Kyrie Irving may be more like LeBron James than we thought.
King James abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers during 2010 free agency, leaving a franchise he helped restore to respectability in shambles. Now, according to ESPN Insider's Chad Ford, Irving is reportedly planning to do the same thing—just without the return to respectability:
Chemistry is a major issue there and some of that is on Mike Brown. But more of it is on the collection of players in Cleveland at the moment. Something has to happen quick. Kyrie Irving has been telling people privately he wants out. Cleveland can't afford to lose him and LeBron. They know the urgency. I expect them to be major players at the deadline.
Well, this is awkward.
Irving was supposed to rescue the Cavs, not endure a few years of directionless basketball before leaving them in worse condition. Then again, this isn't really surprising. Nothing has gone according to plan for Cleveland this season.
General manager Chris Grant was aggressive in retooling this roster over the offseason, bringing in veteran Jarrett Jack and surprise standout Earl Clark and selecting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick in last summer's draft. There was also his offseason prize, Andrew Bynum.
Exactly zero of those investments have panned out.
Bennett scored in double figures for the first time this season only a couple of days ago, Jack's performance has paled in comparison to his production with the Golden State Warriors last year, Clark is seeing limited minutes and Cleveland traded Bynum for two-time All-Star Luol Deng.
Landing Deng wasn't a bad move, but it hasn't allowed Cleveland to reinvent itself either. The Cavs are 4-6 in the 10 games he's played and still sit three games outside the Eastern Conference playoff bubble.
All this chaos and underachieving has Irving growing impatient.
"Two opposing general managers this season have told me they think Irving is pouting," wrote the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd. "Over what is anyone’s guess. Jarrett Jack hasn’t been the locker room enforcer he was supposed to be. Luol Deng should help, but he just arrived and may not be [in Cleveland] past April."
Most of us would pout too if our team was 61-132 since drafting us. The lavish paychecks would help, but can you really put a price on winning?
If Irving truly wants out, he'll have to.
As I wrote previously, deserting the Cavs is a task that demands Irving, who is eligible for an extension after this season, remain patient and be deliberate in everything he does:
Leaving Cleveland won't be easy, but it is possible.
Refusing to sign an extension this summer and into next season allows Irving to enter restricted free agency in 2015. The problem there is, the Cavs are able to match any offer he receives, effectively forcing him to demand a trade, since Cleveland won't likely let him walk for nothing.
More drastic measures could be taken, though.
Accepting the Cavs' $9.2 million qualifying offer for 2015-16, and subsequently playing out that season, allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. At that point, he'll have his pick of the litter, able to sign with whomever he pleases, including Cleveland.
Will Irving force his way out of Cleveland?
Will Irving be able to force Cleveland into trading him between this upcoming summer and 2015? Is he willing to wait until 2016 when he can leave unimpeded?
Does he even actually want to leave?
For what it's worth, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert doesn't seem to think so.
"We feel good about Kyrie being here for his entire career," Gilbert said in November, per the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence. "We have a good relationship with him. We think we’ve set up an environment and culture that is conducive to him being not only an All-Star, but hopefully the leader of a championship team."
Though it's certainly too early to know anything for sure, losing flat-out stinks. And the Cavs have done a lot of losing since Irving entered the picture.
Enough losing that we cannot rule out Irving plotting his exit years in advance.