Kyrie Irving’s trade request, explained

Kyrie Irving reportedly requested that the Cavaliers trade him this summer after six seasons in Cleveland. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that Irving made the request last week. NBA.com’s David Aldridge reports that Irving requested a trade to the Bulls so he could play with Jimmy Butler before the NBA Draft in June. (Butler has since been traded to Minnesota.)

This is a shocker with major ramifications around the league. Let’s explain the basics.

Why is Irving requesting a trade?

ESPN is reporting that Irving no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James, the four-time MVP and arguably one of the three best players in NBA history. Windhorst indicates that Irving is looking for an opportunity to be a focal point for an offense.

LeBron is only under contract through the end of the 2017-18 season, but has previously indicated he plans to finish his career in Cleveland. Irving is under contract through the 2018-19 season.

Is Kyrie crazy?

It all depends on where your values lie.

As a Cavalier, he’ll be on national TV a million times and probably make the NBA Finals. He has a shot at winning a championship. But if Irving values personal excellence and becoming an all-timer under his own shingle over being LeBron’s top sidekick, that’s understandable.

Irving, like James, came in as an undisputed No. 1 overall pick with grand designs. Historically, those types of players willing to be sidekicks are in the minority. Most want to be the alpha dog.

Do the Cavaliers have to honor the request?

Since Irving is under contract for two more seasons, technically speaking there’s nothing forcing the Cavaliers from keeping Kyrie. But given that leaks have specifically singled out LeBron as the reason Irving wants to leave, it would seem highly unlikely Cleveland would be comfortable bringing him back for an awkward reunion without some sort of major sitdown between the pair. As such, you’d expect the Cavs to pull off a trade before training camp begins in late September.

Can the Cavaliers trade LeBron instead?

No.

LeBron has a no-trade clause, meaning he can veto any trade Cleveland proposes. The weird mix of his value, his contract situation (including the no-trade clause), and the extant likelihood he wants to remain in Cleveland makes it basically impossible to find a proper trade.

How good is Irving, anyway?

How dare you ask the question on the Internet. Are you trying to start a war or something?

Sorry.

Here, read this piece I wrote during the NBA Finals about what a maddening riddle Irving’s career has become. The bit about LeBron’s barbershop comments takes on new life with Irving’s trade request.

How does LeBron feel about Kyrie’s request?

He is “devastated” according to ESPN.

Have any other Cavaliers responded?

Kevin Love, previously the subject of rampant trade rumors, had a hilarious tweet commenting on the situation in a typically Lovian fashion.

What are the likely trade destinations?

Irving has given Cleveland four preferred choices, per Windhorst: the Spurs, Knicks, Heat, and Timberwolves. But, while Irving is likely to be traded, he has no real leverage on where he’ll be traded because he’s under contract for two more seasons. San Antonio would not appear to have the pieces to make a move for Irving in a straight-up deal — Cleveland doesn’t need LaMarcus Aldridge. Minnesota is too messy a trade partner at this point. Miami is flexible, and a New York trade would likely center on Carmelo Anthony.

Kevin Pelton suggests a win-win trade scenario with the Phoenix Suns, who would offer Irving the central role he desires while offering Cleveland a win-now piece in Eric Bledsoe (a friend of LeBron’s) and some youth. There are a few personal wrinkles here, too: Bledsoe is a Klutch Sports client. Klutch is run by Rich Paul, LeBron’s close friend and agent. Also, the Suns this week hired James Jones as vice president of basketball operations. Jones is LeBron’s longtime teammate and friend. There are a lot of personal strings to pull on here for both sides.

The Suns truly do seem like the most likely option at this point, barring a Melo trade.

Are the Warriors still going to win the 2018 NBA Championship?

Yes, probably.

Is LeBron’s NBA Finals streak going to end?

Possibly. The Celtics added Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum while losing Avery Bradley. Toronto swapped out Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll for C.J. Miles. All of the other high-end Eastern challengers stayed static or got worse. Odds are Cleveland will replace Irving with a major producer and remain the best in the East, but Boston, Toronto, or Washington could pull off an upset.

Does this all mean LeBron is leaving Cleveland next summer?

This has been one Internet fever theory: that Kyrie saw the writing on the wall and tried to get out before LeBron bolts. To be honest, that makes no sense given the stated rationale for Irving’s trade request. Kyrie is going to be criticized for requesting a trade to escape LeBron’s shadow. If he were truly requesting a trade to be the first man off a sinking ship, his camp would have leaked that instead. It would sound better to the masses and create a distraction.

Unless the Cavaliers completely botch this thing, it’s unlikely Irving’s request will affect LeBron’s decision one way or the other. Some people think LeBron is totally bailing. Some people (including myself) think he’s finishing his career in Cleveland.

You said “unless the Cavaliers completely botch this thing.” What are the odds that the Cavaliers completely botch this thing?

Given how this summer has gone for Cleveland, the odds that they completely botch this thing are definitely non-zero.

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