What should the Cleveland Cavaliers do with Kyrie Irving?
Kyrie Irving caught us all off-guard when he requested a trade from the Cavaliers. While trading Irving would be a huge downgrade to the Cavs talent stock, Cleveland of course still has the consensus greatest player in the world, LeBron James, who has proven he’s more than capable to carry any team through a deep playoff run.
Assuming the Cavaliers aren’t looking to begin a potential rebuild now, possibly in anticipation of LeBron’s looming departure after this season, here are the three best moves I think the Cavs should make to remain one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Trade 1: Phoenix Suns
Kyrie Irving For Eric Bledsoe And Assets
Eric Bledsoe has struggled with injuries over his career, but that hasn’t stopped him from establishing himself as one of the best all-around guards in the league. Bledsoe is coming off a career year, where he was only one of five point guards in the league to average at least 20 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. These were career marks for Bledsoe, who should be entering his prime at age 27, and he’d have an incredible opportunity to improve playing alongside LeBron.
Few people remember that Bledsoe first broke through into the league with his defense. In 2013-14, he led the league in defensive real plus-minus (+3.97) by nearly double that of the second highest finisher (Ricky Rubio with +2.47). However, as his offensive game began to flourish and he became the focal point of Phoenix’s fast-paced attack, it’s clear that his defensive intensity has waned, as he has been an average defender the past couple years. At the other end of the spectrum, Irving has ranked in the bottom 12 of DRPM among qualifying point guards in three of the past four seasons.
A trade to Cleveland could help Beldsoe bring that intensity back. Although he would be filling Irving’s shoes, he would be playing alongside James, who will shoulder most of the offensive load. Then behind him would possibly be the best back-up PG in the league in Derrick Rose, who would alleviate some of his minutes so he can stay both efficient and healthy. A good defensive guard will certainly be a welcome addition to the Cavs, who struggled mightily defensively down the stretch of the regular season, and a big contrast from Irving’s notorious defensive deficiencies.
|Comparing Irving’s and Bledsoe’s Defensive Statistics Over The Past Six Seasons|
*DRPM average is over four years because statistic was first implemented in 2013.
On and off the court, Bledsoe should gel well in the Cavs locker room. He shares an agent, Rich Paul, with James, Tristan Thompson, and J.R. Smith. It was also James who urged the Suns to extend Bledsoe’s contract in 2014, perhaps catalyzing that long contract dispute. And there are reports that he has been working out with James in Las Vegas. All in all, Bledsoe is a player James is familiar with and has a great relationship with, which is certainly important after the dramatic fall-out.
As for the rest of this deal, it’s been reported that number four pick Josh Jackson would be necessary for a deal, and while it’s certainly too early to tell, he has all the physical gifts to be an elite defender in the NBA. At 6’8” with an impressive defensive record at Kansas, he could immediately provide much needed depth at the forward position for the Cavs, with the potential to become their lock-down specialist against the premier forwards of the league.
However, the Suns have reportedly told Jackson that he won’t be a part of any trades for Irving. With Devin Booker presumably untouchable, the Suns are pretty limited in current talent beyond these three names. T.J. Warren broke out last year and could be a nice rotation player, but Cleveland would likely demand much more than him. However, no matter who the piece is, they would be periphery to Bledsoe who would certainly be the centerpiece of the deal.
Trade 2: Charlotte Hornets
Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert for Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
There hasn’t been much traction for this one, as Kyrie didn’t name Charlotte as one of his target destinations, nor are the Hornets actively looking to trade their first all-star in seven years, but this trade is by far my favorite.
Kemba Walker may be the most improved point guard in the past few years. His transformation from a streaky shooter, to one of the league’s most efficient point guards has been remarkable, as he placed in the top 10 among point guards in both eFG% and 3P% last season. Even James praised his hard work in a press conference last season. While he hasn’t emerged as one of the league’s superstars like Kyrie, his numbers suggest he’s much closer to Kyrie than you may think.
|Comparing Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving’s 2016-17 Seasons|
FOX Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnFSSE) March 25, 2017
Last season, Irving outscored Walker by two PPG, while putting up nearly identical counting stats and percentages across the board. They even shot nearly identical percentages from beyond the arc, despite Walker attempting 160 more three pointers. Looking at the advanced metrics, while Irving has the upper hand in win shares, Walker bested Irving in box score plus minus and value over replacement player.
Irving’s key role in the offense was his ability to isolate on any defender and score in a variety of ways. Walker has the handles and the shooting to do the same. While he may settle for a few more jumpers than Irving, he is still a fearless attacker and relentless finisher, shooting 54.9% from within three feet of the basket, a respectable mark for a guard his size.
Last but not least, Irving has widely been seen as the Cavs’ closer — the go-to player to hit the clutch bucket at the ends of games. Kemba is certainly no stranger to the moment. In “clutch time”, defined as during the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes remaining and neither team ahead by more than five points, Walker elevated his field goal percentage by 3% to score the sixth most points in the league in these situations last season. And while he doesn’t have much playoff experience in the NBA, we all know what he was able to do at UConn, closing his junior year with 11 straight wins to cap off one of the most improbable, and incredible, championships in NCAA history.
On the other half of the deal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would easily replace Iman Shumpert as the Cavaliers premier defensive juggernaut. At 6’7”, he adds a bit more size and length than Shumpert and is a much more effective rebounder. Last season, he led the Hornets in defensive win shares with 3.1, and finished in the top 10 of small forwards in the league as well. In addition, he finished fourth in the NBA in defensive real plus-minus among small forwards (+2.47).
His greatest asset he would bring to the team is his versatility on defense, as he can effectively match up with almost anyone playing the one through four position in the league. Hypothetically (because we’re all thinking about it) against the Golden State Warriors, he could alleviate some pressure off LeBron to try and slow down Kevin Durant for an the entire game, a matchup Shumpert was too small to take.
Trade 3: Cleveland Cavalier
Don’t trade Kyrie Irving
It’s unclear how broken LeBron and Kyrie’s relationship truly is, as the media has been reporting that James would be tempted to fight him, while he himself has stated that report was fake news on Twitter.
However, one thing is for certain, Kyrie has been wavering back and forth on the decision to leave Cleveland for quite some time now. Who’s to say he can’t change his mind once again.
While Golden State looked unstoppable, they weren’t without their faults. James’ Game 3 plus-minus of +7 in 46 minutes could’ve turned the series 2-1 (and Cleveland ended up winning Game 4), completely changing the perception of the series, had the Cavs not ended up blowing his efforts -12 in the two minutes he was off the court. Adding Derrick Rose is a huge upgrade over Deron Williams to the second unit, who will hope to revive his career after so many devastating injuries. Rose will be a dynamic, much-needed playmaker and ball-handler to lead the second unit when Irving or James are on the bench. And, he does have genuine playoff experience as a leader of a former number one seed. If Irving stays, the Cavaliers would only be one savvy move away from really building a roster that could compete with Golden State on paper.
Although this fiasco has in all likelihood solidified his desire to leave, history suggests that these situations can be resolved and work out spectacularly. It’s impossible to ignore the parallels to Kyrie’s biggest role model, Kobe Bryant and his actions before the 2007 season, when he requested a trade from the Lakers. Three years and two championships later, who even remembers Bryant’s calls to local radio stations demanding to be traded?
As owner Dan Gilbert stated, he expects Kyrie to be at training camp, and general manager Koby Altman has appeared very calm and composed when asked about how he’s handling the situation. After all, LeBron and the Cavs have pulled off more improbable upsets.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com and ESPN.com
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