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The future of Kyrie Irving in Cleveland

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1It was bound to happen.

At one point or another, someone was bound to report that Kyrie Irving wanted to leave Cleveland. If you want to be honest about it, someone already did report that Kyrie Irving was going to leave Cleveland long before Chad Ford made his flippant comment yesterday in his online chat. I seem to recall CBS Radio’s Brandon Tierney saying the same thing.

The point is that at the end of every season, when Cavaliers’ fans take stock of the team, the first question everyone asks is, “Is he going to leave?”

It’s habit.

It’s what happens when the greatest basketball player in all the land grows up an hour from Cleveland, gets drafted by his “hometown” Cavs, nearly leads them to the Promised Land, then toys with the fans for year before taking his talents to South Beach.

I don’t blame LeBron for leaving. That was his right. But Cleveland fans are now gun-shy with their meaningful basketball players.

Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James. He’s not the best basketball player on the planet, nor is he going to be. He likely is the best basketball player in Cleveland though, and nearly from the time he was drafted with that #1 pick in June of 2011, Cleveland fans have been wondering:

“Is he going to leave?”

The Rumors

As I mentioned earlier, Chad Ford mentioned in an online chat on Thursday that “Irving has been telling people privately that he wants out of Cleveland.”

Irving responded to the claims after the Cavs were blown out by the Knicks on Thursday night.

“Yes, I’m in Cleveland. I enjoy myself. I enjoy going out and competing at the highest level for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about me and it’s not about this controversy, ‘Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”

While many are making a big deal out of Ford’s comments, CBSSports Radio’s Brandon Tierney both stated and tweeted that Irving wanted out way back in July. This also caused some minor ripples, but nothing to the extent of yesterday’s comments, likely because the Cavs’ season hadn’t begun yet, and they weren’t playing their way back into the lottery.

Irving didn’t waste any time responding to Tierney.

and

Tierney ultimately “stood by” his sources, then said that he was talking “long-term,” meaning that it could be six year from now.

Yeah, I rolled my eyes too.

Now I could get into Ford and Tierney’s BS “sources,” and the realities of Irving’s desire to leave. The fact that Brian Windhorst responded to the rumors with the realities that Kyrie likely wants to leave, and will more than likely utilize the collateral that he has to perhaps force the Cavs into a spot they don’t want to be in.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

The truth is, nobody knows what Kyrie wants or doesn’t want. He’s 21, so it’s likely he doesn’t know what he wants. We’ve all been through this dance before, and I have no desire to go through the he said/she said idiocy.

The Contract

Irving signed a standard rookie deal in 2011. That deal is for two-years and includes two more seasons of options to keep him in Cleveland for four total years. Now the Cavs went ahead and signed him to a four-year deal, and he’s in his third season of that deal. If the Cavaliers do nothing, after his fourth season, he’ll become a restricted free agent in 2015-2016. In other words, Irving can’t leave the Cavaliers as an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2016, and that’s only if Kyrie turns down a multi-year contract from the Cavaliers or from another team (that the Cavs can match) after the 2014 season. The Cavs would then give him a qualifying offer of around $10 million, and he could then become a free agent after that contractual season.

Of course, that’s only if the Cavaliers and Irving play the entire contract out.

The Cavaliers can offer Irving an extension after this season that would start in that 2015-2016 season. That maximum that they can offer right now to Kyrie is a five-year max contract, with no Early Termination Options. However, if Kyrie Irving starts in the All-Star game next season, he can qualify for the Rose Rule which states that “any player finishing his rookie contract can make 30 percent of a team’s salary cap—up from 25 percent—if he’s twice been voted an All-Star starter, won an MVP award or twice been voted All NBA.”

What does that mean? Kyrie can make about $3 million more per year with the Cavs if he qualifies.

The Cavs will certainly put a provision into Irving’s contract stating that should he qualify, the bonuses will then kick in.

Dan Gilbert

Dan Gilbert doesn’t want another LeBron James situation on his hands, and everyone knows it. What I’ve always liked about Gilbert is that he reacts to things the way that I do. He’s off the cuff, emotional, and for the most part, in your face with things. When he wrote that infamous email in rebuttal to James, smart or not, I loved every part of it.

Gilbert apologized in 2012 about the LeBron James scenario, regretting that he sent out that e-mail. During the apology, he once again maybe said a little bit too much.

“The key thing, whoever you are and wherever you are, you cannot wait,” Gilbert said. “The big lesson was if a player is not willing to extend, no matter who they are, no matter where they are playing, no matter what kind of season you had, you cannot risk going into a summer and having them leave in unrestricted free agency and get nothing back for it. It’s not the player’s fault. That’s on ownership. Had we done that, the whole thing would have been crafted as I’m sure the player or whoever would have said, `Of course I would have stayed. You guys screwed up and ruined the whole franchise.’ You’re in a no-win situation.”

It’s clear that Gilbert doesn’t want to wait around creating anxiety for the organization and the fans.

If he’s ever going to offer Kyrie Irving a max contract, it will likely be this season. I’m not 100% sold on that, but it’s likely. The big question will then be, will Irving accept it?

What happens if…

What happens if the Cavaliers fail to offer Kyrie a deal this offseason?

Nothing.

The Cavs actually have nothing but time. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but it’s the absolute truth. The Cavs can sit back and let this all play out, knowing that they get Irving for the next two seasons. They can essentially trade him at any point, or offer him a deal at any point.

