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So Kyrie Irving is on the trading block. Not by Cleveland’s choice, but out of necessity after Irving reportedly met with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last week and requested a trade. And now the Cavs must decide how to respond to Irving’s request.
Irving, at last week’s meeting, reportedly mentioned the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Miami Heat as his preferred landing spots. But Irving has no control over his eventual destination. He does not have a no-trade clause, and is now at the mercy of Cleveland’s front office. The Cavs have no obligation to grant him his wish.
In fact, Cleveland has no obligation to trade Irving at all. But, at the very least, it seems soon-to-be new GM Koby Altman will explore his options. And the leading option, based on reports in the aftermath of the news breaking, appears to be a deal that would include one of, or both of, the Knicks and Phoenix Suns.
So we’ll discuss that possibility first, then descend into pure speculation. Because speculation, for the most part, is all we have right now.
Legitimate Potential Trade Partner No. 1: Knicks
Legitimate Potential Trade Partner No. 2: Suns
The following players and assets have been mentioned as pieces in a hypothetical two-way or three-way trade:
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony
Knicks future first-round pick(s)
Knicks rookie guard Frank Ntilikina
Suns guard Eric Bledsoe
Suns center Tyson Chandler
Suns forward T.J. Warren
Cavs guard Iman Shumpert
Cavs center Channing Frye
Speculation has run rampant, but there are several versions of this deal that have been tossed around. And to be clear, not all nine of those pieces would be included in a single deal; it would likely be some combination of between three and seven of them.
Every single possible deal involves the Cavs acquiring Anthony or Bledsoe — or both.
The Knicks, per ESPN’s Ian Begley, would not be willing to include Kristaps Porzingis in a deal for Irving, but might be willing to send Anthony and future first-round picks to Cleveland for the four-time All-Star point guard.
Or, the picks, and maybe Ntilikina, could go to Phoenix, Bledsoe would go to Cleveland, and role players and/or expiring contracts could be exchanged by the Cavs and Suns. The Knicks might also be forced to take on one expiring contract.
A separate deal that might not include the Knicks could see Irving head to Phoenix with Bledsoe coming back in the other direction. Such a deal would almost certainly require the Suns to send another role player to Cleveland along with Bledsoe, and take on at least one of the Frye or Shumpert contracts.
The Cavs have a complicated list of motivations here, and different versions of this deal would check off different boxes. Some would slash the team’s luxury tax bill. Others — the ones that net them both Anthony and Bledsoe — could be net positives for the 2017-18 season. Others could set them up for the future by re-stocking their barren cupboard of young players and draft picks.
One other consideration: If Irving is traded, the Cavs are in desperate need of a point guard. That’s one of the reasons they seemingly need Bledsoe in this hypothetical deal. But remember: Cleveland has reportedly been in serious talks with free agent point guard Derrick Rose this week. Rose would be a sizable downgrade from Irving, but if the Cavs believe he can be serviceable, and if their best trade offers provide significant upgrades at other positions, a point guard doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the deal.
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 1: Boston Celtics
If the Cavs want to do the closest thing possible to keeping Irving without actually keeping him, how about a Kyrie-Isaiah Thomas Swap?
Boston would have to add pieces to balance the salaries, but that’s not unreasonable. Irving is a more valuable piece than Thomas anyway. He comes with an extra year of control (Thomas is a free agent next summer; Irving can opt out in 2019) and is significantly younger (Irving is 25; Thomas is 28). This trade might have to work in a third team for salary purposes, and is unlikely because Boston seems set with its current roster, but there’s some sense behind the idea.
You know what would work salary-wise, though? Irving and Kevin Love for Thomas and Al Horford. Hmmm.
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 2: Washington Wizards
John Wall, Markieff Morris, Jason Smith and a couple salary makeweights for Irving and Kevin Love … Who says no?
Seriously, who says no?
UPDATE: The Wizards probably say no, because shortly after the publishing of this article, John Wall agreed to his Designated Player Extension, a four-year, $170 million deal that could keep him in Washington through 2023. So cross the Wizards off the list.
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 3: Philadelphia 76ers
If you’re the Sixers, would you trade Markelle Fultz for Irving? If you’re Cleveland, would you do it?
It probably doesn’t make sense for either team — Cleveland is still in win-now mode, while the Sixers are still building — but it’s not totally outlandish, is it?
The Sixers might even be willing to throw in Jahlil Okafor for good measure. [Winking face emoji]
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 4: Minnesota Timberwolves
An Irving-for-Andrew Wiggins swap would make sense for the Timberwolves, even if Irving and Jeff Teague would be somewhat redundant. Minnesota might be able to make that work, and Irving is a much better player than Wiggins. But how much sense would it make for the Cavs?
On one hand, if Irving wants out, Wiggins wouldn’t be a terrible return. But such a deal would leave the Cavs without a point guard — Minnesota can’t trade Jeff Teague until mid-season because he’s a recently signed free agent, and has no quality backup, so a third team would have to be included. Plus, the Cavs would essentially be committing to paying Wiggins the max when he hits restricted free agency next year.
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 5: New Orleans Pelicans
WHO SAYS NO?!
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 6: Miami Heat
This would be an example of the “downgrade at point guard, upgrade elsewhere” strategy for Cleveland. What if Miami offers Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow? Pat Riley loves superstars, and would probably jump at the chance to acquire Irving. Winslow is still an unknown quantity, but in the best case scenario, he immediately develops into a near-ideal Warriors counter. Dragic is 31, but would seemingly be a great fit alongside James; he shot over 40 percent from 3-point range last season. Maybe the Heat throw in Josh Richardson as well.
This one actually doesn’t seem too crazy.
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 7: Denver Nuggets
Irving for Jamal Murray, Wilson Chandler and a backup guard?
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 8: Charlotte Hornets
Irving for Kemba Walker, Malik Monk and Frank Kaminsky?
Speculative Potential Trade Partner No. 9: Portland Trail Blazers
Irving and Shumpert for C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu?
Eh, now we’re just spitballing.