They say that timing is everything in the wild and wacky world that is the NBA. The Golden State Warriors capitalized on that last off-season when an unprecedented spike in the league’s salary cap—from $67 million to $94 million—gave them enough room to land Kevind Durant, the second-best player of this era, in the exact same off-season that he happened to be an unrestricted free agent. Timing.
That word also happens to be at the heart of the latest bombshell to drop in the NBA: Kyrie Irving, the playmaking wizard who could go down as one of the best point guard scorers in league history, wants out of the Cleveland Cavaliers and out of the enormous shadow that is LeBron James.
Say what you will about his motives, but try to brush aside the surface-level shock of his trade request and you’ll see what Irving’s play has been all along. Does he really want to be the centrepiece of a team? Or do his motives actually carry a deeper meaning?
The list of teams Irving reportedly asked the Cavs to trade him to gives us a peek into what Irving’s true intentions are. According to reports, he asked Cavs management to trade him to any of these four teams: the Miami Heat, the New York Knicks, the San Antonio Spurs, or the Minnesota Timberwolves. Seems awfully confusing that of those four teams, one of them—the Wolves—is a team that already has a franchise player, a star-in-the-making, and a recently acquired All-NBA player. One other team—the Knicks—has its own unicorn, while another—the Heat—is run by arguably the singular biggest personality in the NBA. And then there are the Spurs, who happen to have one of the, if not the greatest NBA coaches of all time, and a superstar who happened to finish third in MVP voting this past season.
Is Irving really so concerned about his status as a franchise player that he’s willing to go to teams that already have a strong foundation or is he masking his real intention?
The truth is that all these questions can only be answered by Irving himself. He’s unlikely to do so now that his trade request has leaked and turned the NBA upside down, but consider this scenario: Irving saw the writing on the wall with this Cavs team and decided to jump out of this sinking ship earlier than everyone so he could have first dibs on the lifeboats. Remember, James, arguably the GOAT when it comes to manipulation, has shown no signs resigning with the Cavs next season despite the fact that Cleveland can offer him the most money. The last time this cloud hung over the franchise’s head, it ended with James taking his talents to South Beach and the Cavs in a state of disarray.
The warning signs of history revisiting itself are all there now, especially with rumors picking up that James is already eyeing his exit out of Cleveland next season. The Los Angeles Lakers are calling and whether you believe the rumors or not, they’re being treated seriously enough by a lot of people that they haven’t flamed out like most off-kilter rumors tend to do.
More than anybody else, Irving sees what the future of the Cavaliers could look like if James bails on BelieveLand for the second time. He’ll be back as the constellation from which all other stars revolve around, but what if those stars happen to be JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Tristan Thompson on unhealthy, long-term contracts? Not looking so bright, are they?
Irving has that option. He can stay with the Cavs and get his reported wish of being the centrepiece of the team, but doing so means that he’ll be leading a team that was constructed around LeBron James’ skills, not his. The proverbial glove is his to wear—it just happens to be three sizes too big for his hand.
The other option is to take control of his fortune before his fortune is controlled by others. Pre-emptive strikes in battle are often successful because, by definition, they happen when nobody’s expecting them. Kyrie Irving’s bombshell trade demand is a pre-emptive strike, and it was the perfect time to do it too with the franchise’s attention focused squarely on James’ own uncertain future with the team. Nobody saw this coming because this was probably what Irving wanted in the first place, and if he somehow gets the Cavs to trade him, everybody will be looking at James and what he did that pushed Kyrie out the door.
Meanwhile, Irving swims away relatively unscathed to a new and more stable franchise, ready to be its face and cornerstone. Now was the time to do it and so far, the narratives have fallen exactly as he presumably expected. It’s a bold move on Irving’s part, although it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise considering he got a three-year, front-row seat to the man whose eye for the long game is second to none.
Timing is everything in the NBA, and Kyrie Irving is seizing it for all it’s worth. Genius.