Irving Roulette

From Believe-land to Achieve-land to Leave-land?

July 24, 2017

By J.  Patrick & H. Hart

If someone handed you a six-shooter loaded with one bullet, would you take your chances? If you have a brain, the ultimate decision should be a “hard pass.”


If you’ll be patient, walk with us through the following (unintentionally dark) situational metaphor:

You’re the GM or President of Operations in Cleveland. From out of the offseason chaos theories, Kyrie Irving decides to request a trade, and now you’re handed a gun. Here, Irving is the loaded ammunition and your Cavs (with Kyrie) are the gun. The empty chambers in the drum represent possible “Irving destinations.” And Kyrie has found his way into the “Cleveland chamber.”

There are an interesting number of positive odds that a good trade can be arranged, but there are several plausible possibilities that project results which range from being a serious playoff contender to merely treading water as a gasping-for-air team. As such, to return to the metaphor, there are a number of chances where the trigger gets pulled and the return doesn’t necessarily alter current, future Championship predictions. And this is (or should be) the real point of concern: there are not many REAL trade possibilities that end with a better Cleveland right now. And this is really where our metaphor breaks down because a Cleveland destination doesn’t require pulling the trigger.

Note, however, we still find the gun and Russian roulette metaphor to be a decent representation for the probability the team could trade Kyrie and end up as good a (if not a better) title contender than last season’s squad. After some analysis, though, your correspondents would argue that despite all available chances to succeed, there’s no reason to see if you deserve something you can already enjoy. It’s kind of a singular scenario in its strangeness: the idea that a team that is a strong betting-favorite to make the NBA Finals (again) might also accidentally need or choose to hit the reset button two months before the next season (on the back of this trade request and rumors that LeBron may be gone after next season) is a rare scenario, and that it could happen is mind-blowing.

To us, no matter the “latest strife by Lake Superior,” there are too few reasons to pull that trigger. Trading Kyrie will most likely result in two casualties: the current edition of the Cavs and whatever squad receives the “second-coming of Melo.” Really, the Cavs are the holders of the power to hurt themselves more than any team with which they’d be making a trade. The answer is to keep Kyrie by assuring him he’ll get better treatment (hard eyeroll) this season and retake the leadership role in Cleveland when King James abdicates that throne. Further, keep in mind that this is not just a convenience to shit on Kyrie, or to say that it should be assumed that any non-Cleveland team, should they be given the chance to add Kyrie, will end up dead in the water if they do it (though, depending on the recipient, they certainly might be).

Simply put: Kyrie Irving alone doesn’t make you a title contender, and if he’s the best player on your team, you might not be better than a hopeless 7th- or 8th-seed. Irving is a good scorer with a great handle. He’s definitely a top-ten point guard in the league (he arguably makes the top-five’s fifth slot, but that’s a hard argument to sell without pushback), but that’s where our analysis tells us that’s not enough to carry any team the way Irving has said is his desire. Kyrie isn’t bad by any means, but there is sufficient evidence to argue that he’s not a top-three point guard in the league, nor is he really a top-five point guard. Kyrie was amazing in the postseason this past year, and he is definitely one of the most exciting players to watch, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s one of the best in the game.

There are a lot of bubble guys fighting for that last spot based off the numbers, so here’s a quick way to clarify Kyrie’s production compared to his counterparts: take their points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks, and combine them. In fairness, this is a tool similar to the “42 club” that Bill Simmons created to help quantify a measure for greatest seasons ever–note that this is a very useful metric–but we’re not using that lens; we’re exploring a basic number for a player’s general, per-game production. Plus, adding in steals and blocks will give us a more complete picture:

Steph’s number is 38.4.
John Wall’s is 40.6.
Westbrook’s is 54.7.
Isaiah Thomas’s is 38.6.

Kyrie’s number is 35.7.

