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The Cavaliers’ Conundrum

I did not immediately jump onto this blog in order to comment on the “shocking” news that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, mostly because the whole thing is mind-numbingly stupid. Where exactly does Irving think he’s going to land that’s a better situation than the three-time defending conference champs for whom he currently plays?

Still, we’ve all had that one co-worker who just drove us crazy, so much so that taking another job–even one that clearly seemed to be a step down–became an attractive alternative. So it would appear with Irving and his time with the Cavaliers, which may or may not be at an end.

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Kyrie Irving: he hates his co-workers, just like all the rest of us

The part of all this that’s truly stupid is the presumably surprising nature of the upheaval in Cleveland. It’s not like anyone couldn’t have predicted that there would be trouble wherever LeBron James goes. Well, actually, it was predicted, a while back…by me, right here in this space.

In past posts in this space, notably “Mistakes By The Lake?” and “King? More Like Emperor…“, your humble correspondent raised the question of just how long other players would tolerate the incessant opera that surrounds James. To quote myself, somewhat extensively, from “Mistakes”:

James … constantly massages his circumstances to get the players he wants around him. How does that go down, in the long run, with other players in the league–especially as James inevitably declines as a player himself? How easily can a player fall out of James’s good graces, and thus see himself shipped to the Timberwolves or other NBA outpost? Doesn’t that wear on people as time passes, especially if it all results in surprisingly few championships?

Apparently, that self-same act has worn on Irving despite the success that has accompanied it these past three seasons.

One has to start wondering if Irving, should he succeed in gaining his desired trade, might wind up setting the table for a severe reduction in LeBron’s power to shape his environment. It is arguably the case that Irving has been the key ingredient, apart from James himself, in getting the Cavaliers to the Finals three years running. No one else on that roster had anywhere near the impact that Irving did in playing the No. 2 role in Cleveland’s surge to the top of the East and near certain title contention.

If Irving goes, who among players of that caliber will want to join up for a situation wherein even being constantly on the verge of a championship is not enough to compensate for the (apparently) grinding frustration that comes with being LeBron James’ teammate?

That’s what makes this whole Irving situation so stupid: the options are so limited, for him and the Cavaliers, that the only sane thing to do is ride it out one more year and then let LeBron’s chips fall where they may. (Los Angeles; they’re going to fall in Los Angeles. Just so you know.)

Think about it. For Cleveland to move Irving, they would have to get an All-Star caliber point guard in return. Not Carmelo Anthony; anyone who’s been making an “Irving to the Knicks for Anthony” argument should be sent directly to the nearest psych ward. Neither Anthony nor any other forward/scorer is going to adequately compensate Cleveland for the loss of Irving. It has to be a point guard, and it has to be an All-Star.

There’s only two names that, in my book, qualify. And I’m not sure that either one would be available in a trade.

The first and most obvious would be Damian Lillard. Swap Lillard for Irving one for one and that would make a certain amount of sense. Lillard is a scoring point guard who could do everything that Irving did for the Cavs–and he’s currently on the west coast, so there’d be no worry about sending Irving directly to an Eastern Conference rival, a move that could wind up haunting Cleveland down the road. They would just be sending Irving out to the Western Conference, where he could join the ranks of other great players who get to experience the denial offered to them by the Golden State Warriors year after year.

Then again, if Cleveland could overcome the dealing-with-the-direct-competition hurdle, the other name that would make sense would be John Wall of the Wizards. He too is an All-Star point guard who could fill Irving’s shoes in Cleveland–though his brand new contract makes him much less likely to be movable. (A trade for Lillard, who makes a chunk more than Irving, would require some throw-ins to make it work, but it would still be possible.)

Those are the two real possibilities for Cleveland: Wall or Lillard. Anything else is just blowing up your team without getting adequate compensation. And who would be stupid enough to do that?

Considering those narrow limitations, considering Irving’s tight list of preferred destinations–which includes neither Portland nor Washington–considering all that has gone before this the last three years, the overwhelming weight of common sense says that Cleveland should do nothing to accommodate this request and just keep Irving–even an unhappy Irving–until the upcoming season has played out and James has made it clear that he’s saying “Vaya con Dios” to Ohio once more.

At that point, they can do whatever they want with Irving and it won’t make much difference either way.

Of course, that’s looking at it sensibly. This is sports we’re talking about, and the NBA in particular, and LeBron James and all his drama in even further particular still–none of that ever guarantees anything sensible. It looks like Cleveland fans will continue to live, as I noted in the “King?” piece above, in “interesting” times. Sorry, Ohio.


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