Putting off until next summer what can be done this summer isn't always a bad thing.
Especially if you're the Cleveland Cavaliers.
And especially if you're talking about Kyrie Irving's contract extension.
The All-Star point guard is eligible for an extension over the offseason, one that The Morning Journal's Bob Finnan depicted as a formality. This wasn't a matter of if the Cavs were going to offer Irving a max contract. It was a matter of when.
Per the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, however, the max extension was less inevitable and more unlikely:
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.
Playing the diplomatic moderator in this speculative tug of war was The Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer, who advised readers not to "put too much stock in current rumors about whether they're not going to offer him the max or he's not going to accept it."
Fair enough. The Cavs cannot officially offer him the extension yet anyway, so there's no use fawning over what hasn't happened.
At the same time, deciding not to hand Irving a contract this summer wouldn't mark the end of civilization in Cleveland as we know it. The sky wouldn't fall, The Drew Carey Show wouldn't suddenly receive its second wind and the recipe for stadium mustard wouldn't change.
Delaying this whole process will actually benefit the Cavs, who, after four seasons of immense disappointment, can certainly use the additional options their patience would espouse.
Does Kyrie Irving wish to remain Cleveland?
Although there are tens of millions of reasons to answer with a wholehearted, offended-by-this question "yes," there is no right or wrong response. The truth is, we don't know.
One day he's staying. The next he's going. It's an unsubstantiated madhouse.
Reports flooded the NBA sphere this past season, often conflicting one another. In January, ESPN.com's Chad Ford said that Irving "has been telling people privately he wants out." Then later, in April, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst said much of the same while shooting the breeze with Cavs: The Blog's Robert Attenweiler:
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. This is the last time—once he signs he loses all of his leverage—so this is the last time he gets to enact leverage.
Publicly, Irving has shown no signs of perennial discontent. While he hasn't openly committed to re-upping with the Cavs, he has never once sounded like he's prepared to follow in LeBron James' footsteps.
Take what the point guard said in April for example, courtesy of Finnan:
Obviously, I’m aware I can be extended this summer. It’s 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 message has its cryptic parts and provides nothing close to a definitive answer, but Irving isn't bitterly blathering on about his unhappiness either. That in itself is a good sign.
But the Cavs cannot afford to read between the lines anymore. They need the definitive answer Irving hasn't offered. The best way to get it isn't by extending a max contract, closing their eyes, praying to the gods of free agency and hoping Irving says "yes."
It's by waiting.
If Irving proves incapable of remaining patient, it will say a lot. His 2014-15 salary won't change regardless of his contract situation. Whether he's flagrantly irritated, blatantly miserable or perfectly happy, his reaction to this decision tells the Cavs something.
A year from now, they'll have a much better idea of how devoted he is to this team. They shouldn't have to enter discussions uncertain and in the dark. There should be some semblance of clarity.
Letting this situation marinate will help the Cavs understand whether Irving is worth their investment or already out the door.
There are worse things than potentially angering or possibly losing Irving.
Like, say, retaining Irving only to find out he wasn't worth the money and/or remains incapable of helping the Cavs climb out of the four-year, crater-fitted chasm they've dug for themselves.
Irving isn't the only unknown in Cleveland. Plenty of question marks are floating around this locker room, and the Cavs need to see what they have here first.
Or, you know, actually put something in place first.
The Cavs don't have a coach, and they have no idea what to expect from Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett next season. They also have another No. 1 pick headed their way.
Shouldn't they see if Irving meshes with the new coach? Shouldn't they see how he progresses with his tenured teammates and—equally important—his newest sidekick?
Trading the No. 1 selection isn't a real option for the Cavs. They can dangle it in a trade for Kevin Love or some other disgruntled superstar approaching free agency, but keeping it is the safe play.
Love isn't going to re-sign in Cleveland. Not with the Cavs' track record and propensity for winning nothing other than the lottery looming large these days. Maybe he stays if they're able to bring James back at some point, but that's a monstrous "maybe."
Drafting a projected franchise-changer—like Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins—makes more sense. Pair them with Irving and Waiters, take to the free-agency ranks and see what you can build around Irving. See what you have in your No. 1 pick and other players who haven't yet arrived.
Perspective is everything at this point. The Cavs are tied for the second-worst winning percentage (33.9) of any NBA team since Irving was drafted. Committing long-term money to him would be a tacit admission that he can either carry them back to prominence or that they're ready to provide the help he needs.
Those are two blind leaps of faith the Cavs cannot afford to take.
Even if Irving makes it clear he wants to remain in Cleveland, and even if the Cavs can be sure their roster is on the verge of a major upswing, there is no harm in letting this ride out.
Not for the Cavs.
Putting off this decision until next summer ensures maximum financial flexibility. Instead of having Irving's new, more expensive salary counting against their books for 2015-16, they'll only have his qualifying offer worth roughly $9.2 million on the projected docket.
Maintaining the ability to cut ties with Irving isn't the worst thing either. If, for some reason, James both hits free agency and has an interest in returning to Cleveland, the Cavs can sell him on tailor-making the roster to fit his needs and preferences. Maybe he brings another superstar who isn't Irving with him. Or maybe he's the driving force behind a clean slate between Irving and the Cavs.
Whatever happens, the Cavs can absolutely find out without fear of losing Irving by anything other than their own hand. They would have the right to match any restricted free-agency offer sheet he signs.
Again, this may not sit well with Irving. But it doesn't have to. This is about the Cavs. They're future must be bigger than any one player, even if said player is a part of said future. If they're forced to explore trades for Irving—Fox Sports Ohio's Sam Amico says teams are already inquiring about his availability—then they'll fight that current when it pulls them in.
For now, the Cavs must be concerned about the Cavs. They don't owe Irving a max contract now or imminently. Irving—as Five Thirty Eight's Nate Silver came to conclude after a lengthy analysis complete with graphs galore—may not even be worth a max contract at all:
A very, very good but not quite world-class NBA player - say, Russell Westbrook - is worth a little more than the maximum salary. But a guy who gets hurt or who burns out early - say, Steve Francis - can be a huge albatross. If Irving has a 50 percent chance of turning into Westbrook and a 50 percent chance of following the Francis course, the Cavs probably shouldn't sign him.
In the absence of knowledge, one must find it. And the Cavs won't learn anything by prematurely financing a risk-beset venture solely out of anxiety or convenience. They need to figure out who Irving is first. They need to see what their perpetually lottery-haunting roster can do next season.
They need to have the option of shifting gears next summer.
Waiting to render a verdict on Irving's future gives them the means to see what they need to see, monitor what they need to monitor and act as they need to act.
Binding themselves to a player and direction they don't yet understand is the real danger.
*Salary information via ShamSports.
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