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Cavaliers will benefit from Kyrie Irving Trade

Jack Rafferty

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In a 2010 post game presser, then Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah said, “I’ve never heard anybody say ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about Cleveland?”.  Apparently, Kyrie Irving agrees, as he formally requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers in July.  

Irving is 25 years old, has a salary of just under $19 million next year and is under at least two more years of team control. For an all-star caliber player, this deal is fairly affordable, and Irving may very well be yet to reach his ceiling. Thus, on the surface, he looks like an ideal trade candidate, and the Cavs likely will be able to find at least one team willing to pay very handsomely for his services.

That considered, there are several key reasons why Cleveland would be best served to fulfill Irving’s request. First, replacing him with a less ball-dominant, more efficient guard—a name that has come up often is the Phoenix Suns’ Eric Bledsoe—and other useful veterans could potentially immediately make the Cavs better. The truth of the matter is, while Irving is a phenomenal scorer, he is an uninspiring athlete, passer and defender.  

Last year, Irving ranked 40th in assist percentage and 71st in defensive real plus minus among NBA point guard. He is an elite scorer on a team that doesn’t need one, who struggles to set up his teammates and directly hurts his team on defense.  Compounding these issues further is the fact that he has yet to show an ability to stay on the court, having never played more than 75 games in six NBA seasons.  

Since Irving is at best average in defense, passing and athleticism, he is a poor fit against the Cavs’ realistic competition for the NBA title. Four of the five other teams considered to be in contention for a championship, the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and Celtics have at least one all-star guard, and the Spurs have exceptional ball movement. In the modern NBA, it is best to have athletic, long defenders who can effectively guard multiple positions.  

The Cavs could hide Irving on the weaker guard against most of those teams, somewhat mitigating his detrimental impact, but this would still be a net negative. This becomes even more of an issue because the top two teams in Sportsnet’s post-free agency power rankings are the Warriors and Rockets, both of whom have two elite offensive guards who can easily exploit Irving.

We saw this effect in last year’s playoffs.  The Cavs theoretically had an elite point guard, but were only truly good when Lebron James was on the floor. The Cavs’ net rating—point differential per 100 possessions—plummeted from plus-13.6 with James on the court to minus-13.8 without him.

Another reality that Cleveland must face is that their actual star, Lebron James, can become a free agent after the season. Luckily, trading Irving away provides the best outcome whether James leaves or stays. First of all, if James leaves, Irving provides no true basketball value to the team, as the Cavs had a worse net rating than the 26-win Lakers last season with Kyrie on the floor without James in last year’s regular season. The best option if James leaves is to trade Irving while he still has value and team control, and begin stockpiling assets for a rebuild.  

Secondly, as counterintuitive as it may seem, the Cavs trading Irving could increase their chances of retaining James. Many outlets have reported a growing rift between James and Irving, which may be a massive factor in Lebron’s reported interest in joining the Lakers next season. Although it may be too little, too late to fully repair the organization’s tarnished relationship with Lebron, the Cavs must do whatever they can to keep the generational talent.

At the end of the day, I have to respect Kyrie for wanting to bet on himself, but I also can’t help but thinking he is making a mistake. Irving is forfeiting a chance at a supermax with Cleveland, has a list of teams he wants to be traded to even though he has no actual control of his destination, and likely would struggle as a team’s best player. However, some blessings come in disguise, and trading Irving is the best move for the Cavs.

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Cavaliers will benefit from Kyrie Irving Trade