For the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade Kyrie Irving, they will have to be convinced they are getting back a player who can do what Irving has done—fearlessly take and make big shots in the biggest moments on the biggest stage the game has to offer.
A quick inventory of the league will tell you there are none on the market who have already proved that, so it would be someone they think has the mentality to do what Irving has done.
"What Kyrie does is a perfect fit for us," says one team source. "That's why we want to smooth this out if we can."
Short of that, owner Dan Gilbert will want to make sure he comes away looking as if he got equal or greater value in any trade of Irving, who kick-started this process after he met with Gilbert in July to discuss options, including being traded elsewhere.
"You can be sure Dan wants to win the press conference with whatever trade he makes," says one former member of the Cavs organization. "Dan always wants to win the press conference."
Recent events make it more imperative than ever that he does that. Start with the rumbling that LeBron James has contemplated not exercising his player option on the final year of his current contract, which would make him a free agent next summer. While James might be OK with moving Irving, his decision to stay or go obviously could be influenced by who or what the Cavs get in return.
Then there's Gilbert's decision not to re-sign GM David Griffin, who presided over the Cavs' three consecutive runs to the Finals. Koby Altman, elevated from assistant GM, took his place despite having no prior experience running a team.
Griffin had no prior experience either, but he is assuredly a tough act to follow. His first season at the helm he made several deals that have been credited with elevating the Cavs above the rest of the East, most notably a three-team deal to acquire JR Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks, along with a first-round pick from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder pick helped Griffin trade for Denver Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov, who played a big part in the Cavs' first Finals run and was on the championship-winning roster the following year.
Gilbert's chastising of Indiana Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard in a recent press conference for not getting more for All-Star forward Paul George, one league executive said, also raises the ante on landing a bonanza for Irving. The Cavs tried to acquire George before he was dealt to the Thunder for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. "I will say Indy could've done better," Gilbert said after introducing Altman as the team's new GM.
While league sources say the Cavaliers are exploring what they might be able to get for Irving, there are those within the team who believe whatever issues Irving has can be addressed and resolved when the players reconvene next month for training camp. They say Irving's disgruntlement caught them by surprise because there were no indications of it during the course of last season and certainly not on the heels of last summer's successful championship run. Irving is under contract with the Cavs for both this season and next, with a player option for a third.
"He's an emotional kid," says one team source.
The question has been raised by more than one voice both inside and outside the Cavs organization: How can he be unhappy when he's not only taking the most shots on the team (1,420 to James' 1,344 last season) but also invariably taking the most important ones?
Several former members of the organization say Irving's issues aren't with his role but the level of respect shown to him by James and the organization—that he has never been viewed, nor treated, on a comparable level despite establishing himself as an All-Star before James returned to Cleveland.
"LeBron looks at him as a little brother," one former Cavs employee says.
While Irving may take exception to that, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe apparently does not. James took part in his wedding this summer, they share James' boyhood friend Rich Paul as an agent and Bledsoe picked up the nickname "Mini LeBron" early in his career. One league source predicted that Bledsoe and a future first-round pick will be the deal that inspires Cleveland to move Irving. The Suns have their own first-round picks for the foreseeable future as well as first-round picks from the Miami Heat in 2018 (top-seven protected) and 2021.
"At the end of the day, that's what I think happens," the source says.
The Suns were not on the list of Irving's preferred destinations leaked along with news of his meeting with Gilbert, so it's not clear if that's what he'd like to see happen.
It is clear, at least for now, that some Cavs don't want to see that happen.