A Kyrie Irving trade will be difficult for the San Antonio Spurs to pull off.
Since Friday, the talks of the NBA surrounded Kyrie Irving and his request to get traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It would end his six-year stint with the team who drafted him in 2011. Teams he “prefers” are the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, and San Antonio Spurs. It’s a list of young or established teams with upside or room for him to be the leader.
Irving has a preference, however, for the team he wants to join: the Spurs. It’s a head-turner since marquee players typically haven’t chosen this organization as a destination spot. That arguably somewhat changed in recent years, with the acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015 free agency.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Spurs at least check in on the Irving rumors, along with about one dozen other teams. Even if there’s little-to-no chance of it happening, it would be a due diligence call.
With San Antonio, though, the chances of them being able to acquire Irving seem unlikely.
For a deal to happen, a number of things would have to go in the franchise’s favor. From having Cleveland’s interest in its younger players to valuing some of San Antonio’s players a certain way, it makes for a not-so-guaranteed situation for Irving to get his desired landing spot, which could change his list of destinations and, maybe, return to Cleveland if things don’t work out like he thought in trade discussions.
There’s plenty of reason to doubt a Irving-to-the-Spurs deal. Let’s look at why expectations should be tempered.
Next: Cavaliers don't have to make a move
4. The Cavaliers don’t have to trade Kyrie Irving
Despite Kyrie Irving’s desire to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team doesn’t have to deal him. If anything, there should be every incentive to keep arguably their second-best player.
Irving has two years left on his deal, which will pay him $18.8 million in 2017-18 and $20 million in the 2018-19 season. There’s a player option for the following year, but given the contracts that players like James Harden and Stephen Curry received this offseason, the Duke product opting out wouldn’t be surprising.
Before he does that, this is an ideal rate for the Cavs to pay one of the top point guards. Even if they wanted to hold on to him for at least one more season, they can do that at the $18.8 million rate and move him to a star-desperate team in the 2018 offseason. That may decrease the value that Cleveland can get in a deal, but they shouldn’t be more than willing to accommodate a trade before trying to retain Irving, at least for now.
It’s always possible the Cavs just keep Irving and try to work things out. That’s no guarantee, but with a team that made three consecutive NBA Finals, why wouldn’t they try to keep the band together?
Next: LaMarcus Aldridge as the lead piece
3. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t appealing enough to lead a deal
If the San Antonio Spurs try to make a move for Kyrie Irving, they have young pieces to potentially offer. They may not be enough for trade framework, though, which brings in LaMarcus Aldridge’s name. He might be the organization’s best trade asset.
Aldridge could still be young enough (32) to be viewed as a piece for a trade. That goes beyond a Irving deal, but in this case, it doesn’t apply for this possible deal with the Cavaliers.
For the Cavs to take on Aldridge as the main piece of a trade, it would potentially mean there was trouble finding something appealing enough elsewhere. He’s essentially on a one-year deal for $21 million, with a player option one would think he declines to get a last, big contract. That makes the primary piece for Cleveland a 32-year-old rental, let alone at a position the Cavs don’t need, with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Jeff Green all able to play the four spot.
Outside of Aldridge, unless the Spurs feel Kawhi Leonard is worth moving for Irving (not happening), there’s no other top-tier piece to lead a deal. That should shrink San Antonio’s chances of making this trade.
Next: The power forward/center problem
2. Leaves the Spurs with a power forward/center problem
Let’s say the San Antonio Spurs make the Irving trade and Aldridge is included, but with no power forward or center returning to the Alamo City. That presents a problem for the starting frontcourt.
If the Spurs lost Aldridge to the Cavaliers, they would be left with Pau Gasol and Joffrey Lauvergne as the only players that exclusively play the big man spots. While Gasol can man a spot, Lauvergne has little starting experience, so to further his development before reaching that status, he would be best used off the bench.
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Behind them, the Spurs could use Davis Bertans as a backup at four. With a very limited game, being a shooting big man, that doesn’t represent much of a body for the team to put under the basket.
The recently-signed Matt Costello would be an unheralded option to insert as a backup. However, with a lack of NBA experience, can he be relied on in a prominent bench spot?
If anything, the Spurs would have to turn to the open market. David Lee is still available, but at this stage of his career, he’s a backup.
The Spurs can always do a rotation at one of the big man spots, but that still leaves them relying on a 37-year-old Gasol as the leader of the giants. If his decline continues next season, then the team may search for additional help before the NBA Trade Deadline.
Next: Other assets
1. Not enough outside of Aldridge for a deal
This goes back to the LaMarcus Aldridge-headline narrative. If the San Antonio Spurs attempted to have him lead the way in a deal and got turned down, there’s just not much outside of him to make it work for Kyrie Irving — even with as many as three or four pieces.
Regarding draft picks, the Spurs haven’t picked outside of the 20’s (with exception to the 2011 Kawhi Leonard trade) since the 1997 NBA Draft, where they selected Tim Duncan. It’s been a consistent ride since for the organization, as their regular season and postseason success placed them near the bottom of the past 20-plus selection shows. So any pick they send to the Cavs would be very low — bottom-five low, which is a spot that doesn’t often produce quality players.
For the pieces already in place, there are players like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Kyle Anderson. All have upside, but none have consistent starting experience on the NBA court. The Cavs would be taking a gamble on any of them — maybe all three in a deal. On paper, that doesn’t look like enough to pry Irving away, along with a draft pick. None of these pieces can lead a deal, either.
It will be tough for the Spurs to trade for Irving. While it’s not impossible, the odds are against the organization.