Just when we thought the NBA offseason was starting to slow down, we receive arguably the juiciest story yet: Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland. After three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and one ring as LeBron James’ sidekick, Irving reportedly wants out of the engulfing shadow cast by the four-time MVP, wishing to cast his own umbra in a new environment. The not-quite-a-demand raises a lot of questions, and provides one definitive answer: the NBA offseason is a lot more entertaining than the actual season and I would like to sim through to June 2018.
But I digress.
The 25-year-old point guard has submitted a list of “preferred teams” to the Cavaliers, and a breakup of the Eastern Conference’s most powerful duo seems inevitable. The four teams featured on Irving’s list are the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Minnesota Timberwolves. There’s not much in common between the teams, but each destination comes with its own rationale.
Irving does not have any power in this situation, unless he wants to pull an Alonzo Mourning. The four-time All-Star doesn’t have any sort of no-movement clause in his contract, which makes his list much less relevant. Cleveland is unlikely to cater to the PGs desires, instead opting for the best return they can get. Teams that aren’t on his list shouldn’t be too hesitant to make real offers, either. Irving is signed through the 2019-20 season, giving his eventual team a three-year window to compete and simultaneously kiss every part of Kyrie’s ass in hopes he re-signs.
But let’s assume Irving does get what he wants. How would adding one of the best PGs in the NBA affect the win totals and championship futures of each team on Irving’s list? We’ll dive into that here, while making some reasonable assumptions on what it would take for each of the four to land Kyrie.
Why they are preferred: it’s not hard to imagine why a 25-year-old would like to live in Miami.
The Heat are eager to find another All-Star to pair with Hassan Whiteside, who is already 28 years old. A point guard who excels in pick-and-roll situations and can stretch the floor would be the perfect fit. However, Cleveland is going to want a star-caliber player in return, and Goran Dragic doesn’t fit the bill.
In order for a trade to be possible here, a third team would need to get involved and be willing to part ways with a proven commodity for a package of Dragic and future draft picks. (Read: Irving being traded to Miami is unlikely.)
If Pat Riley can make it work, there’s little doubt that Irving would be a giant boost to a mediocre roster and would solidify the Heat as a playoff team in the East, where three playoff squads from 2017 lost their stars (Indiana, Chicago, and Atlanta). But it wouldn’t be enough to make Miami a legitimate contender, instead joining the Bucks in the East’s third tier.
- Current 2017-18 win total: 41.5
- 2017-18 win total with Irving: 46.5
- Current 2018 NBA Championship odds: 100/1
- 2018 NBA Championship odds with Irving: 50/1
Why they are preferred: Irving certainly isn’t looking forward to the lakes and cold weather, rather the company of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.
He’d also enjoy playing alongside Andrew Wiggins, I’m sure, but in order to land Irving, Minny would have to send Wiggins back to the team that drafted him first-overall in 2014 (because they’re not trading Towns or Butler).
The biggest issue in the way of this trade is Jeff Teague, whom the Wolves signed to a three-year, $57 million contract this offseason and cannot be traded until at least December. (The same actually applies to Butler.) Even if he could be moved, the front-office must be confident he is the attacking point guard the offense was missing, given the money/term they doled out.
If Minnesota and Cleveland can work something out, it would be the icing on the cake of a tremendously successful offseason for Minnesota. A team with Irving, Butler, and KAT would certainly grab the attention of the defending champion Warriors.
- Current 2017-18 win total: 45.5
- 2017-18 win total with Irving: 52.5
- Current 2018 NBA Championship odds: 39/1
- 2018 NBA Championship odds with Irving: 24/1
NEW YORK KNICKS
Why they are preferred: in spite of the team’s recent dysfunction, New York is still widely considered the Mecca of basketball.
Of the four teams Irving listed, the Knicks are in the best position to pull of a blockbuster trade, simply because they have their own All-Star whom they’re more than willing to part with. Carmelo Anthony has been the Knicks’ scapegoat for the last two seasons, and it’s in both parties’ best interest to separate. Anthony does have a no-trade clause, but is 33 years old and has never been to the NBA Finals. Teaming up with LeBron James, who’s been to seven in a row, in a weak Eastern Conference is the best way to fix that.
Considering Melo’s age, the Cavs would likely ask for another piece. With few valuable assets on the roster right now, that extra piece would likely be rookie PG Frank Ntilikina.
Pairing Irving with Kristaps Porzingis would be a great start for the Knicks as they try to rebuild the reputation that was swiftly tarnished by Phil Jackson’s senility. But the rest of the roster would still need a major overhaul before they’re ready to emerge from the East.
- Current 2017-18 win total: 32.5
- 2017-18 win total with Irving: 43.5
- Current 2018 NBA Championship odds: 300/1
- 2018 NBA Championship odds with Irving: 66/1
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Why they are preferred: Gregg Popovich.
If you’re a Warriors-hater, this is your dream destination for Kyrie Irving. Gregg Popovich is the best coach in the league, hands down. (If you have any issue with that statement, please go here and remember that this team won 67 games last year.) He is all that stands in the way of another Golden State championship.
If there’s one pitfall in Irving’s game, it’s his defense. Call me crazy, but I believe the majority of good defense simply boils down to effort. And if there’s one thing Pops won’t tolerate from any of his players, it’s a lack of effort. If Kyrie is traded to the Spurs, he will either improve as a defender or spend a lot more time on the bench than he’s used to.
The Spurs are currently trying to squeeze the last bit of life out of Tony Parker, but would be much better off with a younger, more athletic PG, who can take some of the offensive pressure off Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio has been dangling LaMarcus Aldridge’s name in the trade market, and the five-time All-Star could be enough incentive for a trade to get done. But again, it would likely take a third team, since Aldridge’s fit in Cleveland is questionable.
With Irving, Leonard, and all the other Spurs who have been perfectly groomed by Popovich, San Antonio would again be the league’s best hope against the Warrior empire.
- Current 2017-18 win total: 54.5
- 2017-18 win total with Irving: 59.5
- Current 2018 NBA Championship odds: 14/1
- 2018 NBA Championship odds with Irving: 7/1