The Case for the Cleveland Cavaliers to Trade Kyrie Irving

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 1:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts to a play against the Houston Rockets on February 1, 2014 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Trading Kyrie Irving isn't a chore sitting atop the Cleveland Cavaliers' to-do list.

It's probably nowhere even near the top, situated well behind an assortment of other tasks. General manager Chris Grant does have other pressing things that need tending to, after all. A quick glance into his smart phone or outdated PalmPilot will show a lengthy agenda that looks something like this:

  1. Fix Anthony Bennett.
  2. Ask Dion Waiters if he knows what "shot selection" is.
  3. Transfer recorded Mark Jackson pregame sermon to Jarrett Jack's iPod.
  4. Stop asking the Sorting Hat for draft-day advice.
  5. Build time machine that stops self from drafting Bennett in the first place.

Dealing Irving doesn't even make the top five. It might not even make the list at all.

But it should.

In the back of Grant's and owner Dan Gilbert's minds, there should be a place reserved for exploring Irving's controlled departure. The third-year point guard is more than a year away from restricted free agency, and there's no trace of trade demands floating around, but it's a course of action they must at least consider.

Years before Irving is in sole control of his own destiny, he's already a flight risk. The underachieving Cavs have left a vile taste in mouths across Cleveland and the NBA, and no magic, all-curing catholicon has presented itself. And unless it does, nothing and no one should be above Cleveland's future well-being.

Not even the player once considered most vital to its immediate survival.

Already Planning His Escape?

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 24:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat  during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat on February 24, 2013 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Cleveland has been here before. Not too long ago, in fact.

Less than four years ago, they lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat in free agency. His exit left the franchise in shambles, with basically nothing to show for a seven-year relationship. Irving's situation is different because he's still on his rookie contract, but not by much. It's the same concept with a potentially accelerated process.

According to ESPN's Chad Ford, Irving is already privately telling people he wants out of Cleveland. Though he hasn't confirmed such reports, his denials have been noncommittal and ambiguous at best.

"I'm pretty sure I'm going to be here for a long time," he said when responding to Ford's report, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst.

Pretty sure? The Cavs are supposed to ride this thing out on Irving being "pretty sure?" That's a risk Gilbert isn't prepared to take. He remembers how things turned out with LeBron, and with Irving eligible for a contract extension this coming summer, Gilbert is intent on preventing history from repeating itself.

"The key thing, whoever you are and wherever you are, you cannot wait," Gilbert said before last season, via Windhorst. "The big lesson was if a player is not willing to extend, no matter who they are, no matter where they are playing, no matter what kind of season you had, you cannot risk going into a summer and having them leave."

If there's significant doubt that Irving is committed to Cleveland long term, the Cavs should do what they never did with LeBron and get out in front of it: Cut ties with Irving before he abandons them.

Strike first, before being stripped of control later.

Could Cleveland Do Better?

Jason Miller/Associated Press

Quite obviously, the Cavs shouldn't want a player who isn't devoted to them. If Irving actually wants to leave, is he really worth all this trouble? Absolutely not. 

"He’s acting like he doesn’t care," one Cavs player told the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd of Irving.

That comment followed another report, in which Lloyd was told by two opposing general managers that Irving was "pouting." 

Disappointment is understandable during a season like this. The Cavs were a forecasted playoff team. Now they appear headed for a fourth-straight lottery finish. No one should be satisfied with this mess, least of all Irving.

But moping and quitting and general indifference is inexcusable. Cleveland may have failed to put the right pieces around Irving—Grant's draft track record reads like a modern-day massacre—but franchise-changing stars don't allow their teams to fall deeper and deeper into combustible torment.

Irving isn't a player the Cavs can wait on.
Irving isn't a player the Cavs can wait on.Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

The Cavs are 61-135 since drafting Irving, which gives them the NBA's second-worst winning percentage during that time. Part of that is on him. Legitimate superstars help inspire collective progress, and Irving hasn't done that. Irving has barely improved individually.

"Irving himself doesn't look much different than the player who captured Rookie of the Year honors two seasons ago," writes Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley. "If he's made any strides in his game since, he's given them back in other areas."

Placing full blame on Irving for Cleveland's struggle is unfair. Completely degrading his skill set is equally unjust. The 21-year-old is a fine talent and now a two-time All-Star. Players such as him, even at the obnoxiously deep point guard position, don't come around often.

Judging by the Cavs' lack of progress since he arrived, however, it's clear he's not the savior and not the championship mainspring they thought he would be.

Pulling the Trigger Now

Waiting is for chumps. Waiting is for cowards.

Waiting is what led the Cavs to Irving in the first place.

Had they sensed the end was near with LeBron, the Cavs should have acted. We know this. They didn't, and look what happened.

In their defense, few teams would have done differently. LeBron James is LeBron James. If there was any hope, any at all, that he would come back, Cleveland needed to stick it out.

Irving isn't LeBron; he's not worth waiting for. If the Cavs have any doubts in Irving's desire to stay or his ability to pilot their future, the time to move on is now. Not when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2015. Not before next season's trade deadline.

Now. This season.

Could a better player await Cleveland in this year's draft?
Could a better player await Cleveland in this year's draft?Rich Barnes/Getty Images

Teams will line up to acquire Irving knowing they can control his future through 2015-16. They'll be willing to fork over future assets, draft picks and relieve the Cavs of some less favorable, long-term deals (Bennett and Jack, anyone?).

More importantly, if the Cavs need to hit the reset button, there's no better time to do it.

The 2014 draft class is being touted as the most talented since 2003. Cleveland is already a lottery team with Irving, so just imagine how far it could plummet in the standings between now and season's end without him.

Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid are all solid building blocks. One NBA general manager even told Ford (subscription required) he would take Syracuse's Tyler Ennis over Irving right now:

If you were to ask me right now whether I'd take Ennis over Kyrie Irving, I think it's Ennis. He does all the things that help a basketball team win basketball games. You can pick him apart on individual flaws, but I would take this kid right now and trust him to run my team. I think there's very few freshmen you could ever say that about.

Trading Irving opens up those possibilities. It forces the Cavs to tank by default, putting them in position to land a highly coveted draft prospect.

One who may wind up helping them more than Irving ever has.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 24:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers runs out before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at The Quicken Loans Arena on January 24, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by d
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

I'm not here to create any illusions. Chances are the Cavs won't move Irving this season. If they move him at all, it will likely be sometime next year.

That doesn't mean they shouldn't be active now.

Irving, in some respects, is a superstar. But he's a flawed one. If he wasn't, the Cavs would be fighting for a playoff spot or have fought for one already.

Kevin Love catches the same flak for absence of postseason berths, but at least his impact is more profound. The Minnesota Timberwolves are once again outside the Western Conference's playoff picture, yet Love accounts for more than 40 percent of their wins. Irving, meanwhile, accounts for 11.9 percent of Cleveland's victories.

There's a difference. A big difference. On top of that, Irving doesn't appear devoted to this team the way a superstar and leader should be. Maybe you roll the dice on an imperfect player who wants to be in Cleveland, but one who may want out?

Get real.

The Cavs aren't the team they're supposed to be, because Irving isn't the player he was projected to be. And if Cleveland wishes to avoid being bilked of further hope, it will consider moving Irving, striking first before he ruins its future the way LeBron did without having done anything of value for them beforehand.

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference, and Salary information via ShamSports.


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