Soon after news broke that Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade and no longer wants to play in the LeBron James’ shadow, the man who broke the story, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, appeared on WKNR-AM radio and questioned the timing of Irving’s demands last week:
Windy: If Kyrie had told the Cavs this in mid-June, they probably could have traded for Chris Paul and traded Kevin Love for Paul George.
— ESPN Cleveland (@ESPNCleveland) July 21, 2017
However, the man who confirmed Windhorst’s initial report, NBA.com’s David Aldridge, wrote, “Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s draft” — before the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Clippers traded All-Stars Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Chris Paul, presumably players who could be swapped for Irving and keep Cleveland in contention.
It’s entirely possible that Irving merely hinted at a trade request last month and made a more formal demand last week, and it’s also possible the Cavaliers believed he was posturing about wanting out several weeks ago, only to realize more recently the severity of his desire to play elsewhere.
Either way, the Cavs should not have been blindsided by last week’s request. There is no doubt whispers about Irving’s growing frustration in Cleveland were growing louder in NBA circles leading up to the draft, and it would be difficult to imagine the Cavaliers brass was unaware of those rumblings.
The real question should be whether or not Cleveland’s front-office upheaval caused the Cavs a shot to land one of the three All-Stars who changed teams in trades over the past month. The team parted ways with popular general manager David Griffin on June 19 over a contract dispute, and then reportedly lowballed prospective president of basketball operations Chauncey Billups early in July.
It wasn’t until Friday, as Irving’s trade demands were making waves, that the Cavaliers began finalizing a deal to formally replace Griffin with assistant GM Koby Altman, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Meanwhile, the Bulls, Pacers and Clippers all traded their stars for pennies on the dollar. A four-time All-Star under the age of 25, signed for at least two more seasons, Irving represents a far better return than the Lauri Markkanen, Victor Oladipo and Patrick Beverley packages those teams received. A more stable organization might have been quicker to recognize that opportunity, and stability has never been a strong suit between owner Dan Gilbert, his front office personnel and the team’s players.
At least one report indicated Griffin refused to trade Irving, and there are plenty of reasons not to deal a budding young superstar, so the ex-Cavs GM worked on a trade that would have brought Butler to Cleveland up until the day he left the organization. Griffin also reportedly left behind Butler and George trade proposals on his way out. Butler and Irving are friends and business partners, and Irving reportedly listed Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves among his preferred trade destinations. Trades for Butler or George just might have been Griffin’s last-ditch effort to keep Irving happy in Cleveland.
Griffin’s departure then left the Cavs a week to include Irving in new trade proposals for Butler or George, although the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time indicated players in Cleveland were warning Butler to “stay away from a suddenly volatile situation.” That was shortly after Griffin left.
As free agency approached, an Irving for Paul swap would have made even more sense, because Paul’s relationship with James might help keep LeBron in Cleveland amid concerns he could bolt in 2018. Also adding George, another James confidant, for Kevin Love, as Windhorst suggested, would have gone a long way in convincing the four-time MVP the franchise was committed to keeping him happy.
In the end, though, the Cavs whiffed on everyone, whether that’s because Irving didn’t make his demand soon enough or the front office couldn’t get its act together fast enough. Regardless, Altman now faces the challenge of fielding Irving offers from teams now certain he wants out of Cleveland:
ESPN Sources: Cleveland disturbed news about Kyrie Irving was made public out of fear it could impact trade value.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 21, 2017
— Chris Sheridan (@sheridanhoops) July 22, 2017
And then there’s the distinct possibility James could leave town in the wake of Irving’s departure. No Irving. No LeBron. No Butler. No George. No Paul. No more championship contention in Cleveland.
Thankfully, James and Irving together brought the city a title and three straight Finals appearances, because the new Cavaliers seem just as dysfunctional as the old Cavaliers, and without a ring to show for their trouble, things would be a whole lot more depressing for Cleveland fans than they are now.
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