If the San Antonio Spurs continue their pursuit of Kyrie Irving, who are the teams they will have to contend with?
The 2017 NBA offseason has mostly calmed down for the San Antonio Spurs and the other 29 teams. Free agency came to a halt, as few players are still getting signed in August, unless someone receives the minimum salary or a two-way deal for the 2017-18 season.
The trade mark cooled off, too. It was highlighted by the trade of Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, but one top name could still be on the move, even in August.
For the past three weeks, Kyrie Irving trade rumors have swirled. This includes the Spurs as his “top choice,” with the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Miami Heat as his other preferred destinations.
Of course, there’s still the chance Irving remains with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Given the two years left on his contract, the organization can choose to stand pat and hope things work out, but in the end, a trade may be the only way to clean up the 2017 offseason’s chaotic situation.
Given how the Spurs made an offer about two weeks ago, they at least remain in the race for the All-Star point guard’s services. What teams should they be most concerned with that may scoop him up from the Cavs, however? Is it a Western Conference rival? What about a team with a wealth of assets?
Let’s look at the top competitors to the Spurs for Irving.
3. New York Knicks
It starts with the New York Knicks, who were one of the six teams to make a trade offer for Kyrie Irving. They have some pieces that can make sense in a deal, if Cleveland has interest in them.
The Knicks selected Frank Ntilikina in Round 1 of the 2017 NBA Draft. From France, Ntilikina is an international mystery man, as he’s yet to play a professional game in the NBA (he missed the Summer League). He’s a young enough piece to be considered the team’s point guard of the future, something he would hold as a potential piece to a Irving deal, by going to the Cavs and slotting in as the starter or behind Derrick Rose.
Willy Hernangomez flashed terrific upside in his rookie season, finishing with 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in just 18.4 minutes per game. His sophomore campaign could be an even grander showcase, but in Cleveland, if they desire him in a trade.
A back-end piece to the deal is Ron Baker, who received a two-year deal from the Knicks in the offseason, which allowed him to remain on the team. At age 24, there’s still some upside to his game as a depth guard.
To top off a deal, there could be at least one or two first-round picks included. Given how the Knicks have struggled mightily over the past four seasons, a dealt pick may become a top-10 selection, or at least in the lottery. While they would have Irving and Kristaps Porzingis, it’s a question of what’s around them, and if Carmelo Anthony is even back.
Either way, the Knicks are intriguing competitor in the Irving sweepstakes. It will come down to if they want to sacrifice the youth they’ve steadily stockpiled to go into win-now mode.
2. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat don’t have as many young assets as the Knicks. Their aggression to get something done could be what lands them Kyrie Irving, however.
Heat executive Pat Riley showed for the past seven years that he’ll go out of his way to get his desired player(s). It may not always work, but it’s how he brought LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade together in 2010. This took some maneuvering in the salary cap, trading a handful of pieces for basically nothing, and making enough room on the roster, in time to sign James and Bosh to join Wade.
James and Wade left, while the Heat struggled to stay relevant in the NBA playoffs, but it represented the high mark of Riley’s tenure. It even got him two more NBA championships (2012, 2013).
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With Irving on the block, this could be the chance to bring superstardom back to Miami. It may mean dealing whatever it takes from the current roster. That leads to Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, and No. 1 draft picks all being up for grabs. Dragic and Winslow were even part of the team’s original offer for Irving.
A Irving acquisition makes Miami an attractive market, again. Dragic and Winslow are good players and Adebayo has the potential to be a mainstay at power forward, but none have the star power that the 2011 No. 1 overall pick has. That would be put to the test as the main piece of a franchise, but it’s something that may be attractive enough to pull the trigger on.
The San Antonio Spurs and Heat don’t match up too different in terms of pieces. The latter’s potential willingness to sacrifice and breakdown its roster to get Irving may be the difference here, though.
1. Phoenix Suns
The Knicks and Heat are players for Kyrie Irving, but the Phoenix Suns stand as the top competitor to them and the San Antonio Spurs. It all goes back to assets.
Over the past few seasons, the Suns stocked up young talent. Some developed into quality players (Devin Booker, TJ Warren), while others haven’t fully showcased themselves yet. It leaves a little to be desired, but with enough potential to entice teams.
Power forwards Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss are at the base of a possible deal. It wouldn’t be surprising for it to be one or the other that goes, and given Bender’s lack of exposure and production (compared to Chriss), he would seem like the more likely piece to be offered, so the Suns keep the player they’re in favor of.
There’s 2017 pick Josh Jackson, who the Suns refused to put in any Irving deal. He’s arguably the most attractive piece, given his ability to play the wing and work off LeBron James, essentially playing the role Andrew Wiggins would have had, if he remained in Cleveland in 2014.
Outside of them and high first-round picks, there’s Eric Bledsoe. He seems guaranteed to be in any deal, with his proven ability in the NBA, how the Suns wouldn’t need him at point guard anymore, and as a replacement for Irving in Cleveland.
Add in players like Derrick Jones Jr, Alec Peters, and Tyler Ulis as potential back-end pieces, and there’s plenty for Phoenix to deal. They stand the best chance of making a trade given the assets and their rumored desire for Irving. It may come down to Jackson’s inclusion, however, which makes or breaks the deal.