Kyrie Irving should be the main focus of the Cleveland Cavaliers' offseason and for good reason.
The Cavs can offer Irving a five-year max contract worth around $80 million, ensuring his future in Cleveland through 2020.
If Irving declines the offer and prefers to hit restricted free agency after next year, then the Cavs will have a decision to make. There's no way owner Dan Gilbert will wait for Irving to become an unrestricted free agent and possibly leave for nothing. Would they risk him even trying to leave as a restricted one?
Before any of this happens, the Cavs need to have a plan in place to avoid another "Decision" scenario.
Heading into the summer, should Cleveland already be listening to trade offers for Irving?
Irving's Importance to Cleveland
The 2010-11 season was a rough one for the Cavaliers.
Like, historically bad.
Cleveland lost 26 games in a row from Dec. 20 to Feb. 11, setting a professional sports record that the Philadelphia 76ers would match this season. The Cavs finished the year 19-63, the second-worst mark in the NBA.
Guys like Semih Erden, Christian Eyenga and Jawad Williams all started games for Cleveland that season. A whopping 12 of the 19 players who suited up for the Cavaliers are now currently out of the NBA.
While it was a miserable season, there was one positive to come out of all the losing.
When the Cavs drafted Kyrie Irving, it was like no other selection in NBA history. That's because no other team had undergone a major hometown free agent leave the summer before. No other team had lost their identity so quickly and subsequently needed a new face of the franchise.
The moment David Stern called his name on June 23, 2011, Irving became the new face of the Cavaliers.
After just three years, would they really be willing to part with Irving so quickly?
Does Irving Really Want Out?
He's never said so publicly, but there's many in the industry who believe Irving wishes to leave Cleveland.
This news first surfaced in a weekly NBA chat by ESPN's Chad Ford, where he stated that, "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."
A source close to the organization told me that Irving had recently sold his Cleveland apartment but wasn't sure if he had purchased another apartment or house in the area.
As soon as the season concluded, Irving made it sound like he was looking forward to staying with the Cavs, telling Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
I've been a part of this and I want to continue to be a part of this. We're making strides in the right direction, especially in this organization. I want to be part of something special, and I want to be part of something special in Cleveland.
For now, Irving is saying all the right things, no matter how he may truly feel.
Effects of the Extension
Cleveland will likely offer Irving the full max extension, according to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald.
Honestly, the way Irving responds to this offer should determine Cleveland's interest in trading their star. If the Cavs receive trade proposals from now until an extension is offered, acting general manager David Griffin's response should be a definitive "no thanks".
Should Irving decline the extension, he must really want out. The difference between agreeing to a max extension with your own team (see John Wall) and signing a max offer sheet with another (see Roy Hibbert) is about one year and $22 million. That's a lot of money to pass up, especially for Irving whose 2013-14 salary was $5.6 million according to shamsports.com.
Irving recently told the Cleveland Plain Dealer what a max contract offer would mean to him.
"It's a big deal for me and my family if they do offer that. It would be exciting, and I'll make the best decision for me and my family. That's what it's going to boil down to for myself."
If Irving agrees to a max contract extension, then all trade talks should die. If he declines or only wants to sign on for an additional three years, Griffin should see what other teams have to offer.
Trades Involving Irving
Any potential deal involving Irving would be extremely difficult to pull off.
Financially, Irving is a steal right now while on his rookie contract. It would be tough to get equal value for Irving unless the Cavs could find a trade partner with another young star on a similar deal.
Getting a starting point guard back would be nice, as Jarrett Jack has proved he's better suited in a reserve role. Trading Irving would signal a shift in the focus of the offense to Dion Waiters, so acquiring a pass-first point guard would fit best next to Waiters.
Suppose the Los Angeles Lakers land a top three pick in this year's NBA draft. Would Cleveland consider trading Irving for said pick and point guard Kendall Marshall?
What about if the Utah Jazz offered Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward for Irving?
The Boston Celtics with Rajon Rondo and Kelly Olynyk?
Finding a trade for Irving would be tough and very costly for the team making the offer. Twenty-two-year-old All-Star starters don't become available very often and understandably so.
For now, Cleveland should fully prepare to keep Irving in uniform and offer him a max extension this July.
Should he refuse the deal or ask for a shorter contract, only then should the Cavs start listening to trade offers for Irving.
All stats and rosters via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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