Of course, he could take that as a slight, and use that as his decision to leave. At the end of the day though, do you think that’s what’s going to push Kyrie out of Cleveland?

What if the Cavs don’t offer Kyrie Irving the max contract?

Well, let’s not get silly here. If they aren’t going to offer Kyrie a max deal, why would they offer him a contract anyways. We all know that he could get a max deal elsewhere, so there’s no way Kyrie would accept it. Are the Cavs going to try and send Kyrie a message…that he better take the next step or you don’t get a big deal?

Seems like a silly step to me, when you can avoid that smack in the face and just let the contract rid another year.

What happens if Kyrie says no this summer?

That’s when things get interesting.

The first option would be for the Cavs say fine, and continue about their way trying to win Kyrie’s heart. Do you see Dan Gilbert doing that?

The second option would be to deal Kyrie, which may be what he wants anyways. But you have to ponder this. When the Cavs traded Ramon Sessions, the Lil’ Duval lookalike netted Chris Grant Jason Kapono (released), Luke Walton (bench fodder) and two first round picks (and the right to swap places in 2013). What do you think the Cavs will be looking for Kyrie Irving?

The answer is easy: every draft pick that’s not anchored down, and likely an all-star caliber or capable player or two to go along with them. The Cavs will want as many picks in next year’s draft as they can get, and they’ll want top ten or better.

Is there another team out there that can help them out? Would Milwaukee be interested, or Sacramento, or wht about the Lakers, who currently share a 16-30 record with the Cavs? Could a blockbuster deal be out there to get the Cavs another shot at a #1 pick for Kyrie?

Would it be worth it?

There are a lot of unknowns there as well. Will Dan Gilbert allow Chris Grant to make the moves for Irving, if a trade is to be made? Now, Grant has destroyed teams with his trading ability, and hasn’t lost many, if any deals since becoming the GM. The local media seems to think Grant is safe. The national media seems to think that Grant isn’t safe. Who do you trust there? Hard to say, but having to hire a GM, then trade a starting all-star point guard doesn’t seem like a sound direction, especially if the Cavs want to make  splash in this year’s draft. Of course, that may not be the case.

Whatever happens there, it will be hairy.

How good is Kyrie Irving?

Kyrie Irving is a lot of things, but a bad basketball player is not one of them. Look, he was the #1 pick in Cleveland a year after LeBron James left. The Cavs went from a 61-win team to an 8-win team, and Irving was and is looked at as the savior.

He’s compared to LeBron James.

No, not as the same type of player, but as a player that can lead this team to a title. He’s supposed to be a player that makes this team better. He’s supposed to be a superstar.

Offensively, Kyrie is a phenomenal scoring threat, even though his scoring tends to come in spurts, and not a steady flow. He’s scored as many as 41 points this season, and as little as 0. He’s yet to play in less than 20 minutes a game.

As a point guard, there are times in which Kyrie is scintillating on the court. He likes to run, and when he does, if he doesn’t take it to the hole, he can find an open player.

He can do that in the half-court game as well, but that’s where the trouble starts. Kyrie dribbles too much. Perhaps he doesn’t trust his teammates. Perhaps he doesn’t understand Mike Brown‘s offense (does anyone?). Perhaps he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland? Who knows, but his offense just isn’t fluid anymore.

Defensively, he is regressing. He isn’t very good against the pick-and-roll, he can’t fight through screens, and to be honest, he’s not very good laterally in the open court. He’s not good, and he doesn’t appear to put the work in to be good.

Look, you don’t come across many 23 PPG, 6.3 APG, 1.4 SPG point guards many times, so I’m not trying to say Kyrie is garbage here. What I am trying to say is that he’s a young player to start off with. I’ll go a little bit further as well. Right now, I question whether or not he’s franchise player. I absolutely love Russell Westbrook, but who would you rather have, Westbrook or Durant?

Obviously, Durant can carry a team and is extremely special. Can Westbrook? Some will say yes, but I tend to disagree.

What Kyrie is, however, is a star. Unfortunately for most, he’s not THE star. The Cavs need parts that fit right along with him to accentuate his ability. They don’t have talent that fits him right now.

Dion Waiters strives to be exactly like Kyrie. Tristan Thompson is a wonderful player, and you keep him, but you need more. Anthony Bennett was supposed to be that player, but he’s not.

What this ultimately means is that the Cavs either need to break down the team and try and find players that can fit around Kyrie, or they have to trade him and get the franchise player.

How many teams have one of those?

Another thing to consider is that Irving is planning on playing for the FIBA World Championship team this year, and that, in and of itself is a life-changing event for most NBA players. It could springboard his career. Of course, it was the Olympics, if I’m remembering right, in which LeBron and Dwyane Wade first allegedly planned their rendezvous together, so perhaps that’s a double-edged sword.

It’s unknown what the Cavs will do, or what Kyrie will do for that matter, but what I can tell you is this:

Where there is smoke, there is often fire. Does Kyrie want to leave Cleveland? Use common sense here. How many jobs have you had in your life in which things haven’t been going well and you’ve said, “I need outta here.” How many times have things been going well, and you see another job from afar and said the same thing?

Is Kyrie looking? That’s a pretty safe bet. Will he leave?

He may not have a choice.

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