A few weeks ago, I received my second-favorite iPhone notification I’ve ever received. My favorite was the day I found out that the Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel, an All-Star closer and arguably one of the most dominant 9th inning guys of all-time. My second favorite was learning that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade out of Cleveland. I remember it vividly; I was driving home from work, moseying through Cumberland back roads, and stopped at a red light. I picked up my phone and saw it. Kyrie Irving, an 25-year old NBA Superstar playing for the best team in the East, wanted to go somewhere else. Honestly, if you said I could trade Al Horford to some random team to get Kyrie off the Cavs, I think I’d do it in a heartbeat. This was arguably the best day in the history of time.
It’s not going to happen. It has been 20 full days since that notification hit my cell phone, and for the first week, I was enticed. What team is going to add a top 5-Point Guard to their team? And one who’s only twenty-freaking-five? A fermented NBA swamp filled with 30 dopey clown fish and 2 nuclear-cyborg Alligators finally saw some change. Literally anyone could have predicted the NBA postseason last year, maybe apart from the Jazz defeating the Clippers. It was refreshing; I felt alive; now, I feel dead. Kyrie is going nowhere.
There is a perfect, 4-part storm that explains why nothing will happen. First: the two sides of any deal will never be able to see even remotely eye-to-eye. To prospective buyers, the high ground in negotiations is theirs; they know Kyrie wants out, so the Cavs essentially have to trade him (more on this later). To Cleveland, they hold the ultimate asset in a 25-year old Point Guard, likely about to enter his true prime, with many years still left ahead of him. He’s an uber-efficient scorer who is talented enough to outshine the best player in the universe offensively, at times. He’s also the owner of the biggest-made shot since Ray Allen’s fade-away three-pointer against the Spurs. The Cavs expect the moon, while buyers feel they are the ones who should be able to have an edge when talking potential deals.
Part 2 is even more obvious—teams are hesitant to make any major moves because of the ungodly force that is the Golden State Warriors. I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Nuggets could win multiple championships by pairing Kyrie with Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, but even then, that is a major risk for Denver. I really do think that trio could knock off the Warriors, but even if you do, you still have to play in the Finals. Great, you battled your guts out for seven games and somehow knocked off the greatest team of all time—now you have to play LeBron, or the Celtics, or some other team worthy enough of representing the East. It’s very easy for many teams to just say, “Eh. We’ll keep our young guys and reevaluate once Steph and KD stop shooting 103% from 30-feet”.
Reason 3: Kyrie will not commit to staying long term to any team that trades for him. Who can blame him? Irving is one of the very few players who could pair up with another Superstar and create a true “Super Team”. Irving and Anthony Davis, the player picked exactly one spot before him in the Draft, are incredibly young and unimaginably talented. If Irving hits free agency the same time as, let’s say, Klay Thompson, he can very easily make a play to go to some team with a lot of cap and some other pieces and make a run at a title. The average UFA, like Millsap, for example, needs better players than himself to join him to have any real chance. There are plenty of players who are good enough to be the third star on a “Super Team”, but very few who can be the first or second. Irving has already proven he can be that guy, to the tune of a 2016 championship ring.
The final part that makes Kyrie untradeable is perhaps the most important one—the Cavs are under absolutely no obligation to trade Irving. He is under contract. A contract is a binding legal document that is the center of any exchange in history; I’m no legal expert, but I imagine the one Kyrie signed included something along the lines of “you play basketball, we sign your paychecks”. If the check bounces, Irving won’t play, because even he knows you should never work for free. If Irving goes so far as to protest playing on the same floor as James, he won’t be paid. NBA athletes want to get paid. I have no idea if there are clauses in the contract about these types of situations, but I can’t see a scenario where Irving throws a tantrum and simply refuses to play.
It’s a simple chain. If teams don’t feel like adding Irving will help beat the Warriors, they won’t bother (spoiler; no one [with cap space] is one Kyrie Irving away from the Warriors). If teams feel that Kyrie isn’t the final piece, they won’t offer anything more than Eric Bledsoe. If the Cavs don’t feel the trade is an adequate package for a 25-year old Superstar and Finals champion, they won’t trade him. Ask yourself seriously—what team even could put together a package truly worthy of Kyrie?
Kyrie will stay, and LeBron and himself will learn to pretend not to hate each other. I firmly believe something will go wrong—chemistry is dramatically understated in the NBA. Kevin Durant once played alongside the MVP and the MVP runner up, Westbrook and Harden. He didn’t win with them, but he did win with the team that fit his style of play perfectly. It also didn’t hurt that they were already the greatest team of all-time. The on-court issues that will undoubtedly arise between the King and the Prince will almost certainly provide a clear path for Gordon Hayward and Isaiah Thomas’ Celtics to make it to the Finals. They’ll lose, probably, but they’ll be there. I simply can’t envision Irving putting aside his hatred of playing alongside LeBron—a hatred so strong that he requested a trade from the 2nd best team in the world—and battling his heart out for another chance to lose to the Warriors.
The Cleveland ship has sailed; LeBron and Kyrie played out of their minds last June, and they still got bounced in 5-games. Until the Warriors unprecedented reign of dominance shows any signs of stopping, star franchise players will either be traded for pennies on the dollar (See: Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins), or be left to waste the primes of their careers on teams that have no real chance. The Cavs are certainly candidates to do something incredibly stupid considering the turnover in their front-office and the constant soap opera that exists in Ohio, but mark my words—at the start of camp, Kyrie will be a very disgruntled Cleveland Cavalier.