The basketball world got rocked on Friday afternoon when word came down that Kyrie Irving wants to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers. It came straight out of left field, as Irving cited a desire to no longer sit in the shadow of LeBron James as a reason why he wants to get traded.
Basically, Irving wants to be the center of attention somewhere, which is perfectly fine — he is a superstar who wants the opportunity to prove this on his own team. The big question is what team would give him that opportunity? For Irving, there are four that stick out.
Sure, some of this doesn’t add up. For example, how would he be the man in Minnesota if they already have Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler, and what could Miami possibly put into a deal that makes the Cavaliers go “yes, let’s do this”?
We decided to list seven teams that would make the most intriguing trade destinations for Irving, the ones that would let him be a star and could include deals that lead to the Cavs saying yes. They include two of the squads listed above, along with five other teams that could be intriguing landing spots/trade partners.
It would be kind of stunning to see the Cavaliers make a move that could seriously strengthen their biggest rival in the East, but because Irving is a big name player who could be on the move, the Celtics kind of have to be included. And besides, no potential deal could better prepare the Cavaliers for the future if LeBron decides to leave town.
Boston could throw together a deal full of first round draft picks, young players, and maybe even someone like Isaiah Thomas and his one-year deal to entice Irving to head to Beantown. Is a deal that involves Cleveland getting some weird combination Thomas, Jae Crowder, one of Jaylen Brown/Jayson Tatum, and a whole bunch of picks enough? Does Boston actually want to do something like that? Would that lead to LeBron losing his mind?
The Celtics would probably be better suited waiting for someone else to hit the market to unload the farm, but Danny Ainge has been waiting for a star to become available. A star is available.
Los Angeles Lakers
The owners of the No. 2 picks from the last two drafts in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, the could put together a pair of young players to ship to Cleveland that probably couldn’t be topped if their eyes are on the future. Add in the fact that Irving would bring the star power Magic Johnson wants in Los Angeles and a move here could make sense.
Of course, there’s a big problem here: If LeBron would consider Los Angeles next offseason, why on earth would the Lakers trade for the guy who, you know, has openly said he doesn’t want to play with the best player in the world? Plus, does Los Angeles really want to consider moving both Ingram and Ball in one move? Especially Ball, who Johnson seems to believe could end up being a great point guard in the not too distant future.
Still, Johnson should not be slept upon. He’s a savvy dude whose mix of business instincts and basketball IQ know when to pounce. If this is the deal where he decides it’s worth being aggressive, Laker Land could getting a serious injection of star power.
New York Knicks
In terms of a 1-for-1 deal (well, save for a player or two for cap purposes), this would likely be the best destination. Carmelo Anthony wants to leave New York. One of the two places he’s said he’d be willing to go is Cleveland. Irving is from New Jersey. Every other deal seems like it could be pretty complicated, but really, this one seems pretty easy: Anthony goes to Cleveland, where he is the second banana to LeBron on most nights and the third banana to LeBron and Kevin Love (assuming an Irving deal doesn’t lead to the Cavs completely blowing it up) on occasion.
Irving goes to New York, where he gets to be a star and form a dynamic 1-2 punch with Kristaps Porzingis. And the best part? While Porzingis is a budding star, this would give Irving the chance to be the man in New York. Seeing as how he wants to be the focal point wherever he goes, it’s safe to say he’d love shouldering those expectations.
All Sixers talks would probably start and end with one player: Ben Simmons. LeBron loves him. He is insanely talented, a 6’11 point guard who would work perfectly next to LeBron, especially if he can get his jump shot going. And again, because it cannot be reiterated enough, LeBron loves him.
Outside of a deal for Anthony, this could be the potential deal that makes LeBron the happiest. Irving would be fantastic alongside Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz (assuming Fultz wouldn’t have to be included in some kind of deal), while the Sixers can flip Simmons, Dario Saric, and maybe a pick or two over to the Cavs. If LeBron sticks around next offseason, that core could potentially be fantastic and carry him as he gets older. If he splits, building around Simmons, Saric, and whoever they’d get with the pick(s) would be fun, too.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have been in the headlines recently because of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum’s pursuit of Anthony. What if, with this news dropping, they decided to reverse course and make a play for Irving, instead?
The downside to a deal like this for Portland is it’s hard to see one happening that ends with Lillard and McCollum staying together. For a move like this, it could very well cost them McCollum, a native of Northeast Ohio who could be a similar (although not as consistently dangerous) scoring threat in the backcourt that Irving is right now. Could that be enough, especially considering McCollum actually makes more money than Irving?
There would be some questions about how a Lillard-Irving backcourt would work together, namely whether the Portland fans and franchise would embrace Irving as the team’s franchise player when they already love Lillard so much. And seeing as how the Blazers’ sights are set on adding Anthony to Lillard and McCollum, would they really want to move one half of that equation? Or would they hope to have a Lillard-Irving-Anthony core? No matter what, Portland may be a stretch, but the Blazers would be really fun if they could somehow get Irving and pair him with Dame D.O.L.L.A.
The Suns may be the biggest wild card in something like this. They’re a team with some really good young assets and a point guard in Eric Bledsoe who could replace Irving without any issues, provided he can stay healthy. Irving would be the unquestioned star in the dessert, while Bledsoe and some combination of Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and picks would be a really solid return for Irving.
The only hang-up could be if the Suns could get this deal done on their own. Would they be able to put together a whole package for Irving, or would they be better off sitting back and being the squad that facilitates a deal? Blowing up most of their core and getting rid of Bledsoe for one player is a lot, but what if they can keep the core together, move Bledsoe, and acquire a few assets in return? Really, that may be the best course of action for Phoenix.
San Antonio Spurs
Irving has reportedly said that the Spurs are a primary destination for him. For pure Western Conference arms race purposes, this would be the most fun spot, as Irving would form a fantastic duo alongside Kawhi Leonard that could close the gap between San Antonio and Golden State. Whether it would be enough to, you know, beat the Warriors is another story, but it’s still fun to consider.
San Antonio’s biggest downside is it would really need a third team. Outside of Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, their roster is full of players who have primarily thrived in the Spurs’ system. They could trade Aldridge, sure, but San Antonio’s front court probably couldn’t sustain a loss like that. This would likely cost them guys like Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, and Dejounte Murray, along with a whole bunch of future draft picks.
Still, if it lands them someone like Irving, it’s worth doing as much to make this happen as possible.