It was a best-case scenario performance that ultimately produced a worst-case scenario outcome.
The Cleveland Cavaliers decimated the Detroit Pistons 122-100 on Wednesday night, finishing the first half with a franchise-record 26 assists. Despite the masterful execution and one-sided result, though, the Cavs were officially eliminated from postseason contention when the Atlanta Hawks held off the Boston Celtics.
Cleveland's All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who tallied eight points, five assists and five rebounds in the win, couldn't escape the finality of the situation—nor avoid those haunting what-if questions.
"It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Irving said, via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable."
The 22-year-old has now come up short in his playoff quest through each of his first three NBA seasons.
The Cavaliers (32-47) have picked up six wins over their last nine games, but their postseason dreams were largely derailed by a lethargic start to the 2013-14 campaign. They dropped 12 of their first 16 games, an anemic stretch that included losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.
"One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” coach Mike Brown said, via Lloyd. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball."
Despite Wednesday's showing suggesting otherwise, the Cavs did not play a lot of "almost perfect basketball" this season. Their offense was disastrous (100.9 points per 100 possessions, 24th), and their defense didn't fare much better (104.8 points allowed per 100 possessions, 19th).
That said, there were some signs of progress.
The Cavaliers already have more wins than they've had since LeBron James migrated to South Beach in 2010. The fact they still had a playoff pulse this late in the year is an improvement of its own.
Clearly, though, there is still plenty of work to be done. The first order of business comes this summer, when Irving will be eligible to receive a contract extension.
An extension, it appears, Cleveland is all too eager to hand over.
"The Cavaliers are expected to offer Irving a five-year, $80 million maximum extension on July 1," Bob Finnan of The Morning Journal reported.
Irving, of course, doesn't have to sign the deal. If he's as unhappy as ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst seems to think, via Cavs The Blog's Robert Attenweiler, maybe he'll do what Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwight Howard didn't—leave his first extension offer on the table.
"The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland," Windhorst said.
Perhaps Irving's departure is a matter of when and not if. Even then, that "when" might not be coming for a while.
"If Irving wants out, he would have to jump through multiple hoops, all of them presoaked in kerosene and inevitably set ablaze," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote.
Not only would he have to bypass the extension offer, Irving would then likely need to spend the next two seasons in Cleveland to gain full control of his future. He could become a restricted free agent in 2015, but the Cavs would then have the option to match any offer he receives. Taking Cleveland's qualifying offer for the 2015-16 campaign is the only way for him to reach unrestricted free agency.
Cleveland can't change its market size. If Irving is drawn to the bright lights of a big city, the Cavaliers won't have a horse in this race.
If it's winning Irving wants, though, perhaps the franchise can still keep this rising star around. However, his comments made one thing crystal clear—he's not interested in this kind of winning.