Kyrie Irving Reportedly Requesting Trade Out of Cleveland, Lists Miami Heat as a Preferred Destination
Just when we thought a wild NBA offseason was finally winding down, another stunner was delivered last Friday with the disclosure by ESPN that four-time All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving has asked the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade him.
Irving reportedly made the request to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert because he no longer wants to play a secondary role to LeBron James, and would have little interest in leading the shell of a team that would remain if James should choose to leave when his contract expires after next season.
James has always been proactive in maintaining his flexibility to shift course, having already been linked to possibly joining the Los Angeles Lakers next summer, which has caused Irving to be proactive about his desire to do the same. After agreeing to sign what would become a five-year $94.3 million extension with the Cavaliers in July 2014, Irving was forced to surrender being the face of the franchise when James agreed to return home just 10 days later. After winning a title together, and watching Russell Westbrook and James Harden do their thing last season, Irving wants that opportunity back. A trade would give him the chance to test drive his new team for a bit before committing to a long-term future. Among the preferred destinations he reportedly communicated to Gilbert are the Miami Heat, along with the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Irving has two years and $39.0 million remaining on his contract, excluding a player option for a third year he is likely to decline. His contract also contains a 15% trade kicker that would pay him up to $5.8 million (with the associated cap hits allocated equally to the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons), which he could choose to reduce or eliminate in the event of a trade.
The Cavaliers, however, are certainly not obligated to honor Irving’s trade request. And they are certainly not obligated to comply with his preferred trade destinations if they do. With an acquiring team assured of at least two seasons of his services at pre-cap-explosion prices, the list of potentially interested suitors could be substantial.
Incoming general manager Koby Altman will surely test the market, but will surely also be thorough and deliberate in his attempts to secure maximum value in return for a player he need not trade (at least until after Dec. 15, when most recent free agent signees become available for trade, or beyond) if he doesn’t receive a compelling offer.
Altman will first need to determine what would constitute a compelling offer. Irving’s trade request intensifies an already highly complex situation for the Cavaliers. Despite their recent dysfunction, Cleveland remains a heavy favorite to reach the NBA Finals. But they have also amassed what projects to be the most expensive team in NBA history next season, for what could be another futile attempt to compete with a Golden State Warriors team that could well be the best construct in NBA history. And when it’s all over, James could walk in free agency, leaving behind a flawed and bloated roster that was designed to complement a former player. Which means that Altman may seek out not only a quality replacement for Irving so that the team can compete this season but also cap relief and, perhaps most importantly, assets for a rebuilding process.
With 14 players already under contract for next season, the Heat were expecting to be largely done with their roster construction for the summer. But Irving’s availability, and interest in Miami, could stir things up a bit.
Irving, the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after spending one season at Duke, has established himself as one of league’s best ball-handlers and one of its most prolific scorers (at the rim, from the mid-range and behind the 3-point line). He has shown a tendency to play his best basketball when the stakes are highest. And despite six years of NBA experience, he’s still just 25 years old. He hasn’t yet even reached his prime.
Yet there would be some issues to overcome with Irving in a Heat uniform.
A criticism of Irving has always been that he plays as a score-first guard who excels in isolation, but doesn’t necessarily make his teammates better. The Heat, alternatively, found success last season with a drive-and-kick philosophy centered around Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, and their willingness to pass the ball to create easy chances at the rim for Hassan Whiteside and open looks for teammates along the perimeter. But few are suggesting that Irving doesn’t have the skill-set for such pursuits. He might need to alter his game. Which he may resist. But the Heat organization can be quite effective at selling such a team-first concept. As it proved out with Waiters last season. And could always adjust the playbook to accommodate one of the game’s best scorers if not.
Irving could also be perceived as an imperfect fit alongside Waiters, in whom the Heat just invested up to $52 million over the next four years. Waiters and Irving did not get along as former teammates in Cleveland, and their games (or, perhaps more accurately, their attitudes about them) don’t necessarily blend. They might need to adjust to coexist, or the Heat might need to adjust their rotations to compensate.
Irving also plays shockingly poor defense. How poor? He allowed the player he was guarding to shoot a whopping 49.9% last season, including 41.8% on 3-pointers, far worse than even his own metrics of 47.3% and 40.1%, respectively. Defense is an area in which the Heat have always shown a proclivity to develop. But that’s awful.
Nevertheless, what the Heat don’t have, and know they need, is a bona fide star. Irving is that.
The Heat will surely be interested. But so will several other teams in far better position to offer far more compelling trade packages. Whether Miami chooses to make what might be perceived as a compelling offer of their own could depend upon just how aggressive Pat Riley is willing to get.
The Heat would be somewhat limited in what trade chips it could utilize to pursue Irving. They can’t trade any free agents signed this offseason – including Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Udonis Haslem (who also has a no-trade restriction) — until Dec. 15 at the earliest. They also can’t include cash considerations in a potential trade, having utilized their full $5.1 million allotment for the season as part of the (shockingly expensive) Josh McRoberts trade. But neither of these limitations figures to be a significant factor.
