not helping the team be competitive. The general manager was just fired, and do we even need to go back to the Andrew Bynum debacle?

The Cavs don’t have much leverage at the deadline. “Hey, we have this great young point guard, we aren’t winning, and we need to turn this team around, someway, somehow. Want to make us a highly lucrative offer?” Teams could lowball them on offers for Irving, hoping the Cavs will bite at an offer just to move him. Just how badly do the Cavs want to trade Irving? Opposing organizations will present deals to find out.

Before the Cavs make a drastic move and trade away a perennial All-Star, there are questions that need to be addressed. What do the Cavs want the team to look like in an ideal winning situation? Is Irving a player to build a contender around, or is he more valuable as a piece to acquire new weapons? Most importantly, who are the Cleveland Cavaliers?

It is unlikely Irving’s trade value will change in the near future. The Cavs don’t need to make a move for the sake of making one. They need to wait for the right decision for the future of their team.

Should the Cavaliers move Irving before the Feb. 20 trade deadline? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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