Updates from Tuesday, July 1
Less than two hours after free agency began, Kyrie Irving had already made a decision on his future. A happy Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert tweeted out the news:
Late last month, rumors spread that the Cleveland Cavaliers were hesitant to offer Kyrie Irving a maximum contract. Well, Cavaliers fans fretting about the alienation of another superstar can unclench their jaws.
ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that Cavs brass is planning to meet with Irving on Tuesday and offer him a five-year deal worth $90 million:
Tony Rizzo of ESPN Cleveland is reporting that Irving will sign that extension:
July 1 opens free agency and is the first day teams can offer contract extensions to players in the 2011 NBA draft class. Irving and the Cavaliers have until Oct. 31 to complete the deal.
A five-year, $90 million deal is the maximum allowable under the league's collective bargaining agreement. If Irving is voted to start in next year's All-Star Game, he will be eligible for the so-called "Derrick Rose" provision. That rule states that a player who is voted a starter in two All-Star Games, wins an MVP or is named to two All-NBA teams can be maxed out at five years and 30 percent of the salary cap. All other players signing extensions off their rookie contracts can sign for a maximum of 25 percent of the salary cap.
The language of the contract Cleveland is offering is unclear. Grantland's Zach Lowe first reported a provision in the contract for Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, in which he agreed to take 27 percent of the cap instead of the maximum 30 if he satisfied the Rose provision. The Cavaliers may ask Irving to do something similar in hopes of using additional cap space to land free agents.
Either way, these are the reasons any speculation regarding Irving's "max status" seemed silly. The Cavs were never going to pinch pennies with their most popular player since LeBron James. Nor should they have.
Players at Irving's experience level are not making the "true" max contracts you hear about when discussing the free agencies of James, Carmelo Anthony, etc. A five-year deal for Irving at $90 million averages out at $16 million per year with the salaries escalating as the contract goes on. James' max deal has a starting salary of $22.2 million.
Even if it's a slight overpay, it's one the Cavaliers and other teams can afford. And there is little reason to insinuate Cleveland is overpaying. Irving doesn't turn 23 until next March, already has an All-Star Game MVP under his belt and is one of the finest offensive point guards league-wide. He has career averages of 20.7 points and 5.8 assists per game, while shooting an above-average percentage from beyond the arc.
There are legitimate concerns regarding Irving's defense and relative lack of improvement over his first three seasons. At times, he's inattentive in paying attention to his man off the ball and can struggle in one-on-one situations. Synergy Sports (subscription required) placed Irving in the 36th percentile in isolation situations and 34th percentile overall.
When mentioning Irving's progress, though, it's only fair to also note the level of dysfunction he's dealt with in Cleveland. David Blatt will be his third head coach in four seasons. The Cavs have also made some less-than-ideal personnel decisions, notably filling the roster with a group of offense-first players. Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard are both minus defenders, but have players around them who can mask their deficiencies.
Irving doesn't have that benefit. Cleveland hopes drafting Andrew Wiggins and bringing in Blatt, who is renowned in European coaching circles, will help create a more competitive environment. Irving has attempted to keep a publicly brave face amid the criticism, but it became obvious the attention was wearing thin toward the end of last season.
"The barrage and little bit of attack that I saw, I've been getting it all season and I feel I definitely don't deserve it," Irving told reporters in April. "It's one of those things where I can deal with it, but at a certain point, it's gotten too much. It's been like that the whole entire season."
It's quotes like those that helped create rumors that he wants out of Cleveland. Irving has consistently denied those reports. Given the way James left, however, it seems like the entire city has been waiting for the next shoe to drop since his arrival.
Even if the rumors are true, Irving has little choice but to sign this deal. Contract structures for young players all but guarantee seven or eight years of service if the team wants to keep you around. If Irving wanted to leave Cleveland, he would have to not only decline the Cavs' offer this season but also work on a one-year qualifying offer in 2015-16 to hit unrestricted free agency.
That would be literally unprecedented in NBA history. It would also involve Irving turning down tens of millions of dollars and going through the next two seasons risking even more if he gets hurt. The Cavs and Irving will get this done sooner than later. Mostly because they have to.
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