By Columnists Matt Lieberman and Nick Sullivan
Last month, ESPN reported that All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving no longer wants to play with LeBron James. According to well-known NBA journalist Brian Windhorst, who regularly appears on programs such as SportsCenter and NBA: The Jump, Irving hopes to become more of a focal point of a team’s offense. Irving is currently under contract through the 2018-19 season when he will become a free agent, but he is attempting to leave the 2015-16 NBA champions this summer by requesting a trade.
The LeBron Factor
LeBron James, one of the greatest players of all time, is under contract in Cleveland through the end of next season, with rumors that he’ll jump ship for the Los Angeles Lakers or even the Houston Rockets. According to Chris Sheridan journalist for AP, ESPN, and SheridanHoops.com, James will “100%” leave Cleveland when he becomes a free agent after next season. The same source said that the relationship between LeBron and Cleveland owners is “beyond repair.”
Becoming the star
ESPN has reported that Irving no longer wants to play with four-time MVP James. Windhorst has reported that Irving wants to be a “focal point for an offense,” rather than playing second fiddle to superstar LeBron.
Evaluating Kyrie’s decision:
Many have argued that Kyrie is making a mistake by leaving last year’s NBA runner-ups Cleveland Cavaliers. Others have said he is making a smart move by jumping ship before he gets left in the dust when/if LeBron heads to Los Angeles or another destination.
–If Kyrie stays, he’ll be in championship contention again.
The Cavaliers have reached three of the last NBA Finals, winning one of those series against the Golden State Warriors. It seems highly plausible that the Cavs make it back, and even win another championship. Although it will be tough to eventually beat the dominant Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers have a mostly clear path through the relatively weak Eastern Conference. Aside from the consistently strong Boston Celtics, dynamic Washington Wizards, and up-and-coming Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavaliers have a solid chance to get another crack at the NBA Finals.
-If Irving stays, he’ll receive continued exposure.
By staying on a strong Cleveland team, he essentially guarantees national television exposure and a solid brand to back him up. With exposure comes popularity, and if he breaks out in a major way next season, maybe even a shot at MVP/First Team All-NBA candidacy. Irving has a chance to become a superstar in the MVP, and although the Cavs will never be “his team” with LeBron on the roster, he could continue to boost his endorsement deals, merchandise sales, and league-wide stature as a member of the Cavaliers.
-If Kyrie leaves, he’ll likely run his own team.
As Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving can likely attest to, playing on LeBron’s team makes everything a bit easier on the court. It also makes it a whole lot harder to establish yourself as a team leader and superstar, as star players like Wade and Irving can be constantly overshadowed by LeBron’s legendary status. If Kyrie wants to establish himself as a leader of his organization, he would be smart to continue pushing for a move to a team where he can be the main star.
-If Irving leaves, his future may be even brighter.
With the recent reports that LeBron is jumping ship for another team after this season, it seems as if the current version of the Cleveland Cavaliers is primed to split up at the end of next season, leaving them only one more chance to pick up a second NBA championship victory. If Kyrie gets traded to a young team with potential, it would seem to be a win-win for both sides. If Kyrie gets traded to, for example, the Bucks, the Milwaukee gets a star presence with formidable playoff experience on their roster, and the Cavaliers can kick off their rebuild by acquiring some up-and-coming players and assets.