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Why Kyrie Irving rumors in January may be David Stern’s greatest legacy

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kyrie Irving looks to the future, while simultaneously playing defense (Getty Images)

As you’ve no doubt noticed by the thousands of words we’ve already spilled on a bad, 16-30 team, the Cleveland Cavaliers have quite a bit of drama enveloping them. Between the deal for Luol Deng, the musings about Kyrie Irving’s stasis as a developing young talent, the Anthony Bennett ordeal, and both the team’s coach and general manager calling out the players’ effort levels this week in between blowout losses, this squad seems to intrigue much more than most other lottery-bound disappointments. Mainly because the franchise, in spite of the shot to the stomach it received in 2010 when LeBron James decided to leave for no tangible compensation, has had myriad chances to make light of a terrible situation.

They could have purposely bottomed out in 2010-11, but instead chose to pretend to be playoff contenders, rufusing to trade off their remaining good players for assets. The team lucked into both the top overall pick (by way of a lottery advancement) and cap space (with the NBA gifting the amnesty clause), while also piling up three other lottery picks (including another top overall selection) in the years between 2011 and 2013. Charged with making the playoffs this season, Cleveland is now three and a half games out of the miserable Eastern playoff bracket.

They’re three and a half games behind the Charlotte Bobcats, people. This is the band we’re dealing with right now.

This lent all sorts of credibility to the idea that Kyrie Irving, recently selected to start at guard for the Eastern All-Stars, would want out of Cleveland. At some point. Maybe now, maybe in this summer, maybe in two and a half years when he can walk away without restrictions. Chad Ford of ESPN mentioned as much in a chat on Thursday, which caused enough ripples that Irving had to address as much following the team’s blowout loss to the New York Knicks on Thursday night.

Here are Irving’s quotes, as recorded by the great Jason Lloyd at the Akron Beacon-Journal:

“I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time.”

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3. “It’s still too early to say. I’m still trying to get through this season,” Irving said tonight. “Everybody is trying to antagonize this team and put it on me … I’m here for my teammates, I’m here for Coach Brown and the coaching staff and I’m going to play my heart out every single night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.”

4. I asked him last summer, in the days after John Wall signed his max extension, if he would accept the same deal from the Cavs. “I’m not really worried about that right now,” he said. “Right now I’m focusing on the year ahead, my third year, then I’ll worry about that in the summer time.”

One of the great happy co-incidences of David Stern’s work as NBA commissioner is the way his collective bargaining agreements have allowed the NBA rumor mill to churn nearly 12 months a year. January should be a bit of a drag, stuck in the midpoint of a long season, but here we are rightfully discussing Irving’s prospects in a contract that may not let out until July 2016, one that could provide myriad chances for both team and player to work with in the months and years until then.

Irving is on a rookie deal, so he is committed to the Cavaliers next season, and he could sign that contract extension this season. In the summer of 2015, should he have passed on that extension, Irving could either seek out other teams to sign with as a restricted free agent, or accept Cleveland’s qualifying offer for 2015-16. The Cavs would immediately match any restricted offer, no matter how dear, and working for the QO would be a problem – Irving would have to sign off on any subsequent trade the Cavaliers would eventually make in order to receive some compensation prior to his leaving as an unrestricted free agent in 2016. An anti-Decision maneuver.

We’re not done yet.

If Derrick Rose does not return to full health for the Chicago Bulls next season, Irving could once again be voted by fans to start the All-Star Game. This would then allow the Cavaliers, via the most recent collective bargaining agreement, to offer him 30 percent of their salary cap as a yearly salary figure this summer. That’s right – the fans’ interests in Rose, Irving, Dwyane Wade and John Wall could mean the difference between Irving staying or going in either 2014, or 2016.

On top of that, because Irving was a top overall selection, his potential 2015-16 qualifying offer is a relatively (to rookies) hefty $9.19 million. That’s a figure that could be worked several times over into trading for a potential star-type asset, should Irving agree to a deal. Or he can make waves about not wanting to accept an extension this summer, which would encourage the team’s front office to pursue a trade over the summer. A trade for a two-time All-Star that would be just 22-years old, making just a million over the league’s average salary in 2014-15.

That’s assuming the Cleveland front office looks the same this July, which is no sure thing. General manager Chris Grant has been on the job since 2010, and he’s managed just an 80-196 record since taking over. That’s in comparison to the two and possible three championships that LeBron James will have earned in the years since Dan Gilbert promised Cleveland fans a ring before James ever grabbed his in South Beach.

Contract intrigue. Front office intrigue. Player intrigue. Owner intrigue. Even coaching intrigue, as most can tell that Irving is less than happy with Cleveland’s re-tread hire of Mike Brown.

Damn, David Stern is good at this.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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