All of the rumors swirling around Kyrie Irving's impending trade focus on how it will help convince LeBron James to stay in Cleveland. Will anything in these trades make his 2017-2018 season any easier?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are winning the offseason if the game is to make the most headlines. The Cavs have not made a single headline that makes their fans puff up with pride since winning game four of the NBA Finals. In case you've forgotten, here's an incomplete list of what has happened since then.
- Cavs lose game five, ending the series
- Cavs aggressively pursue Jimmy Butler and Paul George but get neither player
- Owner decides he won't pay GM David Griffin anywhere near his market value after not allowing Griffin to interview with other teams
- Griffin leaves
- Cavs don't take part in NBA draft
- Agreement in place to sign a guy who has never worked in an NBA front office (Chauncey Billups) to be the head of the Cavaliers' front office (but wasn't around for the draft)
- NBA free agency starts while Cavs still have no front office members beyond 3rd-level assistant GM and notoriously assholish owner
- Billups says no to job
- Cavs sign 36-year-old Jose Calderon, the world shakes head in confusion
- Three weeks into free agency, and while there is still no official GM, news leaks that superstar Kyrie Irving wants to be traded
- 3rd level assistant GM Koby Altman takes job
- Cavs sign former MVP and accused gang-rapist Derrick Rose
- Cavs unable to find suitable trade partners for Kyrie Irving, despite rumors linking him to several teams and cities
- Nike unveils new uniforms, fan base yawns and acknowledges that the lettering is almost identical to the Suns...and Jacksonville Jaguars. Nike is getting lazy
That about covers it, right? Did you spot any good news in there? Maybe jersey collectors are happy because there's something new to spend hundreds of dollars on? Otherwise, this has been about as rough an offseason as I can ever remember (2010 notwithstanding, of course).
The dark cloud over everything has been that everyone is speculating on what LeBron James will do in the summer of 2018, which countless radio shows saying their sources suggest he'll leave Cleveland.
Realistically, LeBron doesn't know what he's doing next summer. He didn't know he was leaving Miami until the week he decided to leave, so there's no way he knows now, in the summer of 2017, what he'll do in 11 months. Our position as people who follow the Cavaliers is to wonder what will help him stay and then annoy the owner on Twitter with suggestions.
My big question is this: If the Cavs trade Kyrie Irving, which team can return something that will make LeBron's life easier? Important distinction: That's not the same question as "which team will make it most likely that LeBron stays?"
LeBron James, in his age 32 season, his 14th year in the NBA, led the league in minutes per night. Part of that is because he clearly doesn't like to play limited minutes in a game (unless it's a blowout), and part of it is because the team absolutely fell apart when he wasn't on the floor last year. The Cavaliers were 17 points per 100 possessions better in the regular season when LeBron was on the floor than when he was off - they were +8.4 per 100 possessions when he was playing, -8.6 when he was not. That number ballooned to a 30.7 point difference: +12.9 per 100 when he was playing, -17.8 when he wasn't.
So again, the question is who can the Cavs trade for who will take some of that burden off LeBron? Who can play a tiny bit of defense while he's resting? I love the guy, but the answer is not 37-year-old Richard Jefferson. Let's take a look at the popular suggestions.
1) Suns Trade Options
I wrote previously that my dream scenario is something like Kyrie + Shumpert for Eric Bledsoe, TJ Warren, and Jared Dudley. TJ Warren is a young wing who didn't shoot particularly well but was an above average defender, per Synergy Sports Tech. He'll be 24 by the time the season starts and could benefit from a team that claims to have a defensive strategy.
Jared Dudley, much to my surprise, was one of the most efficient defenders in the league last year on points allowed per possession basis. He and Warren could - theoretically - switch screens against a team like the Warriors, and that's what the Cavaliers are likely to be focused on. Dudley's a little older and slower, but he would fit well on a veteran team.
Getting two wing players should lighten LeBron's minutes' load. That's important. Dudley would help pick up the defensive slack, Warren has only proven that he's athletic. Bledsoe, it should be noted, was one of Synergy's worst defenders in the league last year. Far worse than Kyrie.
The makeup of this trade could change, as there's speculation that the Suns offer one or two first round picks instead of players. That would not help LeBron's minutes.
2) Nuggets Trade Options
Zach Lowe pointed out that Denver could do something like a Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler swap for Kyrie (the salary math works as a 3-for-1). Chandler would be the small forward to lighten LeBron's workload, and both he and Harris averaged 31 minutes per game last year. Per Synergy, all three of these guys were bad defenders. In fairness, Denver didn't seem to stress defense too much, but it's still a concern.
On the bright side, Harris was an extremely effective offensive player and none of the three have ever played with anyone who elevates players like LeBron James does.
I may have rose-tinted glasses, but this option is sounding better and better.
3) The Other Options
Minnesota: Won't happen, but if the Cavs magically got Wiggins, he would almost certainly see some of LeBron's minutes. That would be good. What would be bad is everything else about the trade. Teague is unavailable before December and there's not really anyone else worth getting because Butler and Towns are 100% unavailable.
San Antonio: By all things sacred, please don't send LaMarcus Aldridge to Cleveland. Please? Irving + Shumpert for LMA + Danny Green? Is it possible for both teams to lose a trade? Because that's what would happen. Green would be nice alongside LBJ as a rich man's Kyle Korver, but that's all.
New York: If the Knicks aren't willing to budge on Porzingis, there's nothing here. And so far the Knicks are not willing to budge on Porzingis. Hard to blame them. If you had him, would you take Kyrie over KP?
Boston: Griff mentioned Boston in an interview but I really can't see how this would be possible. Cavs would have to take something like Isaiah, Crowder, and Jaylen Brown (or Marcus Smart, but Cavs should want Brown) and there's just no way Boston does that.
It's an odd outlook for the Cavaliers. Stars don't just come up for trade, so teams should be willing to make sacrifices to get Kyrie, but they're just not ponying up yet. For Cleveland, the waiting game is dangerous, but the payoff could be huge. We all know they need to find something that will make the team younger and more future-savvy, we just also need to see them figure out a way to improve those LeBron-less numbers.