LeBron James has developed a lot of beef with players, coaches and managers since he joined the NBA in 2003. He forced David Blatt out of a job, he has argued endlessly with general managers and almost drove out Kevin Love two years ago. Now his ego has pushed away the Cavaliers second biggest asset.
There have been unsettling relationships between players in the past. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had a shaky start when Kobe first joined the Lakers, and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen argued back and forth for six years. But never before has a teammate quarrel forced a championship contending team apart.
Two story lines have developed since Irving asked for a trade. His move first seemed to be initiated by an ailing relationship with LeBron, but recently the story has switched. In defense of LeBron and the Cavaliers, the media is now telling us that Kyrie asked to leave so he could be the face of his own team. But that is just not true.
Cleveland has failed to make any offseason moves since last year’s championship loss. Kyrie noticed this, coupled it with his troubles with LeBron, and saw a way out. In my mind this is a coward move. Despite the fact that Cleveland has been in the championship for three years running, the team moral is down. Cavalier fans and players are noticing all of their competitors offseason moves and see little chance for a second championship.
Irving is not leaving because he wants to be the sole star of a team. He is ditching Cleveland for the same reasons Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City. He sees the Cavaliers as a dominant team on the decline. He knows that there is a missing piece that will hold them back from future championships. So instead of trying to work out his tensions with LeBron and find what’s missing, he decides to leave before the team falls apart.
Cleveland has not traded him, and he still has two years on his contract. So as of now, Irving is part of the organization, but his success as a Cavalier is over. He has lost a chunk of respect from his fan base and fellow players. The best move for both Irving and Cleveland is to part ways.
Here are the best options:
1. Trade with New York
Irving has expressed interest in being a Knick, and Carmelo Anthony was willing to join the Cavaliers. But that willingness was formed when Anthony expected to be playing on a team with Irving. He didn’t think the trade would involve Irving. Additionally, it would be a bad move for Cleveland. A flat trade of the best ball handler in the NBA for a 33-year-old selfish player doesn’t give the Cavaliers the edge they need to win a championship. And the Knicks have very few good young players to add to that trade deal.
2. Three-Way Trade with San Antonio and Phoenix
Irving would be a huge asset for the Spurs. He could be the replacement for Tony Parker, and give San Antonio enough star power to contend in the West. But the Spurs don’t have a player that would be a fair flat trade for Irving, so a third team must get involved. If the Suns joined the trade there could be a deal that sends Eric Bledsoe and Spurs shooter Danny Green to Cleveland. The Cavaliers would dish Irving to San Antonio and Iman Shumpert to Phoenix. Lamarcus Aldridge would most likely join the Suns.
3. Trade with Minnesota
A third team Irving has asked to play with is the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has developed a great relationship with Jimmy Butler, and the Timberwolves are a very exciting young team. But Minnesota just made serious moves to acquire point guard Jeff Teague. If this trade works out it could move Andrew Wiggins, or send Teague and additional young talent to the Cavaliers. But due to trade rules, Teague can’t leave Minnesota until December. I don’t think Cleveland can wait that long.