The world was aghast to find that Kyrie Irving has requested a trade from the Cavaliers. As a Cavs fan, it’s tough to hear that one of the key players on your team no longer wants to be part of that team. But a step back reveals a bright side. Beyond the fact that Irving’s desire to be the focal point of a team seemingly trumps his desire to win championships and calls into question whether the Cavs should want to build a team around him in the post-LeBron era, whenever that happens, the reality is that the Cavs have struggled throughout this offseason to create some salary cap flexibility so that they could retool their roster. Irving just handed them a way to do that.
Of course, the reason the Cavs need to retool the roster is the lack of playmakers, and taking away Irving takes away a dynamic playmaker. The rumored signing of Derrick Rose alleviates that to an extent, but Rose is not in Irving’s class as a playmaker, is possibly even worse defensively, and is unreliable due to his injury history. Still, if Rose signs for the veteran’s minimum he gives Cleveland the ability to negotiate a trade of Irving with the goal of maximizing their return without regard to position.
This is important. If the Cavs feel it is imperative to get a starting caliber point guard out of this trade, it limits the horizon to teams that have a good point guard that they want to trade. This can happen for a number of reasons – contract status, injury history, chemistry – none of which are good. So if a team wants to trade their point guard for Irving it means that they think Irving is better, which means the Cavs should not make the trade. The only possible situation in which a trade of Irving for another point guard would benefit both teams would be a fit issue. One example of this would be Ricky Rubio. He is the polar opposite of Irving as far as point guards go – pass first, strong defensively; though Rubio just got traded to Utah.
Irving has listed four teams that he would like to be traded to – Minnesota, New York, Miami, and San Antonio. None of these seems like a good fit. Minnesota just traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Jeff Teague, so their backcourt seems set. New York really doesn’t have any players good enough to interest the Cavs except for Carmelo Anthony or Kristaps Porzingis, and putting either of them on a team that already has LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt would require the Cavs to make further trades. A trade with Miami for Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow would work, but only if Winslow would fit as a shooting guard, which is a reach, given his shooting stats so far in his career. A trade with the Spurs would bring back a package, rather than one or two real playmakers.
So the Cavs would probably expand their search beyond those four teams. Phoenix has been mentioned – specifically a trade centered around Eric Bledsoe. The Suns can absorb ssalary, so the thinking is that the Cavs could trade Irving to Phoenix and throw in a bad contract such as Iman Shumpert’s. The problem with this is that, while it saves Cleveland some luxury tax, it doesn’t shed enough payroll to allow them to make any more moves. So they would trade Irving for a point guard who is not as good and would not get any other talent that actually makes them better.
There is a Hail Mary trade in all of these combinations that could actually work for everyone involved. That would be to trade Irving and Shumpert for Bledsoe, get a couple of Phoenix’ young guys thrown into the deal, then trade those young guys with Tristan Thompson to New York for Anthony. That gives Cleveland a lineup of Love at center, Anthony and James at forward, with Bledsoe and JR Smith/Kyle Korver at guard. Whether the Knicks want any of Phoenix’s young guys enough to give up Anthony is questionable, but there might be a combination there that works for everyone.
One place that might work more easily is Denver. The Nuggets fancy themselves a playoff team since signing Paul Millsap, but they still don’t have a good option at point guard. They have Gary Harris, who has developed into a solid shooting guard, and enough other options at that position that they may consider a trade of Harris for Irving. The best news for the Cavs is that Harris only makes two million dollars. The Nuggets might throw someone such as Kenneth Faried into the trade to balance salaries, or they might give up another young player.
In a dream scenario, the Cavs would send Irving to Denver and Shumpert to Phoenix, the Nuggets would send a package of young players (Trey Lyles and Emmanuel Mudiay?) to Phoenix, and Cleveland would end up with both Harris and Bledsoe. Denver might still want to dump Faried’s salary on someone in that situation, but that’s a trade that works for everyone. Denver gets its point guard, Cleveland gets a backcourt that can work with James and still has Smith, Korver and possibly Rose coming off the bench. Phoenix gets players who will still be under contract when their rebuild begins to bear fruit. Let’s see if the Cavs’ new general manager, Koby Altman can pull off that or something better.