To the dismay of Cavs fans everywhere, Kyrie Irving has requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. This display of player power, forcing his way out of the organization, has put the Cavs in a tight spot. No single player they can get in return can fill the shoes Kyrie Irving wore. He’s an elite offensive play-maker on a bargain contract (19 to 20 percent of the cap the next two years, while producing value roughly equivalent to a 30 percent max), and he’s just 25 years old.
So, then, what assets should the Cavaliers seek in exchange for Kyrie? I think they have three options:
- Focus on winning now — seek assets that will help the team immediately, in the hopes of convincing LeBron James to stay in Cleveland next summer.
- Kick-start the rebuild — if LeBron seems likely to leave, then perhaps the best option is get as many long-term assets as possible. Draft picks, recent lottery picks and young players with many years of team-control remaining.
- Balance the two approaches above — get one or two players to help the team now, while also getting some long-term assets. While this approach likely won’t achieve an optimal result whether LeBron stays or leaves, it also eliminates much of the risk of going all-in on either possibility.
While you might be drawn to one of the approaches above in theory, it can be difficult to commit to any of them without seeing what the specifics of a deal might look like. To help in that regard, I’m going to post my favorite trade concept for each approach below.
To improve the Cavaliers odds of beating the Golden State Warriors next year, they would need to replace much of Irving’s offensive production while also improving their defense. While losing Irving is unfortunate, it’s also an opportunity to re-shape the identity of the team.
Part one of my proposal is this: Cleveland sends Kyrie Irving to Milwaukee for Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and two second round picks. ESPN’s Zach Lowe had some thoughts about this option in a recent article:
The Bucks could dangle Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and two unprotected first-rounders. (Milwaukee might top out at just one). Brogdon and Middleton are switchy defenders who both shot 40 percent from deep last season -- tailor-made for battling the Warriors. Irving would push Giannis Antetokounmpo off the ball, but Antetokounmpo can be effective in that role with Thon Maker spacing the floor at center; imagine an Irving-Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll, with three capable shooters around it.
There are too many pitfalls. James needs a second bucket-getter who can break down the defense; Middleton and Brogdon can do a little of that, but not enough over long stretches against elite postseason defenses.
The Bucks will always be Antetokounmpo's franchise, and he needs the ball a lot. Is Irving OK with that? He should be. Both guys should be smart enough to lean on each other within a larger system of ball movement.
Khris Middleton is a valuable player. He’s entering his age 26 season as one of the better wing defenders in the league, a career 40 percent shooter beyond the arc and some playmaking skills to boot. Moreover, his current contract is a bargain. I think Lowe is reaching a bit in saying that they’d have to include two unprotected first-round picks alongside him and Brogdon (a useful player in his own right). Even one first-round pick seems like a stretch to me. However, the value of a player of his archetype has a definite ceiling. He’s not a good enough playmaker to be the second best offensive creator on a championship team, while Irving has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is. The Bucks would be in the championship picture for a long time with Irving and Giannis as their top two, and with both on bargain contracts for a couple years they would have many team-building options available to fill in the gaps around them.
Holding Middleton and trying to find a second playmaker elsewhere certainly could work out, too. But players like Irving don’t come around every day, and if the Bucks fail to find one their path could well mirror LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland — some great teams, but never quite enough. Therefore, I think they’d be willing to add a good young player in Brogdon and a couple minor draft assets into the deal to lock in a core with potential to win multiple titles down the road.
This deal, however, would leave Cleveland missing a starting point guard. Which brings us to part two of my proposal: Cleveland sends Kevin Love and Kay Felder to Phoenix for Eric Bledsoe and Jared Dudley. Lowe mentioned a similar package in a potential deal for Kyrie:
Everyone wants to swap Irving for Eric Bledsoe, a nice replacement who shares an agent with James. But what else is Phoenix sending? The combination of Jared Dudley, a snug fit around LeBron, and a future first-round pick probably isn't getting it done -- even if the Suns swallow Iman Shumpert. Phoenix isn't tossing in Devin Booker. Josh Jackson could be the swing piece after Phoenix and Cleveland indeed talked around the draft about a swap involving the No. 4 pick, but the Suns were thrilled Jackson landed there. If the Suns relent on Jackson, Cleveland and Phoenix might be able to work a simple two-team deal.
