As NFL teams prepare for training camp and MLB teams gear up for the pennant race, the NBA is still drawing significant fan and media attention in the middle of the offseason. Cleveland Cavaliers star guard Kyrie Irving has officially requested a trade, shockingly spurning LeBron James after three trips to the NBA Finals together.
Irving listed the San Antonio Spurs, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Minnesota Timberwolves as his preferred destinations. However, The Cavaliers are free to trade him to any team, given that Irving does not have a no trade clause in his contract.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Cleveland desires “one or two veterans that can help LeBron dethrone Golden State, [a blue chip young player], and picks.”
For the Sixers, that young prospect would be Markelle Fultz. Keep in mind that Fultz cannot be traded until August 7, 30 days after he signed his rookie contract.
The only true impact veteran on the Sixers roster is J.J. Redick, and he cannot be traded until December 15. The Sixers would probably have to give up Robert Covington to fulfill the veteran requirement. As for the picks, let’s throw in the Sixers 2018 1st round pick and maybe a few 2nd rounders.
To recap, the Sixers would trade Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, and their own 2018 1st round pick to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. Is Irving worth cashing in that many assets?
Acquiring Kyrie would have a major impact on the Sixers’ salary cap situation. In the short term, swapping Fultz and Covington’s combined $8.5 million (approximate) salary for Irving’s $18.8 million salary would cost the Sixers roughly $10 million in 2017-18 cap space.
More importantly, Irving will likely opt out of his contract following the 2018-19 season, making himself an unrestricted free agent. He will not be eligible for the supermax deal the Stephen Curry received, but he still could command a contract in the range of 5 years and $150-170 million.
Fultz, on the other hand, is on a 4-year, $33 million rookie-scale contract through the 2020-21 season. Because of restricted free agency, he likely will not be able to leave Philadelphia until at least eight years into his career.
By the Summer of 2019, The Sixers could be on the books for Irving’s max contract, a possible max extension for Joel Embiid, and significant raises for bench players like Dario Saric and Richaun Holmes, to name two. Also, Ben Simmons will be entering the final season of his rookie contract and looking for an expensive contract extension.
With all of that money committed, the Sixers likely will not be able to add a fourth max player to complement Embiid, Simmons and Irving. To justify relinquishing offseason flexibility, Irving should be the guy who catapults the Sixers into Finals contention. Is he capable of that?
Kyrie has earned his reputation as one of the game’s best shotmakers, but it is troubling that he has struggled to win without LeBron throughout his career. The Decision turned Cleveland into a talentless wasteland, and no one should blame Irving for that, but his lackadaisical defense and clashes with teammates did not exactly create a winning culture.
After the arrival of LeBron, Cleveland has been a below-average team when James is off the court. Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the Cavaliers are 4-19 when LeBron does not play, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN (stat as of February 25, 2017).
In the games that LeBron did play, Irving had a plus-minus of -120 in 635 minutes without James in 2016-17, according to the Cavaliers Nation Twitter account. As much as I want to find it, there is no evidence that Irving can lead a winning team as the best player.
Additionally, Irving’s fit with the Sixers is questionable. The version of Irving that played with LeBron would be a great fit with Ben Simmons. Simmons could play the primary distributor role while Irving gets buckets.
The issue with that reasoning is that Irving wants to leave Cleveland because LeBron dominates the ball too much. Irving wants to be a real point guard, and the presence of James in Cleveland has stunted his development in that respect.
The basketball media has labeled Irving as a subpar passer, but he flashed potential as a distributor before LeBron returned to Cleveland. His rookie season AST% of 36.5 would have ranked top 10 in the NBA in 2016-17. In his second and third season, he would have finished in the top 20. After renouncing primary ball-handling duties to LeBron in 2014-15, Irving’s AST% plummeted to 25. His desire to test his point guard abilities in another environment is valid.
Stylistically, Simmons is a similar player to LeBron, and many of Irving’s on court issues with James would resurface in Philadelphia, in my opinion. Before trading for Irving, Bryan Colangelo would have to figure out how much Kyrie wants to share the ball.
Trading Fultz, Covington, and a 1st round pick for Irving would not be a catastrophic move by any means. A core of Embiid, Simmons, and Irving would contend for the Eastern Conference championship for the foreseeable future, assuming health and a long-term deal for Irving.
The risk of making this trade is losing a decade of Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid growing together and making the Sixers a sustainable championship contender. That’s a big risk. When taking into account the salary cap ramifications and the possibility of Irving leaving in two years, as well as the questionable chemistry fit between Irving and Simmons, the reward of Irving is not worth the risk.
Also, you just can’t give up Covington. He’s too good.