Patience Is a Virtue: 5 Players Cavs Can Target by Waiting to Trade Kyrie Irving
The Cleveland Cavaliers don't have to trade Kyrie Irving on his time or to his preferred destinations.
And, not to extinguish any fire takes out there, but they don't need to move him at all.
While this seems likely to end with Irving getting his wish via a ticket out of LeBron James country, the Cavs can't forget they're in control. They have a 25-year-old All-Star to sell on the trade market. That's still an advantageous position, even if it's not the one they would have picked and not as strong as it would have been had the trade request never leaked.
Cleveland has rightfully set a high price—"a veteran starter, a blue chipper on a rookie contract and a first-round pick," according to Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon. For now, the market doesn't appear willing to meet that. While approximately 20 teams have talked with the Cavs, "far fewer" have put an offer on the table, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
All that means for Cleveland is the time isn't right to pull the trigger. If the Cavs are patient—and open to enduring some awkward training-camp moments—they can hold out for better offers.
Delaying any decision puts more players potentially in play. Those who inked new deals this summer can't be moved before December, so that's one incentive to wait. Another is the possibility of clubs struggling out of the gate and redirecting their rosters by moving current centerpieces.
If the Cavs play the waiting game correctly, they could put these five guys in their crosshairs.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, New Orleans Pelicans
Credit the New Orleans Pelicans for trying. In need of a shake-up around franchise face Anthony Davis, they're zagging away from an Association-wide zig toward small ball by pairing the Brow with bully-ball big man DeMarcus Cousins.
Their combined talent level is staggering, and the early returns late last season were positive. Even though New Orleans dropped 10 of the 17 games the pair played together, it outscored opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor.
But would anyone be shocked if this group stumbled out of the gate? The offense was a disaster last season (26th in efficiency), and spacing was an issue before the signing of Rajon Rondo. Plus, as good as these two bigs are, there are reasons lineups around the league continue to shrink.
"The game is getting smaller and smaller," an advanced scout told The Vertical's Chris Mannix. "Every coach in the league values spacing. Front lines like that just don't work."
If the Pelicans hit an early snag, they could rush Cousins to the trade block. His contract expires at season's end, so New Orleans is operating without the luxury of time. If the organization could grab a younger All-Star on a longer deal, it probably wouldn't hesitate to pounce.
Cousins isn't the cleanest fit in Cleveland, but he might be the best player available in any Irving deal. If the Cavs buy Cousins' combination of size (6'11", 270 lbs), mobility and skill as the wrecking ball to the Golden State Warriors' dominance—he blitzed them for 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in one outing last season—they could grab him and figure out how to assemble the rest of the frontcourt later.
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies haven't moved completely out of the grit-and-grind era, but they have started writing its final chapter. Zach Randolph and Vince Carter already found new homes in free agency, and Tony Allen is waiting for the right offer.
Memphis needed to modernize—it has one playoff series win in four years—but could soon discover it hasn't gone far enough. The Grizzlies are losing talent while the Western Conference is taking up arms around them. That's a precarious position for anyone, but especially troubling for a team built around a 32-year-old and 29-year-old.
That's why the future of the elder statesman, Marc Gasol, is "worth keeping an eye on," as two league executives told Mannix. And if a Gasol deal would spur trade talks regarding Mike Conley, then there would be an immediate opening for Irving as both a lead guard and an organizational leader.
Gasol would provide a new way for Cleveland to approach the annual, inevitable clash with Golden State. He'd be the best traditional center LeBron ever suited up alongside, sort of a souped-up Zydrunas Ilgauskas with superior scoring range, playmaking and defensive anchoring.
Gasol also has a history of bothering—and occasionally beating—the Warriors. He went 2-1 against them last season, averaging 21.0 points on 50 percent shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the victories. And when the Grizzlies took the Warriors to six games in the 2015 conference semis, Gasol was their leading scorer (19.2), rebounder (11.2) and shot-blocker (1.2).