Consider also, the calculation for several other guards with similar (or better) numbers:

Damian Lillard- 39
Kyle Lowry- 36.0
Chris Paul- 34.4
Eric Bledsoe- 34.1
Kemba Walker- 34

Just based on that perspective and those numbers, it would be fair to say Kyrie is the 7th best point guard in the league. That’s up for debate, of course, and is really more of a matter of opinion on how to build a team–it’s also something to go further into within a piece more specific to that topic. However, what really makes Kyrie an interesting case is that the he may actually be a better basketball player than a point guard.

We know that sounds strange, but if you think about how a traditional point guard runs the court and helps to create offense. Kyrie doesn’t really fit that mold. Kyrie is a hooper. A big baller, if you will. He’s a bucket-getter. That’s what he’s known for. He’s a pure basketball player in the simplest form. As such, calling him a point guard is actually more of an injustice than an accurate evaluation. Like The Beard in Houston, Kyrie is more of a shooting guard with a great handle; he just runs the point because–like some leadoff or “clean-up” hitters–they can handle the part, but mostly that’s just where the coach placed them in the lineup (perhaps out of a lack of better alternatives).

That being said, if you’re looking to add Kyrie to your team, it would make sense that you need another ball handler just as capable, if not more capable, of setting up the offense. I’m sure Kyrie can do it, but we all know LeBron is the one that sets the table in the half court set, and 5.8 assists per game doesn’t make that any more comforting. You would need someone with a similar skillset to ensure that you get the best version of Kyrie, otherwise you’re getting a guy who would just bring the ball down the court and play iso-ball all day. We’ve seen that movie far too many times with incredibly gifted scorers like Carmelo in New York, Durant and Westbrook when they both played for the Thunder, any team with Joe Johnson on it, and countless others over the years. Charles Barkley refers to it as “Hero Ball,” and it can be just as infectious as the opposite of that–a selfless, passing-oriented attack, like the sort deployed by the Warriors (in a way that has strongly impressed upon the rest of the league and challenged fogies who complain about the NBA being just one all-star being selfish–no direct, intentional sleight toward the Kyrie situation).

Pause for a moment. Let’s look at a new hypothetical, to consider something we just pointed out: Now, you’re the President of Operations for any one of the possible Irving destinations. If you decide to bring Kyrie on, you’ll need to compliment his talents with someone who has skillsets that are similar to LeBron’s when it comes to ball handling and facilitating.

Think about that. You need someone similar to LeBron in order to maximize your team’s potential. Someone like, say, LeBron fucking James. Remind us: how many players in the league are frequently compared to LeBron?

And this also raises two important questions: a) Who has a “Bron-esque” player AND the need for a top-10 point guard that has been vocal about running the show?, and (really the more interesting question) b) What more could you want in a teammate than LeBron?

And this is the most alarming thing about this whole situation. It’s not that Kyrie wants to be an alpha-baller, or that he wants to play in a different situation; it’s the fact that he doesn’t want to play with LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world–the greatest basketball player of his/our generation (at least). He hasn’t come out and directly said he doesn’t want to play with LeBron, but he asked to be traded away from a situation in which he would play with LBJ. We don’t view it as an insult; Kyrie wants to be the guy–it’s a common trait within the greatest athletes–and as long as LeBron is in Cleveland, the city’s allegiance is to King James. In a nutshell, at least one take-away from all this is that Kyrie has decided he would throw winning out the window if it means his stats are better and more people recognize him. If winning isn’t your absolute highest concern, then you may be in it for the wrong reasons. Huge red flag. Spectator Scouting Report: too much potential sacrifice and liability.

Even if Kyrie were to be traded (and it seems inevitable now), there are very few teams in the league that not only have the assets to trade for him, but also have the pieces to make him want to go there in the first place. And you really open up a can of worms if you think about it from the Cavs’ perspective: Who do you target? Where do you send him? Do you ship him out west where you’ll only play him twice a year? What pieces does LeBron want? Will they be enough to keep the Cavs relevant in the title discussion? Do you trade K-Love next if you ship Kyrie out? Would it even matter anyways? There are so many questions to answer it’s frightening. The biggest one of all, really, is what do you do that suits LeBron and gives you the best chance of keeping him moving forward? There are many many signs that point to LeBron leaving anyway, but if you let Kyrie go, LBJ’s departure is almost inevitable. Your only hope would be to get back pieces that compliment him now, that would be there for the next few years, and would give them depth, flexibility, and most importantly, prospects to build on moving forward.

