News Analysis

Irving wants out of Cavaliers but he won't do better elsewhere

Every player in the National Basketball Association (NBA) would do just about anything for the chance to play alongside LeBron James and experience the annual accompanying trips to the NBA Finals.

Every player, that is, except for Kyrie Irving.

News broke on Friday - first reported by ESPN.com, and later confirmed by The Washington Post and others - that Irving has demanded a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, and, in doing so, is willing to step away from that most coveted role of playing next to James.

But there has been tension with the Cavaliers ever since James returned to Cleveland from the Miami Heat - a move that came less than two weeks after Irving committed to a five-year max contract extension on the opening night of free agency in 2014.

When Irving signed that deal, both he and the Cavaliers envisioned the point guard being the face of the franchise for years to come.

Then James decided he wanted to go back to north-east Ohio, and the plans involving Irving were understandably thrown out the window.

It has worked out beautifully for all parties involved though - Irving has thrived playing next to James in the form of winning a championship, becoming a shoe-selling star and being the face of the upcoming version of video game NBA 2K.

What is clear now is that Irving's desire to be the face of a franchise has never gone away, and, after three years biding his time, he does not want to wait any longer. The problem is that the timing here is all wrong.

But what is clear now is that Irving's desire to be the face of a franchise has never gone away, and, after three years biding his time, he does not want to wait any longer.

The problem is that the timing here is all wrong. There has been open speculation for weeks now that James is considering leaving Cleveland next summer.

If James does decide to go to Los Angeles or elsewhere, no one would question either of the two remaining stars if they went to ownership and asked to be moved, as well.

Such a move would actually make sense for both the players and the team, allowing the Cavaliers to begin a full rebuild.

Irving's choice to do this now, though, raises all kinds of questions.

Most notably, what does it say about someone that they do not want to play alongside James? Sure, whenever someone plays on the same team as one of the greatest players in the history of the game, he will be at least slightly obscured.

Yet doing so also represents a guaranteed path to the NBA Finals year after year.

And it is not as if Irving has seen his stardom diminished by James' arrival. If anything, it has been enhanced.

He hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history last year, with his three-pointer in the final minute of Game Seven of the Finals delivering the city of Cleveland its first championship in over 50 years, and giving Irving the kind of forever moment most players can only dream of.

But, regardless of motive, now that the news is out there, the focus will shift to how the Cavaliers will choose to respond.

As every star-level player in the NBA searches for better teams and clearer ways to compete for championships, Irving has chosen another path, opting to actively try to step away from the best job in basketball in an attempt to go his own way.

It is a bold decision, and could potentially lead to him becoming the sixth All-Star from last season - along with Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Paul George, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap - to change teams this summer.

All of those names, however, joined teams with better chances to win next season and beyond - just like Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, James and others before them.

Irving, on the other hand, is guaranteed to wind up in a worse situation elsewhere.

He will, however, get what he wants: his own team, and all of the spotlight - and scrutiny - that comes with it.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Irving wants out of Cavaliers but he won't do better elsewhere'. Print Edition | Subscribe