Cleveland didn't defend at anywhere near a championship level last season (22nd in efficiency). Gasol could cover up a lot of the mistakes.
Josh Jackson, SF, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns are a quietly compelling landing spot for Irving.
They have their own star point guard to send back in Eric Bledsoe, who is a Rich Paul client just like LeBron. (If star seems like an oversell for Bledsoe, consider he's one of only six players to average at least 20 points, six assists and four rebounds each of the last two seasons.) They have two future firsts coming over from the Miami Heat, one or both of which could be used to sweeten the pot.
And, in rookie Josh Jackson, Phoenix might have the long, athletic defender Cleveland desperately needs on the wing. His 2.2 defensive win shares as a college freshman were as many as Draymond Green produced as a college junior. The 6'8" swingman needs to develop as a shooter, but the Cavs could work around that with the league's third-most efficient attack.
Of course, Jackson's potential is also the reason this deal isn't already done.
"Josh Jackson could be the swing piece after Phoenix and Cleveland indeed talked around the draft about a swap involving the No. 4 pick, but the Suns were thrilled Jackson landed there," ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote. "If the Suns relent on Jackson, Cleveland and Phoenix might be able to work a simple two-team deal."
What would motivate Phoenix to move? Maybe the chance to capture its first taste of post-Steve Nash relevance.
The Suns have some interesting young pieces on the roster, but those players would need to defy the odds to become what Irving already is. For as long as they've coveted a star, the 25-year-old Irving could be too tempted to pass up the longer he goes unclaimed.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Irving and Damian Lillard should see a lot of themselves in the other.
Both are score-first 6'3" point guards. Both have multiple All-Star selections on their resumes and multiple postseason wins under their belts. Both are slippery off the bounce and fiery from three.
Watching the other might feel like staring into a mirror. Maybe that's why it's so easy for each to put himself in his peer's shoes.
Irving is reportedly envious of the prominent position Lillard occupies atop the Portland Trail Blazers organization, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst. Lillard, meanwhile, sounds jealous of Irving's situation in Cleveland and, more importantly, alongside LeBron.
"Who wouldn't want to go to the Finals every year," Lillard said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "I think they've been to the Finals the last three years, so I would love to do that."
Maybe the basketball gods can let each of these players experience what the other has.
Irving is younger and cheaper than Lillard, 27, which could help Portland clear some of its salary-cap congestion. Conversely, the fact Lillard's contract runs two years longer may appeal to Cleveland, which might see him as a recruiting tool to keep LeBron around or a centerpiece if James bolts. Lillard is also a close enough Kyrie clone that his acquisition would cause the least amount of adjustments.
Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
If the Cavs really want a blue-chip prospect, why not go get the one they traded away three years back?
Almost from the second Cleveland moved Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love, the Cavs have been in need of a long, athletic wing defender. It's the type of player Wiggins should be—and occasionally is—and his offensive ceiling rises every season.
The Wolves are ready to compete in the Western Conference, having added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford this summer. But there are spacing concerns when slotting Wiggins (a career 32.9 percent three-point shooter) alongside Butler (33.7), not to mention questions of whether Teague can quarterback an elite club.
None of that seems to worry Minnesota. Owner Glen Taylor told Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the team has started negotiations with Wiggins on a five-year max extension. Following that same line of thought, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson reports the Wolves aren't offering Wiggins for Irving.
Time could soften those stances, though.
Wiggins can justify requesting a max deal, but there are enough holes in his game to think twice about meeting that demand. He had the second-worst rebounding percentage among qualified players 6'8" or taller (6.3), the lowest assist percentage among players with a 28-plus usage percentage (10.6) and the ninth-worst defensive real plus-minus across the league (minus-3.16, per ESPN.com).
If Minnesota rethinks a max-money commitment, it could also reconsider swapping Wiggins for Irving. Since Teague can't be moved before Dec. 15, there is ample time to think this transaction through.