The Cavs are making noises that they aren't going to offer Kyrie Irving "max money" this summer via a long-term extension. They don't want to deal the 2014 All-Star Game MVP, but it could come to that, especially if the West Orange product and his family continue to tell people that he wants out. Irving hasn't been a leader in his first three seasons and he's also gained the unwelcomed reputation as a locker-room problem. Those are two reasons the Cavs don't see him as a max player.
OK, let's be reasonable about this—an admittedly tough task when dealing with the possibility of a historically inept franchise doing almost everything in its power to drive a wedge between itself and its best player.
Irving is coming off a horrible season, relatively speaking. He finished the 2013-14 campaign with the lowest player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage of his career, per Basketball-Reference.com. Not only that, but his per-36-minute averages in scoring, rebounds and assists all matched or dropped below his previous career lows.
Toss in a hugely disappointing 33-win campaign in the pushover East, constant reports of locker room strife and a general failure, individually, to mature as a leader, and the Cavaliers have plenty of logical reasons to be careful about a decision that could potentially cost them $93 million.
"He was just handed too much, too soon," a source told Lawrence. “You’ve got to make these young guys earn it, and that’s where this team did a bad job with him."
Maybe that's true. Maybe Irving was thrust into a bad situation that stunted his growth. He wouldn't, after all, be the first high-profile player to have the Cavs demand too much of him. And we all remember how things turned out the last time a big-name Cleveland player got a chance to escape.
[A max extension is] a big deal for me if they do offer me that. It will be exciting. I'll make the best decision for me and my family. That's what it will boil down to.
I've been part of this, and I want to continue to be part of this. We've made some strides in the right direction, especially as an organization. I want to be part of something special. I don't have a definitive answer to that right now.
The Cavs have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft and are among the teams rumored to be targeting Kevin Love in a trade, who has been on their radar for years, per Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer. Landing Love, according to some optimists, might open the door to LeBron James' returning to his hometown team.
Of course, Cleveland could also just stay out of the trade market and use its top pick on someone like Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins.
As SB Nation's Drew Garrison points out, patience may be a virtue here:
The Cavaliers don't necessarily need to sign Irving to a contract this summer. He's guaranteed through the 2014-2015 season and will be a restricted free agent prior to the 2015-2016 season. All the Cavaliers have to do is offer the qualifying minimum of $9.1 million, according to ShamSports, and they'll be in control of his next contract.
Cleveland could wait out an important draft selection, see how the teams plays, then worry about getting their financial ducks in a row. The Cavaliers have reason to pump the brakes a bit and let things play out before making a huge commitment.
Cleveland can simply decline to offer the max now, let Irving hit restricted free agency next summer and still control his fate. That's not a bad way to go—if the Cavs believe it's possible to do that without Irving demanding a trade.
Irving is an extremely talented player, one the Cavs should certainly think about pairing with Love, a top-flight rookie or even James (in a perfect world) as they try to rebuild the franchise. He's still young enough to make major strides in the right situation, and it's possible that all it'll take for the Cavs to turn their fortunes around is the right coach to mentor Irving.
But they don't even have a coach right now.
And what if Irving simply isn't worth the investment of a max extension? What if his attitude and declining production not only hurts the team's current development, but also results in free agents not wanting to sign in Cleveland?
The Cavaliers have a lot of questions and uncertainty in their future, with the Irving situation looming as the haziest element. But what else is new?