Any team entertaining a Kyrie Irving trade does so knowing he has two years left on his contract and can become a free agent in 2019. But according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, one team is willing to pull the trigger on a deal knowing the All-Star point guard would re-sign long-term: the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have interest in Irving, league sources say, and Irving’s willingness to commit to an extension with the Spurs makes for legitimate win-now deal possibilities for Cleveland.
Irving approached Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for a trade in July; he no longer wanted to play alongside LeBron James and gave ownership a list of five teams he would like to play for. That list included San Antonio.
Cleveland, with new general manager Koby Altman in tow, has not been in a rush to move the All-Star guard who has been a linchpin in the franchise’s three straight NBA Finals appearances and lone championship in 2016. Irving does not hold a no-trade clause and cannot dictate his new team even if Cleveland wants to keep him.
Kyrie Irving makes sense for San Antonio
If Kawhi Leonard proved anything in his MVP-level outing last season, it’s that he’s nearly capable of doing it on his own. Leonard is a one-man band, strapping up the opposing team’s best player on one end and carrying the Spurs offense on the other.
But the Spurs were a shell of themselves in high-leverage situations with their all-world forward off the floor.
After Leonard left Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with an ankle injury, San Antonio blew a 23-point lead and ceded defeat to Golden State. The Warriors eventually swept the Spurs and won a championship in the most dominant postseason display in NBA history.
If Kawhi had some help at the point guard position, however, the outcome of that West series may have been different. Tony Parker ruptured his quad in San Antonio’s second-round series against the Rockets. The Spurs played point guard by committee, with Leonard serving as the primary ball handler and Jonathon Simmons, Patty Mills, and Dejounte Murray filling in.
Parker is 35 and isn’t on schedule to return until December or January; we don’t know what limitations he may have. Mills is the prototypical backup point guard, and Murray, while promising, is years away from being a starter.
Adding Irving to the mix would alleviate the offensive load Leonard’s had to carry. More importantly, it would add a star Leonard’s age to the Spurs, keeping them competitive under basketball’s brightest head coach for years to come.
Just imagine Gregg Popovich with both Irving and Leonard at his disposal.
The Spurs make sense for Kyrie Irving, too
Irving reportedly wants to be “the man,” and he might share that role with Leonard — in a basketball sense — in San Antonio. But for his marketability, San Antonio could be the best possible outcome.
Kawhi does all his business on the court. Off the court, as Penny Hardaway recently noted, he doesn’t care.
You know what, I couldn’t give Kawhi superstar because he’s just not a guy who likes commercials. He’s not a guy who wants to be the face of the league. He just wants to get his work done.
Irving, whose signature shoe sold second-most among NBA players behind LeBron, would immediately join a championship contender on national television nearly as often as Cleveland. He would add flare and flash to an ostensibly dull San Antonio franchise and give them a young, talented point guard to go toe to toe with the Russell Westbrooks, Stephen Currys, and Chris Pauls of the Western Conference.
How would it happen? That’s the tricky part
There’s no path for a straight-up deal that sends Irving to the Spurs without a third team. San Antonio doesn’t have the combination of young prospects and win-now veterans that the Cavaliers desire in a deal, and Cleveland certainly won’t take LaMarcus Aldridge back in that trade.
The Spurs would need to rope in a third team — one interested in taking Aldridge — that would be willing to part ways with pieces of its youthful core. Those teams are few and far between, especially if that team isn’t getting Irving for its troubles.
At this point, it’s a toss up whether Irving returns to Cleveland this year or makes his season debut for another team.