Why Kyrie Irving Is Invaluable to Cleveland Cavaliers' Future

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving celebrates after making a 3-point basket against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 14, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. Cleveland won 103-94. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez

Not this again. Surely the basketball gods wouldn't bring another wave of pain and turmoil to the city of Cleveland. Surely they wouldn't take Kyrie Irving away, not with memories of LeBron's decision still fresh in the nightmares of Cavs fans everywhere.

There should be a rule against these kinds of things happening, some kind of cap on how much misfortune one city can undergo. It should be a matter of human rights.

The good news is Irving isn't talking trade, not yet.

Bleacher Report's Ben Leibowitz with the latest from Irving in a video interview via USA Today:

“I’m on my rookie deal. The team that can extend me is the Cleveland Cavaliers, and, you know, for me to even think about getting traded is blasphemy. It’s ridiculous.”

That's right, Kyrie. Blasphemy. And don't you forget that. Leaving the Cavaliers might be a marginally better career move, but even transitions carry risk. Just ask Carmelo Anthony, or review Dwight Howard's lone campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sometimes the grass on the other side is greener. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's a kaleidoscope of strange colors. 

Irving knows it, too. And yet, it might not stop him from leaving. ESPN's Brian Windhorst told Cavs the Blog's Robert Attenweiler that Irving's intentions were no secret to those in the know:

The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. That they don’t want him in Cleveland. He doesn’t like Mike Brown. He didn’t like Chris Grant. He doesn’t like Dion Waiters. He’s already gotten a General Manager fired. He might get Mike Brown fired.

Irving responded in force, indicating that he's not going anywhere anytime soon.

So much for Camp Kyrie and its crystal ball. The Twitter rant is consistent with what Irving said back in January. At the time, he had this to say, according to Ohio.com's Jason Lloyd:

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.

That would seem to put rumors to rest. Then again, Windhorst previously wrote that, "You don't need any inside info, just read Irving's demeanor recently," intimating that Irving looked and acted like a guy who was ready for a change of scenery. Maybe his demeanor was saying things he wasn't ready to openly admit.

That came pursuant to a chat in which ESPN's Chad Ford suggested, "Kyrie Irving has been telling people privately he wants out." 

So the writing is on the wall—and all over ESPN. Irving can indict its veracity all he wants, but there's an awful lot of it. Maybe it's overstated. Maybe it's inaccurate. But there's enough of it that you have to believe something's awry in Cleveland. Where there's this much smoke, there's got to be something sparking it.

Irving could become a restricted free agent in 2015 if he doesn't first sign an extension with the Cavaliers, the organization that drafted him in 2011.

There are good reasons to believe Irving will at least sign an extension. It will be his first, best opportunity to make a ton of money. NBC Sports' Kurt Helin explains the thinking (as if it needs much explanation):

Cleveland will offer one this summer and Kyrie Irving will sign it. ... You sign that deal because it is “set your family up for generations” money. Everyone signs it — LeBron JamesCarmelo AnthonyDwight Howard and maybe next Kevin Love forced their way out of situations, but they signed that extension and played a few more years under it first.

But what can we possibly know about Irving's plans after that? 

Chances are he'll take a wait-and-see approach. This is a franchise that could still go either way, plunging further into a protracted rebuild or emerging from the ashes to contend once again. There's plenty of time for either scenario to emerge, and this coming season will be pivotal.

The first question is whether Irving will get along with the personnel in place. The organization already got rid of general manager Chris Grant, an indication that there was enough internal dysfunction on the team for some blame to go around.

That internal dysfunction in part has to do with failed chemistry between Irving and shooting guard Dion Waiters. According to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, their relationship was bad enough that the Cavs were shopping Waiters in advance of the trade deadline. This clearly wasn't how the story was supposed to go.

Cleveland drafted Waiters in 2012 to serve as a complement to Irving, completing a backcourt of the future. Statistically, the production seems to be there. And the two are young enough that you'd think any kinks on the floor could be worked out.

The bigger problems may have to do with Waiters' attitude. He got kicked out of practice earlier this season, and that speaks volumes about the kinds of problems Irving might be having. Waiters has all the makings of a fine player, but he may not be the co-leader Cleveland needs going forward.

But here's the bottom line. If Irving doesn't like the guy, he needs to be moved. Waiters is replaceable. Irving isn't.

Even with lottery position in the draft, it would take years to find and develop someone of Irving's caliber. He's by all accounts the closest thing to a young Chris Paul, a balanced scorer and distributor who can run an offense or play off the ball.

Irving can shoot, he can drive, he can kick. He does all the things you'd like to see out of a point guard.

Cleveland has little choice but to do whatever it takes to keep him happy.

Sound familiar?

The Cavs don't have a lot of leverage here, but they'd be wise to take a cautious approach when caving to Irving's demands. Much as everyone involved would like to win now, rebuilding teams sometimes make their worst moves when throwing patience out the window. 

The Orlando Magic made a million moves to placate Dwight Howard, and it ultimately led to sustained mediocrity. Importing overpriced veterans at the expense of developing young talent is a sure way to turn a rebuild upside down, mortgaging the future for a risky short-term gamble.

Hopefully Irving understands that. If Waiters isn't the answer, there will be other youthful options. There's no need to go after a veteran for the sake of going after a veteran. The win-now mantra is understandable, but it's better to do this the right way.

Under any circumstances, the right way involves Irving. Outside of perhaps John Wall and Ty Lawson, it's hard to think of a young point guard who's already made such a pronounced and indispensable impact on his team.

Even if his numbers are down ever so slightly this season (and they are), those numbers still rank ahead of most floor generals. And we probably shouldn't forget Irving is still just 22. The slightest of slumps is understandable, especially on a club that seems perpetually subject to some kind of turmoil or overhaul.

Irving needs some stability, some help and some guarantees. With those in hand, he'll only continue to grow—and amaze in the process.


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