The sticking point in that proposal was the inclusion of recent No. 4 pick Josh Jackson. Phoenix, however, has shown interest in Kevin Love in the past, and his trade value is lower than Irving’s. By including Love in place of Kyrie it eliminates the need for Phoenix to part with much in the way of young players or picks. Perhaps a surplus frontcourt prospect like Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender would get tossed in to facilitate the deal, but they could retain Jackson and their future picks in this version.
From Cleveland’s perspective, this helps the team match up better with the Warriors while providing a direct replacement for Kyrie at starting point guard. Out is Love, still an excellent player but one that’s proven limited against the Warriors. Both Love and Kyrie would be replaced with athletic, two-way players in Bledsoe and Middleton. The offense wouldn’t retain as much firepower, but the defensive potential would improve exponentially. The resulting roster would look like this:
Starters: Eric Bledsoe, J.R. Smith, Khris Middleton, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson
Bench: Derrick Rose, Malcolm Brogdon, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye.
It’s a deeper, more versatile roster than what the Cavaliers had last year. It’s light on rebounding, but the Cavaliers likely could find a bargain bin big man to soak up some regular season minutes. Shumpert and Frye could perhaps be unloaded in a deal that helps out on the boards. But the starting five are all guys that can stay on the floor defensively against the Warriors, and bench players like Brogdon and Dudley would prove quite useful in that series as well.
Kickstart the rebuild
In this scenario, the Cavs would auction off Kyrie and Love for draft picks and young players recently drafted in the high lottery. This tear-down approach might result in LeBron waiving his no-trade clause, which would result in more incoming assets after trading him to his destination of choice. The thought of this team bottoming out again so soon makes me sick, so I’m not proposing anything specific in this section. Suffice to say, if the Cavs sell EVERYTHING they can get a bunch of picks and have a big headstart in rebuilding the franchise. It’s an option they have to consider, but it’s not much fun to discuss. Moving on.
Balancing win-now with long-term assets
Probably the most likely approach, and perhaps the most logical. This would involve acquiring a starting point guard on a short-term contract, perhaps another short-term rotation piece, and then some draft picks or young players as the main assets in the deal. My favorite version of this concept is the following: Irving to Denver and Shumpert to Brooklyn. Denver sends Jamal Murray, Wilson Chandler and an unprotected first round pick to the Cavs and Tyler Lydon to Brooklyn. Brooklyn sends Jeremy Lin to the Cavs.
Brooklyn’s role in this is straightforward. They get a young power forward just picked in the first round in exchange for absorbing some salary and sending out an expiring veteran point guard that will be no part of their future.
Denver’s role is a bit more complex. Kyrie isn’t a natural fit with their young star, Nikola Jokic. Both are offense-oriented players with differing styles. It would take time for them to get to know each other’s games and develop chemistry. But the Nuggets made it clear that they want to start competing now when they signed Paul Millsap. They expect to make the playoffs this year, and Irving would help them do that. Moreover, Denver is a very small market that is usually near the bottom of the league in attendance. While Kyrie’s fame might surpass his game in some respects, he certainly would help the Nuggets to fill seats and sell merchandise. And while the fit with Jokic may not be seamless both players are so versatile that it should still be very successful. If it is they may be able to sell Kyrie on re-signing with them, which means a deal for Kyrie wouldn’t necessarily be sacrificing their future.
Finally, for Cleveland this deal would help them to remain the Eastern Conference favorite this year, while also giving them some good assets in case LeBron did choose to leave. Their roster would be as follows:
Starters: Jeremy Lin, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson
Bench: Derrick Rose, Jamal Murray, Kyle Korver, Wilson Chandler, Channing Frye
Murray and the unprotected first round pick would be very useful long-term assets. Chandler would be a versatile bench piece that could open up some nice small-ball possibilities. Lin isn’t close to Kyrie, but he can get buckets and is underrated defensively. The starting unit isn’t as strong, but with Rose, Murray and Chandler added to the bench the overall team is still really good. Moreover, with healthy seasons from Smith and Love there’s a good chance they would surpass their regular season win total from last year. All-in-all it would position the Cavaliers reasonably well both for next year and beyond.
What approach do you think is best? What trade ideas are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.
What approach do you think is best?
This poll is closed
Kickstart the rebuild
Balance of short-term and long-term