Kyrie Irving’s true trade value
August 3, 2017
OPINION: Things keep going from bad to worse for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since losing four games to one in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors they have had a torrid time. First, they missed out on marquee players Jimmy Butler and Paul George, and lost general manager David Griffin in the process. Now, star point guard Kyrie Irving has apparently requested a trade away from the franchise.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Irving has asked the Cavs to trade him in order to escape from the shadow of teammate LeBron James and become a franchise player in his own right.
Irving is no joke. He’s a four-time All-Star, former Rookie of the Year, Olympic gold medallist and a once-in-a-generation offensive powerhouse. His inside scoring is often considered the greatest ever by a guard in NBA history, and he is a clutch scorer down the stretch, as shown when he hit the game-winner in game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to seal the Cavs’ first ever championship. He’s also still just 25 years old.
Last season, Irving had a career-year, averaging 25.2 points, 5.8 assists and 1.2 steals on 47 percent shooting and 40 percent from three point range.
He also still has two years and US$39 million remaining on his contract, a reasonable going rate in today’s NBA given his talents. The Cavs therefore should be able to get a strong return in the open market.
Irving has highlighted the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami Heat as preferred destinations, but whether any of those teams have the assets capable of forcing a move is up for debate.
Rumours have swirled over the last few days about a possible three-team trade with the Knicks and the Phoenix Suns that would see Irving land in New York, in exchange for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, both of whom are close to LeBron James.
But is Irving really worth the same as Anthony and Bledsoe?
33-year-old Anthony is a 10-time All Star and a scoring machine, averaging 22.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists last term.
Bledsoe, 27, has improved every season since he entered the NBA in 2010, and was not far from All-Star selection last season in the loaded Western conference. In 2016-17, he put up career-high averages of 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 1.4 steals on a young Suns side.
Some would still argue yes. Anthony is in decline and Bledsoe is not yet a truly elite point guard. Neither player would be able to replace Irving’s talents.
Yet, while Irving is a great player, he has one massive black spot on his resume. Defence.
Last season Irving ranked 416th in defensive plus-minus rating out of the 486 players in the NBA. There was only one all-star that was worse – Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas. However, Thomas is the shortest player in the league at 175cm and suffers because of it. Irving is an above-average sized point guard at 190cm and should have no issue in defending his opponent. Yet, he suffers.
Further still, prior to LeBron James’ return to Cleveland in 2014, Irving had a 78-152 record across his first three seasons, missing the playoffs each time.
During the last three seasons, the Cavaliers have gone 4-23 when LeBron has not played, again proving that while he puts up big numbers, Irving does not make a strong case for being a franchise player.
So what assets are worth giving up for him? Teams around the league will have to try and find a way to appease the Cavs into agreeing to a trade, without gutting their entire team for a player who has proven they cannot lead a team on his own.
The Cavs have all the leverage in this situation. With still two years left on his deal, Irving is in no position to pressure the Cavs into trading him by threatening to walk away for nothing in free agency.
Scouting the league, there are very few options that would make sense for both sides. Unless one team such as the Knicks take a hit and unload a star like Anthony and other pieces in return for Irving, it seems unlikely a deal will take place in the near future.
Comparatively, Irving is slightly below the level of players like Paul George and Jimmy Butler, and slightly above the level of Bradley Beal, C.J McCollum and Kemba Walker.
The Minnesota Timberwolves (who acquired Butler last month), should be looking seriously at making a move for Irving in December once they are able to put recently-signed point guard Jeff Teague on the trading block. They could tempt Cleveland with a package containing Teague, forward Andrew Wiggins, and some draft picks in exchange for Irving and veteran forward Channing Frye in order to meet salary requirements.
Teague was an All-Star two years ago and is guaranteed to put up at least 15 points and 7 assists every night. Wiggins was actually drafted by the Cavs in 2014 before being traded to the Wolves for Kevin Love following James’ return that offseason. The 22-year-old averaged 23.6 points and 4 rebounds last season and could potentially grow into a star alongside LeBron or without him in the long-term.
That trade would put both teams on the right timeline. If James decides to leave Cleveland in free agency this time next year, the Cavs could use the cap space to sign Wiggins to a long-term deal. Irving’s contract will expire at the same time as Wolves superstar Karl-Anthony Towns, giving the team the flexibility to decide where to head from there.
Having witnessed the poor return for both George and Butler this offseason, it would be silly for the Cavs to hold on to Irving for another year. Irving may be one of the best scoring guards in the game, but he is also flawed.
The Cavs need to be careful that they don’t ask for too much during negotiations otherwise they could find themselves back at the bottom of the heap again next year, just as they were all those years ago when LeBron took his talents to South Beach. After all the fans have been through, Cleveland cannot afford to make the same mistake again.