If it sounds like a really tough mold to fit, that’s because it probably is. So, for S’s & G’s, we’ve been discussing the options, so we’ll run through a list of potential suitors we believe might be able to find the right chemistry with Kyrie.

Before we get started, though, let’s make one thing clear: we know there’s a short list of teams that he wants to play for, but if it doesn’t make sense for him to go there, they don’t make the list. … Here, we’re talking about teams like San Antonio, where the potential interest or lust may remain unrequited due to a lack of reasonably valuable, trade-worthy assets. This is fantasy as close as we can walk the line between dream and reality:

The Kings

There have already been a few reports about the Kings being and not being interested in Irving. The Kings were the first team that came to mind when the news broke that Kyrie had requested a trade. It could make some sense, too, for both teams. The trade that would make sense for them would read something like ordering a breakfast sampler. Here’s how it could go down: some combination of 1st- and 2nd-round picks over the next three years (eggs), either De’Aaron Fox (pancakes) or George Hill (waffle); then you choose your meat: Hield (sausage), Willie Cauley Stein (bacon), or Skal Labissiere (country ham, we like ours super salty); then you might choose a young player/veteran combo in Harry Giles (hash browns), Frank Mason (grits, it’s all southern on this side), or Malachi Richardson (oatmeal or cream of wheat, for the yanks); and finally you’d select a type of bread to fill out the sampler: here, for Irving, you could probably get Zach Randolph (cheddar biscuit, again, we all southern over here), or Vince Carter (whole-grain toast), or Kosta Koufos (toasted english muffin, for a weird nod to Europe).

Going through the full order, the smart GM would “order” something like this: 2018 first rounder (top-5 protected), 2018 & 2019 second rounders, De’Aaron Fox, Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, and Kosta Koufos.

We don’t expect it to happen, but we’d sure as hell enjoy seeing it. Sacramento is one of the few teams with the necessary need and enough assets to offer Cleveland for the exchange.

Phoenix Suns

Much like the Kings, it doesn’t make perfect sense for Kyrie to join the Suns. Also like the Kings, the Suns have a bunch of assets they could unload for the star point guard. It would start with a straight-up swap of Kyrie for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe and LBJ would be a fun duo to watch, and it would also help the Cavs save some money. Then you would throw in Phoenix’s 1st-round pick this year, and maybe Miami’s 1st-rounder that the Suns’ own. The Cavs could also save even more money by shipping out Shumpert, too, and picking up T.J. Warren and Davon Reed as replacements. Throw in either Alex Len or Alan Williams and you’ve got yourself a deal!

Of course this won’t necessarily make the Suns a playoff team, so it wouldn’t really work out, but don’t tell us that Kyrie and Devin Booker wouldn’t be possibly the most exciting backcourt to watch in the league.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets might actually be a decent fit for Kyrie. They have two solid bigs who don’t demand the ball, and, if they were to add him, they would absolutely be in position to make the playoffs. A Kyrie-Millsap-Jokic “big three” doesn’t sound bad at all. In order for that to happen though, the Nugs would have to give up a good chunk of change. Two 1st-round picks are gone, and maybe a 2nd-rounder or two. Probably something along the lines of either Murray or Mudiay, with Murray being the preferred one, we sure. Then, the Cavs could start targeting more depth by looking at Jameer Nelson and maybe Wilson Chandler (they’d have to include one of their other big contracts in order to make cap space, though). You could probably also get away with snagging Will Barton or Malik Beasley too.

Of course none of this will be enough to entice LeBron to stay in Cleveland, but it would certainly give them something to build on in the future.

