The Cleveland Cavaliers' most important offseason decision will have nothing to do with the draft, free agency or trades.
Instead, the Cavs can offer their star player, point guard Kyrie Irving, a five-year extension worth around $80 million.
There's no doubt Cleveland wants to keep Irving in town for as long as possible. Having just turned 22, Irving is already a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year. He's extremely popular around the league and remains the Cavaliers' most marketable star.
The only dilemma is money.
Has Irving really earned a maximum contract? After all, injuries have been a major concern during his first three years in Cleveland, as have the Cavs' poor record.
Are the Cavaliers ready to commit $80 million to keep him?
Point Guards and Max Deals
Five point guards have already signed max contracts in the NBA to this point.
Is Irving ready to be part of this group?
Paul, Westbrook and a healthy Rose are probably well above where Irving currently is, but an argument could be made that he's actually better than Wall and Williams.
It's worth noting that other star point guards like Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry are not signed to max deals. Curry is averaging more points (23.6) and assists (8.5) than Irving this season, and Spotrac.com indicates that he is playing under a four-year, $44 million extension.
Curry is putting up better numbers, while Rondo and Parker have championship rings.
Is Irving really worth more than these three?
Place in Team History
Despite their recent success without him—the Cavs have won four of last five games—Cleveland is definitely better with Irving on the floor.
His kind of talent doesn't come around often, and when it does, it needs to be secured.
It's possible that Irving could become the best player in Cleveland Cavaliers history. Through his first three seasons, Irving already has more points (3623 to 3157) and a higher PER average (20.9 to 16.5) than Mark Price.
Given his career scoring average of 20.8 points per game, Irving would pass LeBron James as the franchise's all-time leading scorer in seven years. At this time, Irving would still just be 29 years old.
When a young player has a chance to be the best in team history, odds are he's worth a max contract.
Irving's Importance off the Court
Teams need superstars to win in the NBA these days. Period. One has to go back 10 years to the 2004 Detroit Pistons to find a champion without a true star player.
Irving may not be a superstar yet, but he's the closest thing Cleveland has to one.
Star players not only help a team win on the court, but are also valuable when it comes to free agency, marketing and ticket sales.
Free agents who wouldn't normally consider coming to a small-market team like the Cavs may reconsider if given the chance to play with a talent like Irving. The organization also makes a lot of the money paid to these star players back in jersey sales, posters, bobbleheads and other merchandise.
Ticket sales are almost always directly tied to team success and star power on the roster.
Despite owning the worst record in the NBA since the start of the 2010-11 season, ESPN.com indicates that the Cavaliers are a respectable 16th in the NBA in attendance with over 17,200 fans a game this year.
This is no doubt thanks to Irving, who alone is worth the price of admission.
Would Irving Even Take the Deal?
Amin Elhassan of ESPN.com (subscription required) notes that no player coming off their rookie contract has ever refused a max deal, and I don't expect Irving to be the first.
With that being said, Irving has been asked if he'll re-sign long-term in Cleveland, to which he remained vague. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal reported on the matter in August:
Asked directly if he would sign the full five-year extension with the Cavs next summer, Irving said, “I’m not really worried about that right now. Right now I’m focusing on the year ahead, my third year, then I’ll worry about that in the summer time.”
The good news for the Cavaliers appears to be Irving's relationship with team owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert purchased the team two years into LeBron James' career, but has been directly involved in all parts of Irving's time in Cleveland.
"I finally got out of calling him 'Mr. Gilbert,'" Irving told Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
We have a great relationship, and it extends off the basketball court. That's about where it stands right now. We're building a culture here in Cleveland, and he told me I'm one of the guys at the forefront of it. We're building an identity here, and I want to be a part of that. Having guys come in, building a championship contending team, that's what it's all about.
If Irving truly does "want to be a part" of building a championship team in Cleveland, he'll have the chance to prove it by signing the extension.
So, Should the Cavs Offer a Max Deal?
In a word, absolutely.
In a league driven by star players, the Cavaliers need to make every effort available to keep theirs. Signing Irving to a five year-extension would keep him in town until the 2019-2020 season.
The money really isn't that much for a player of Irving's ability. Assuming it follows the same salary structure as Wall's, HoopsHype indicates that Irving's contract would pay him anywhere from $13.7 to $17.8 million per year over the course of the contract.
For all the criticism directed towards Irving's defense, health and record in Cleveland, one has to remember his age.
Having just turned 22, Irving could still be in college. The fact that he's accomplished so much at such a young age is a great sign for his future progression.
The Cavaliers need to lock Irving up no matter the cost while continuing to do everything they can to help him improve his game.
All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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