Last Friday, shocking news came down that Kyrie Irving had asked the Cavaliers to trade him. The former No. 1 pick whose clutch 3-pointer in Game 7 of the ’16 Finals helped LeBron James make good on the promise to end Cleveland’s title drought has made it known he is done playing with the King. He wants to go his own way.
Scorching the earth by putting it out there that he was interested in a new environment where he can be more of a “focal point” in issuing this trade demand seems like a calculated move in order to reach a point of no return, especially since there’s noise out there that Irving believes James made the request public knowledge.
Finger-pointing and gossip is popping up everywhere on social media, and even LeBron’s estranged stepfather has decided to get mixed up in it.
This drama packs the trifecta of leaks, ambition and back-stabbing, which combined with the lack of direction Dan Gilbert put on full display in mishandling his GM situation, has thrown everything into chaos. After being spurned by Chauncey Billups due to a low-ball offer, the Cavs boss finally promoted assistant GM Koby Altman to replace David Griffin, whose ill-timed departure was the domino that started this all.
Altman has been in charge since but isn’t at fault for this whose situation devolvng into a debacle. Although he’s been a part of the team’s front office since 2012, Altman in an incredibly tough spot given all that has transpired. An inability to land Paul George from Indiana in a deal that would have moved Kevin Love to Denver has damaged any sense of camaraderie among a “Big 3” that is 1-for-3 against the Warriors in the Finals, so the fact Cleveland remains favored to win the East is a slap in the face to everyone else in the conference.
A fractured group remains the best bet to reign, if only because the King has proclaimed that he’s not going anywhere until next summer.
Both Irving and Love are aware that James, who definitely is consulted on personnel matters, has been willing to part with them if it improves the chances of adding to his ring collection. Everyone knows that the league is a business, but it’s still impossible not to take things personally when you’re a star of that magnitude but find yourself powerless in LeBron’s orbit.
Irving, despite having two years remaining on his contract, wants out now. James is staying put, controlling his future thanks to a no-trade clause on his deal that expires next summer, leaving open a possible departure via free agency. No one else outside of Gilbert himself can realistically feel secure of their position on the Cavs. Love is in limbo, powerless to stop his name from being linked to one trade rumor after another. The team even fired their cap expert. That’s not a great work environment.
After opening at 2-to-5 (-250) at Westgate Superbook, the walking soap opera that is Cleveland remains favored to win the Eastern Conference, but is now down to 4-to-7 (-175) after spending most of July at 1-to-2 (-200).
Will these be the best odds available to bank on LeBron reaching his eighth consecutive NBA Finals? That’s going to depend on one of two variables.
Either James has to find away to smooth things over with his betrayed teammates or Altman has to hit the ground running in executing trades that will keep the Cavs atop the East throne despite losing arguably the conference’s second-best player. That first possibility has a strong chance of coming to fruition despite the current friction because competing for another title is certain to be in the running for best situation for both Irving and Love, but damage has been done that will need to be overcome and may linger even if everyone remains in place.
How can James help appease the bruised egos of his teammates if he’s unsure of his own future going forward? Teams will line up to make offers both Irving and Love, but the Cavs will no longer be dealing from the position of strength they would’ve been working with had this news not gotten out there. That’s one reason to discredit the allegation that LeBron’s camp leaked the Irving information, because his group is nothing if not calculating, methodical and bright.
James was said to be blindsided by Irving’s desire to play elsewhere. LeBron giving his permission to include the team’s All-Star point guard in trade discussions were likely viewed as a betrayal. Derrick Rose agreed to sign on Monday, giving the Cavs a potential replacement.
If things can be worked out, the former MVP could prove to be a dynamic weapon off the bench.
The Cavs have time on their side but have badly bumbled this offseason. They’re currently a 4-to-1 (+400) bet to win the 2017-18 title, but moving in on that would be akin to setting money on fire given the volatility of their situation. The Warriors have Clevleand shook, thrown into a state of disarray. Even if they come out of the East, the Cavs would almost certainly be an NBA Finals underdog again.