CLEVELAND, Ohio — In mid-July, Kyrie Irving asked (or begged) Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to trade him.
Such a statement no longer needs to come with “reportedly.” That neither Gilbert nor Irving has denied it speaks volumes.
In the wake of the news, many in Cavs Nation expressed their disappointment or disgust with Irving. I absolutely get the sentiment, especially when one of the reported reasons for Irving’s discontent is the burden of being a perceived sidekick to LeBron James. I don’t understand why someone would mind playing alongside LeBron and competing for championships.
But I’m not Irving. I’m not an extremely talented player who is convinced he can be The Man, The Straw, on a good team. And I don’t play in the 21st century NBA, also known as NBAAU. Elite players rule in the NBAAU, and they tend to get antsy. There are brands and, perhaps, super-teams to build.
I’m not going to begrudge a player who was drafted into an organization, in the NBAAU, for wanting to move. And I’m not going to rail against a player who made the biggest shot in franchise history and was integral in bringing this city its first major-pro-sports title in 52 years. No matter what happens with Irving, the 3-point shot he took against Golden State in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals always will go in, and the Cavs always will win.
At the same time, Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman deserve credit for setting emotion aside, being completely rational and not jettisoning Irving right away. NBAAU players rule — except that the Cavs have Irving under their control for at least the next two seasons. Gilbert and Altman are under no obligation to act in this case, despite what outside noise might suggest or implore. They can wait for the unequivocally best deal.
I disagree strongly with those who think the Cavs must trade Irving before training camp, lest there be organizational tension and a huge distraction. The notion that grown men Irving and LeBron would not be able to make nice for the sake of the team in 2017-18 is silly. It has happened countless times in sports, where two stars are not exactly pen pals but tolerate each other and win together. The names Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, immediately come to mind.
(Try this reality for size: We don’t know for certain whether Irving actually has issues with LeBron, or LeBron has issues with Irving. We assume it, we ESP-it, but we don’t know it. Given that the NBAAU arguably is the best soap opera in pro sports, there is a chance we are being played.)
The Cavs, precisely because they have leverage, should not create any deadlines this summer/fall based on intangibles.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Gilbert and Altman, upon learning that Irving wanted out, contacted every team and asked each to put together its best offer in short order. If that is the case, Gilbert and Altman have punted on all first offers — or Irving would be gone by now. So the Kyrie Trade Watch continues, which should assuage Cavs Nation, not rattle it. Gilbert and Altman evidently are not going to agree to a deal unless they are convinced beyond any doubt that their franchise will do no worse than tie in the exchange. Gilbert, as he intimated at his presser with Altman last month, is determined not to be the guy to whom others point, snicker and say: “That’s all you got for Kyrie Irving?”
If Irving isn’t moved by the start of camp, he isn’t moved by camp. Oh, well. At that point, if I were Gilbert and Altman, I would tell Irving: “You’re so talented, we simply could not agree to a trade in which we were sure we got an adequate return….Now get back to work.”