Minnesota Timberwolves

We don’t like the idea of Kyrie playing for Minny, but we’re not holding our breath either because it’s not clear that Thibs likes it either. We’ll humor Kyrie though, and play out one of his scenario’s. Obviously there would be a player swap of Kyrie for Jeff Teague. Then the T-wolves would have to throw in two or three 1st round picks because they don’t necessarily have a ton of assets to give up. If we were the Cavs, we would ask for their 2019 and 2021 1st-round picks considering their 2018 1st-round pick is top-14 protected, and a Kyrie-Wiggins-Butler-Dieng-Townes line up should not finish a lottery team. We’d also ask for Justin Patton, the Timberwolves first round selection this year.

This is definitely not what LeBron wants because it doesn’t help him win next year, and it doesn’t necessarily set the Cavs up for the future, so this doesn’t really work.

Miami Heat

This would be an interesting one. First, you’d want to trade Kyrie for Goran Dragic, who would work really well for the Cavs. He’s a great pick and roll guy who might actually inflate K-Love’s stats. Dragic is also an underrated scorer (he averaged 20 ppg last season). Next, you need to clear out some cap space and gain some young assets in the process. We’d also trade either Shumpert and/or Korver for Justise Winslow, if the Heat are willing to part with him. If not, then Rodney McGruder and Josh Richardson would be on our short-list. Throw in their 2018 2nd-rounder and their 2019 and 2020 1st-rounders, and this deal is starting to take shape.

This doesn’t necessarily give the Cavs more of an edge, but it definitely isn’t a huge fall out. In a perfect world, the Cavs would go after Kelly Olynyk, and have the most awkward tension in the frontcourt with him and Kevin Love. That would be amazing.

New York Knicks

The Cavs have two different paths they can go down: the first one involves going young, and essentially letting go of LeBron, because they won’t have the assets to help them win right now. The second path is a huge gamble, and it involves Melo.

If they go young, then Frank Ntilikina is the first piece of the trade. If you’re letting go of Kyrie, you might as well get a young PG prospect in the process. Next we’d get some insurance and go for Damyean Dotson, the team’s 2nd round pick this year. Mindaugas Kuzminskas would also be a nice piece to throw in. Then, if we’re the Cavs, we’d try and own the Knicks first round picks for the next two or three years and have them send two or three second rounders as well. This is New York we’re talking about, so anything is really in play as long as they remain as dysfunctional as they have been.

The Melo route opens up a whole other set of scenarios. If Melo goes to Cleveland, then they would almost certainly have to trade K-Love. If that were the case, then the Cavs might not be in that bad of shape moving forward. Between him and Kyrie they would almost certainly have four to six mid to high first round selections over the next two or three years.

There are obviously some other teams in play that aren’t mentioned here, like the Spurs (one of Kyrie’s preferred destinations). These are the teams that make the most sense though. While many of them are extremely exciting in theory, they don’t really make a whole lot of sense. Most of them end with the Cavs being in worse shape this year, losing LeBron after this upcoming season, and being in rebuild mode for the next five or six years, at the very least. This brings us back to the Russian Roulette analogy.

Making any of these trades is a gamble. And with the signing of Derrick Rose (1 yr, $2.1M) it seems almost inevitable that one will happen, you might actually be shooting yourself in the foot (or the head, in this case). Trading Kyrie almost automatically erases any shot at a title the Cavs have, which is the only reason LeBron is still in town. If Kyrie wants to be the man so bad, why doesn’t he just wait until LeBron leaves? Then, not only does he have his own team and some good supporting pieces already in place, but he’ll also have the city of Cleveland on his back. While Cleveland itself isn’t the first city a superstar athlete wants to be in, there’s no denying the Cleveland fanbase is amazing, particularly once they’ve accepted you as their guy.

It’s a weird catch-22 with the current tension. Letting Kyrie walk doesn’t sound like a fun proposition, but trading him away could make the Cavs situation go from bad to worse. Also, any team that takes him on is essentially putting their eggs in one basket. If Kyrie comes to town and fails to take a team on his back to the playoffs, then that franchise could ultimately be the one shooting themselves. And as a fantasy GM, we’d argue that taking on Kyrie might be too risky of a proposition for almost any team.

