The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a lot of trouble.
As rumors continue to swirl around LeBron James about his desire to play elsewhere following next season, another pressing dilemma has emerged: Kyrie Irving. It was recently discovered that Irving, following the 2016-17 season, requested a trade from the Cavaliers, naming the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs as his preferred trade destinations. Disgruntled in his current role, Irving is looking for a situation where he isn’t playing second fiddle to another star; this is a wish Cleveland is incapable of providing him while boasting the best player in the world.
An Irving trade seems almost inevitable. Fortunately, with newly appointed general manager Koby Altman, the Cavaliers have some options.
Barring a blockbuster trade, Cleveland’s best chance to return to the NBA Finals requires Irving remain on the team. While the Eastern Conference isn’t the most challenging, the Cavaliers should have more competition than last season: the Boston Celtics added All-Star wing Gordan Hayward, who should flourish in Brad Stevens system; the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards have another season to gel; the Philadelphia 76ers are on the rise. Come playoff time, it shouldn’t be the cakewalk that it was for the Cavaliers last season.
The combination of talent, experience and youth that Irving brings to the table is almost invaluable to the Cavaliers, who have an aging roster built to get James to the Finals. Losing Irving could be devastating to the franchise, should the rumors surrounding James prove true. Also, while he may have requested a trade and given the team a list of preferred destinations, the Cavaliers have no reason to fulfill Irving’s wishes. Irving, who has two years remaining on his current deal and no no-trade clause, has virtually no leverage in the current situation. For the Cavaliers, going into the season with a disgruntled Irving may be better than going into it with no Irving at all.
Trade Him Now
An unhappy roster can ruin a season before it even starts. If the Cavaliers don’t trade Irving now, a black cloud could hang above the team through training camp and into the season, possibly causing other players to become unhappy or even angry with management. While teammates James and Kevin Love have expressed that they are not bothered by the rumors surrounding Irving, initial reports described James as blindsided by Irving’s request. Love, a name constantly brought up in rumored trade talks, can’t be too happy either.
This option has its drawbacks. Cleveland knows that trading Irving now will bring back a near minimal return; management has seen two stars, Paul George and Jimmy Butler, shipped away from their respective teams for what many view as pennies on the dollar. The NBA is extremely deep at the point guard position, leaving Cleveland with few ideal trading partners that they have leverage against. The team knows that trading Irving as soon as possible will be bad for the team both now and down the road, but will the coaching staff want to deal with the headache caused by all of the Irving rumors? A betting man would wager no.
Wait Until the Trade Deadline
Again, going into the season with Irving on the roster could prove detrimental to the team’s morale, but the Cavaliers are the best version of themselves with Irving in the fold. Irving’s trade value may seemingly drop each passing day, but that’s assuming nothing interesting happens during the regular season.
Anything can happen over the course of 82 games. Should a major injury occur on a contender, or should a surprise contender emerge in either the Eastern or Western Conference, Irving’s value could skyrocket. High-end talent isn’t often up for grabs in the NBA, so should a team truly believe they can really make a push into the playoffs, or even get to and win the Finals, they might be willing to pay through the nose for a guy like Irving. While he may not bring much in the way of defense, Irving would be an instant upgrade and welcomed addition to almost every offense in the league. Waiting until the trade deadline also allows the Cavaliers, namely James and the coaching staff, time to iron out whatever problems Irving has with the team in its current form and, perhaps, convince him that Cleveland is the best place for him now and in the future.
Waiting could turn out to be a double-edged sword for the Cavaliers, however. Irving has a troubling injury history for a player of his caliber and worth to the team and, should a major injury plague him, the Cavaliers could be left with nothing.
The Cavaliers are in a very precarious situation, but they are not without options. While they do not need to move too quickly, an important decision involving Irving’s future as well as that of the franchise is approaching Dan Gilbert, Altman and management. Will Irving still be on the team come the regular season? It’s anybody’s guess. But, ultimately, the Cavaliers will have to make a decision that could affect both the franchise as well as the NBA for years to come.
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