Miami would likely build an offer centered around Dragic, who is one of only a few 3-point-shooting point guards (40.5% last season) capable of filling Irving’s role of playing off the ball alongside James. Dragic has three seasons (including a player option on his final season) remaining on a contract that pays out a couple million less per season than that of Irving. But he’s not nearly as dynamic a play-maker and, at 31, he’s six years older. The Heat would need to include more.
Miami also has a considerable stash of youngsters under team control for several more seasons, including Tyler Johnson(1), Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Justise Winslow, Okaro White and 2017 first-round pick Bam Adebayo (who will be eligible to be traded on Aug. 1). Perhaps Riley would allow Altman to select one or two.
Miami also has the expiring $6.3 million contract of dynamic 3-point shooter Wayne Ellington, which could be leveraged in combination with Dragic and youngster(s) to enable the Heat to swallow undesired contracts alongside Irving (e.g., Iman Shumpert).
As far as draft picks, while the Heat owe two of their next four first-rounders to the Phoenix Suns to complete the January 2015 trade for Dragic, they could, finally, have at least something compelling to offer.
Miami currently has one future first-round pick available for trade: in either 2023 or 2024. And, however unwise or unlikely it might be to utilize a pick that far out in trade, there is potential rationale for doing so.
While Miami currently has just one first-round pick available for trade, it will likely have three after the upcoming 2018 NBA draft. The Heat will become eligible to trade their 2019 pick, assuming their first pick obligation to the Suns, which is top-7 protected, is conveyed in 2018. They’ll also be eligible to trade future first-round picks in either 2023, 2024 or 2025 – and could potentially trade two of the three if the two are the former (2023) and latter (2025).
Therefore, while the Heat have just one first-round pick currently available for trade (2023 or 2024), even if they use it, they could have an additional two available for trade (2019, 2025) as early as next June. Whether Riley, who has always been aggressive (perhaps, at times, overly so) in his willingness to include draft picks in trade scenarios, would be willing to do so for Irving remains unclear. If so, it’ll be the Heat’s 2023 first-round pick.
In addition to the 2023 pick, Miami can also offer pick swaps on any of the up to five first-round picks over the next seven years that it will have in its own possession — something for which the Cavaliers negotiated when signing-and-trading James to the Heat back in July 2010. There’s been a palpable degree of animosity between the teams since. Whether that could present an issue in potential negotiations is unknown.
Pat Riley likes to build his teams around stars. He doesn’t currently have one. But could a team centered around Irving and Whiteside, along with Waiters, Johnson, Olynyk and a slew of youngsters, compete for titles?
Perhaps more importantly, if Waiters and Johnson (and Olynyk) continue to outperform this coming season as they did last, proving themselves as having had more than just a single-season fluke, their long-term contracts could ultimately become valuable trade assets down the line. Said Riley about the long-term contracts: “They are assets. We don’t look at our players as assets but they are assets if something comes (up) along the way. I’m not thinking that way, but we have them.” Combine them with some potentially valuable youngsters and, even if they offer one up for Irving, up to two tradeable first-round draft picks as early as late June, and you could be building yourself a war chest with which to pursue a potential whale down the line.
Who that whale could be, and just how “whale-ish” he would be, is unclear. But that’s not the point. The point is that, if one should emerge, Riley could have the flexibility with which to pursue him.
Don’t think an Irving-Whiteside duo could compete for titles? How about Irving, Whiteside and a potential third whale?(2)
If you were Riley, then, would you be interested in Kyrie Irving? What combination of players would you offer? Would you include the team’s 2023 first-round draft pick or a pick swap on any of the others? What players might you be willing to take back? Would it be enough to entice the Cavaliers?
(1) While Pat Riley and the Heat organization would surely be quick to offer up Tyler Johnson in a Kyrie Irving trade, Koby Altman and the Cavaliers will likely have limited interest. Johnson’s salary remains affordable at $5.9 million this season, but jumps to $19.2 million for each of the following two. He also has a 15% trade bonus which, if he doesn’t agree to reduce or eliminate, would pay out another $3.8 million and increase his cap hits over the next three seasons to $7.8 million, $21.1 million and $19.2 million (player option), respectively.
(2) It’s totally irrelevant at this point, but imagine how compelling a Kyrie Irving – Josh Richardson – Gordon Hayward — James Johnson – Hassan Whiteside starting rotation could have been. It’s debatable as to whether the Heat have the assets to acquire Irving but, if they do, none would have had to have been sacrificed to sign Hayward.
This is perhaps the shortest and least in depth post I have written. I apologize for that. Unfortunately, I am slowly losing small bits of my desire for this kind of thing. But I wrote it, quickly, because I was asked to do so, and because it provides information (toward the end) that I don’t believe has been provided anywhere else. It is my hope that if you should choose to leverage it (even if you should feel compelled to first confirm its accuracy), that you will provide proper credit.