We’ll never know exactly how news of Kyrie Irving’s trade request became public, but Irving and his camp reportedly have a theory. They, according to a report from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, suspect LeBron James was the one who handed the story to the media.
Here’s what Smith had to say on Sunday:
“According to my sources,” Smith said somewhat tangentially, “they believe LeBron James had everything to do with news getting out that Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, because Kyrie Irving and his representation and others met with the Cavaliers a couple weeks ago, and not a word got out until recently. They believe that LeBron James got word of it and was put off by it and leaked it. I’m not going to accuse LeBron of such a thing. I don’t know that to be true at all. But I know that’s what Kyrie Irving believes.”
First, let’s qualify all of this with a lot of “ifs” and some healthy skepticism. Smith doesn’t exactly have a 100 percent record when it comes to the veracity of statements like this. The reliability of the report is somewhat iffy. And even if it is true, to be clear, Smith is not reporting that LeBron did in fact leak it; he’s merely reporting that Irving’s camp thinks LeBron did.
Plus, even if Irving’s camp is correct, and LeBron (or others speaking on behalf of LeBron) did talk to reporters, he (or they) almost certainly was not the only one. There is basically zero chance that this entire, 2,500-word ESPN story on the Irving situation, with three names in the byline and two more listed as having contributed to the report, comes from James. Brian Windhorst’s initial report cites “league sources,” and it would seem likely that not all of those sources are connected to James. The details of Irving’s meeting with Dan Gilbert, including his list of preferred destinations, seems unlikely to have come from James. It’s useless, and to some extent unfair, to guess who the sources are on what facts.
But whether or not it was LeBron who leaked the news is almost beside the point. The fact that Irving’s camp reportedly thinks it was James is yet another sign of what seems to be a fractured relationship between The King and his chief assistant. It’s also a sign that Irving’s disconnect with James stretches beyond basketball.
This report — again, if it’s true — piles on top of a couple tidbits from ESPN’s deep dive that hint at Irving’s off-court annoyance with James:
“Irving had become irritated before, the side effects of James’ greatness — and largesse — wearing on him. … Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. … But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity. Irving chafed about how peers such as Damian Lillard and John Wall were the center of their franchises and catered to accordingly.”
If James did in fact leak the news, of course, that would be a major story, and would reveal a simmering two-way feud between the Cavs’ two best players, with James reciprocating Irving’s apparent envy.
But even without that piece of information, and without any concrete evidence of James’ response to Irving’s request, Irving’s reported belief that James was behind the leak is a story in itself. It tells us even more about the chasm in what previously seemed like a contentious yet successful relationship. Now, that relationship appears to be fractured.