The NBA off season is hardly a time for resting—just the opposite. The NBA draft, signing free agents and shocking trades are just some of the business that occurs during this crucial time period. The most stunning development occurred on July 20, when four-time All-Star Kyrie Irving demanded a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, despite two years remaining on his $60 million contract.
Although there are myriad reasons both on and off the court, it all boils down to Irving wanting to escape the all-consuming shadow of LeBron James. The surprising, lopsided NBA finals loss to the Golden State Warriors has sent the Cavs into a tailspin.
When LeBron Has the Ball, Irving Doesn’t
First, General Manager David Griffin, a player favorite and architect of the 2016 NBA champs, was abruptly fired. Next, the Cavaliers planned to re-tool with hopes of signing Paul George; a deal that minutes before materializing vanished into thin air. George landed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Cavs continue to tread the water in re-signing sharp shooter Kyle Korver and aging point guard Jose Calderon. Derrick Rose signed a one-year deal with the Cavs on Monday night, solidifying the notion Kyrie’s days in Cleveland may be numbered. Either way, the former MVP is a great insurance policy.
Like James, Irving was also chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also like James, he was chosen as the number one overall pick. As an elite point guard, Irving is a dazzling ball handler, yet playing alongside LeBron forced him to sacrifice his game. Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history. That means the ball was out of Irving’s hands more than he preferred.
Irving even stated last month the team was “in a peculiar situation.” There have been rumblings in the past concerning Irving’s unhappiness playing second fiddle.
However, Irving is playing phenomenally. He is 25 years old and entering the prime of his career, despite the NBA finals loss this year. He clearly has something to prove after that disappointing performance. In 2016 he helped lead Team USA to the gold medal of the Rio Olympics, and has averaged a career high 25.9 points per game. This is part of the reason “SuperTeams” don’t last: only one basketball.
LeBron Gets Into the Game
James was blindsided and devastated by the shocking news. James is a master of social media, posting a video recorded of him bobbing his head to “Heavy Heart” by Meek Mill as these NSFW lyrics played: “D-mn, the game left me with a heavy heart. / The streets left me with a heavy heart.”
This is a questionable message, given that James has left his kingdoms twice in the span of less than five years. In 2010, the announcement turned him into a villain as he left the Cavs, taking his talents to South Beach, joining the Miami Heat. Than in 2014, he left the Miami Heat to return home to Cleveland.
Rather than rallying his troops and building them up like the leader of a franchise ought to, what did James do? He sent out feelers that he is interested in potentially becoming a Los Angeles Laker, to finish his career in La La Land and further his “Media Empire.”
It seems a strategic move, and Irving simply is beating King James to the punch. Irving has shown interest in the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, and the New York Knicks (really?). Kyrie would likely benefit from joining the young and talented T’Wolves, while satisfying his desire to be the focal point of an NBA team.
Adding fuel to the fire, Irving’s people believe James himself leaked the story. Whether or not it’s true, it is a fascinating subplot. The saga has many parallels to the Kobe/Shaq soap opera of the early 2000s. Irving, who grew up idolizing Bryant, is determined to lead a team to an NBA finals on his own terms.
Rifts between superstars are common, and this scenario can still play out favorably for the Cavs. But with Kyrie demanding a trade, and LeBron having the option to leave next summer, Cavs fans have every right to be worried.