It's difficult to properly rate Kyrie Irving. Coming into the 2016-2017 season I predicted that he'd blow up and finish in the top six of the MVP race. I thought he'd average at least 25 points and tear teams apart offensively. I based it on plays like the one below and how he was completely unstoppable in the 2016 NBA Finals.
I was partially right. Kyrie scored 25.2 points per game, had the highest effective field goal percentage of his career, and broke enough ankles to keep people in awe. Offensively, he's a monster. How many times this year did we hear an announcer say "Kyrie Irving is the best below-the-rim finisher in the league"? Five? Ten? He's great at it. He's also not a good defender and did not receive any MVP consideration whatsoever.
Kyrie's defensive win shares (which are admittedly hard to fully trust, even for someone who believes in stats) this year were the lowest in his past five seasons. According to Synergy Sports Tech, Irving was in the 17th percentile in the NBA as an overall defender when it came to points allowed per possession. That's atrocious. He was 85th percentile on offense, so he almost negates his great offense by being so bad on defense. For what it's worth, he was in the 38th percentile defensively the previous regular season.
So what is Kyrie? Where does he rank among NBA guards? I have him outside the top five, but understand why someone would put him higher (or lower). For me, he's behind Wall, Curry, Russ, Harden, and Chris Paul, but it's hard to say whether he's better than Lowry, Isaiah, Lillard, Conley, or Kemba Walker, isn't it? I'd much rather have Kyrie than Lowry on offense, but Kyle Lowry has actually defended someone in his NBA career.
Can Kyrie Irving carry a team on his own? Maybe. Can he only win games with an other-worldly talent by his side? Possibly. Can he be put on a better team, basketball-wise, than the one he's been in the past few years? Almost certainly not. But most importantly, does he want to play for the Cavs anymore? No. So it's time to trade him.
Best Case Kyrie Irving Trade Scenario
The good news is that the Cavaliers still have leverage here. They don't have to trade Irving yet. They don't need to rush into this and make a dumb trade because he still has two years on his contract. His value is high, and the recipient isn't getting an eight-month rental. The Cavs should be getting a starting-caliber guard, a young player who can switch between 2-3-4 defensively, and a draft pick. That's a lot, but it's not impossible.
Zach Lowe had a ton of thoughts about a week ago, and while the Frye/Shump/Irving outgoing for Bledsoe/Warren/Melo incoming trade is enticing, I can't actually imagine it happening. The Cavs would be SO far over the tax that this trade would cost them something like $25 million extra.
The best of Lowe's bunch might be Denver, and getting Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, and a pick. The Cavs would be betting that the Nuggets won't actually be that good with Kyrie at the helm, and that makes the 1st round pick much more attractive. Denver could say no based on losing their entire guard rotation, but Kyrie is a big-ticket item. Put him on a team with Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic, and people are going to watch. That, to me, is the second option for the Cavs.
Option one is closer to that Bledsoe/Melo/Warren deal and is an absolute pipe-dream. A two-teamer with Phoenix which sends Bledsoe, Chandler, and either TJ Warren or Marquese Chriss (probably Warren) to Cleveland and Irving + Shump to Phoenix. If it sounds lopsided in favor of the Cavs, there are two ways that this can be altered.
First, Phoenix could bail on sending Warren/Chriss and instead offer a 2018 first round pick (they have Miami's as long as it doesn't fall in the top seven, plus their own). Second, the Cavs could throw in a young project-player like Edy Tavares or Kay Felder. Bonus! A third possibility would be to swap Tyson Chandler for Jared Dudley.
For the Cavs, Bledsoe is an obvious target, Chandler would be a dynamite interior presence and rim-protector - which Cleveland has desperately needed for a while - and Chriss/Warren are young wings. It's that simple. Dudley would be a great catch-and-shoot weapon alongside LeBron and is a formidable defender, even if he's not as quick as he used to be. Per Synergy, Dudley was one of the best defenders in the league on a points per possession basis last year, while the other guys coming from Phoenix were all pretty bad on defense - so maybe this isn't so lopsided after all.
On the other side, Phoenix gets Kyrie Irving to pair with Devin Booker, making for an insane backcourt duo who could routinely drop 70 points between them. With either Warren or Chriss remaining, plus Josh Jackson, the young Suns would continue to be a young team with an outrageous amount of talent. They're in the west, so it's hard to see them making a splash in the playoffs, but that's life in the west.
I don't really see this trade happening - I actually don't really see any of the trades that I really like happening - but boy would it be fun.
Why I'm not mad at Kyrie Irving
That's why I'm not mad at Kyrie Irving.
If a guy can go to three straight Finals and not be satisfied, so be it. He was instrumental in what is, by far, the number one most memorable sports experience of my life - I was at the watch party in Quicken Loans Arena for game seven and it legitimately felt like I was at the game. It was cooler than when I was given free tickets to game one of the 2017 World Series by a stranger in the second inning.
As for Kyrie; at some point in life, you want to know what you're capable of in an untethered, on-your-own situation. That's where he is. I'm OK with that.
Plus, I have multiple 2016 NBA Championship items, so I'm good.