This leads to our final point: If getting rid of Kyrie doesn’t help LeBron or the Cavs out, if he can have his own team next year when LeBron presumably leaves, and if it isn’t worth the trouble for the team taking Kyrie on, then who wins this situation? It seems like no one really does, and when you play Russian Roulette, you don’t really win either. Just because you didn’t die doesn’t mean you gained anything either, except maybe a new appreciation for the life you have. Just because you have five chances to live and only one to die doesn’t mean you should take any chances in the first place. There are a number of better ways to remember how to feel alive, and any of those will nicely remind Irving remember where the “I” is in “team.” It’s gonna be a lot of therapy either way.


5 thoughts on “Irving Roulette

  1. Awesome post man. I didn’t think the Cavs would let Kyrie go until after this season, but with that Rose signing… There is a lot of possibilities out there. Luckily for Cleveland, whether or not Irving is worth it, they can have a high asking price because there is nothing to lose right?

    1. Thanks so much for your support! ^-^

      We are inclined to agree. … It doesn’t seem like the smartest move, but then Rose signed on and that made the Irving trade seem both easier and more complicated. Crawford (an award winning point-6-man) said he’d be willing, BUT then you’d have a contract paying a backup PG like three times what Rose will get (and Rose is def still good enough to start, right?–we pulled his basic numbers and it seems like an easy call that he’s still a top-15 PG in the league). It’s a very interesting situation, but no less frustrating.

      Seems like Melo doesn’t want a deal that puts him in Cleveland, and it’s hard to see what the Wolves and Spurs have worthy of any offers. … We almost immediately thought of Sacramento, Phoenix, and Miami as the better places for him (with the right sort of assets to trade). Tho … you could almost make a straight trade of Irving and Wiggins (obvi Minny would have to offer a little more, but their stats are surprisingly similar).

      Everything seems both understandable and puzzling. But it’s certainly made for some entertaining hypotheticals, and it’s been a solid contribution to the rest of the NBA’s offseason shake-up, and at a point where the collective cries (for franchises not named Golden State) to resign to losing were still at their loudest. Man, we love the NBA.

      1. Absolutely! Great point. While the Cavs have a greta franchise player to give away, they have no leverage. It’s no easier to get a deal done. Interesting.

      2. The overall Q for Cleveland RLY is, “Do we want to trade a strong scoring threat (one-on-one and in the PnR) and the #7 PG in the league for a like #12 PG who can score and gets more assists, but who will see (probably) a little less court time, who is still an injury concern, and who will get less point but more assists on avg?

        The best course, honestly, is to talk Kyrie into staying and to talk Rose into coming off the bench for Kyrie. It’s an insult to Rose, but it would strengthen their roster in an important way–and it must be remembered that championship teams have players who are as important for their sacrifices as for their contributions on court. Maybe they can get a better offer for Irving around the All-Star Break. It’s a gamble to wait, but it’s already gamble, so it doesn’t seem like as much of a risk bc of their overall weird lack of leverage.

        If they trade Irving, they might also consider just pushing for a larger, partial rebuild. Accept that Bron Bron will be leaving without a Chip this season, and try for a deal with Irving, don’t deal for Crawford (to keep cap space clear of an overpaid vet [as much as we like Crawford], and then move Love (and throw in Shumpert or JR) to try and get a mix of useful vets for Bron on lower contracts, some promising young talent, and some picks to immediately start filling out a future through next season’s draft.

        I know it’s a little crazy. What are your thoughts on such an effort? Just brainstorming how they might keep the franchise for at least several years of depression. Haha

  2. I mean there’s so many options. If I were the Cavs, I’d stick to their former motto and go “ALL IN” this year. Keep Irving, and promise a trade this offseason. It’s a sacrifice for everyone, but like you said, that’s what it takes to win championships.
    Best case scenario, next offseason Lebron does what CP3 just did and give the Cavs a sign-and-trade instead of just walking away. Then, all sides win. Meanwhile, they can trade Irving and completely start fresh with Derrick Rose and Kevin Love as the franchise players.

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