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Kyrie Irving Wants Out of Cleveland— What Are the Clippers’ Trade Options?

The Cavaliers’ superstar point guard Kyrie Irving wants to be traded from Cleveland. Should the Clippers try to make a play for him?

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving has demanded a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. The reasons why are a little shaky (is he afraid of LeBron leaving? Does he want to leave LeBron? Is it really just about him being the man on his own team?), but there’s no question that right now he’s on the way out.

I’m going to say upfront I’m not the hugest fan of Kyrie’s game. At bottom, he’s a gunner, a shoot-first point guard who hasn’t made teammates better so far in his career. His defense is miserable, and while he’s an efficient scorer, he has a bad tendency to shoot his team out of games. That said, he’s one of the most dangerous offensive players in the NBA, and any team would love to have him (just maybe not as the main option). The Clippers appear set at point guard with Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic, but Kyrie is an undoubted upgrade over those two. The questions are: should the Clippers actually make a deal for him; and would the Cavaliers accept anything that the Clippers offer? The answer: it’s complicated.

With the signing of Derrick Rose (who appears to have been promised a starting point guard role) as well as Jose Calderon, the Cavs appear to have a point guard rotation in place for Irving’s departure, albeit a poor one. They also have a bunch of big men, specifically power forwards. What they need are guards, maybe a center. The Clippers have a fantastic center in DeAndre Jordan. The issue is that while giving him up for Kyrie might be an upgrade in sheer talent, it wouldn’t really make the Clips better as a team. A Kyrie-Blake Griffin offensive tandem is tantalizing, but without Jordan (or another strong defensive center in his stead), the Clippers would be a sieve defensively. Willie Reed is a fine backup center, and Montrezl Harrell could fill in as well: neither is close to DJ’s level. On the other end, the Cavs themselves aren’t a better team with DJ than they are with Kyrie, though they might be if they flipped Tristan Thompson for other pieces. Therefore, the Cavs would want something besides DJ in return.

Complicating matters, many of the Clippers’ best trade chips are players who came from Houston in the Chris Paul deal, and they can’t be packaged with other players until two months after the trade (August 27th). Therefore, any deal involving them would have to wait another month before completion. In addition, newly signed free agents can’t be traded until December 15th, taking more pieces out of a potential deal.

Here’s what a simple Cavs-Clippers trade might look like if both sides wanted the trade done now.

Trade 1:

Clippers send DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers, and Brice Johnson to Cavs

Cavs send Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert to Clippers

In this deal, the Cavaliers obtain their new starting point guard in Austin Rivers alongside DJ. Austin isn’t really a point guard, but he fits well with LeBron James as a “3 and D” player who can offer some secondary ball-handling. He could also help bolster the Cavaliers’ scoring-deprived bench. Brice Johnson is an added sweetener, a young talent who the Cavs could develop. The Clippers add Shumpert as well as Irving—a wing who is versatile defensively and could help the Clippers play small a bit more. The Cavaliers want to move on from Shumpert regardless, so the Clips would actually be taking him off their hands. The issues with this deal, however, are that the Cavaliers would have too many big men, while the Clippers would have a gaping hole at center. It would be an interesting shake up, but not ideal for either team.

Another potential trade is very similar to the first, but with a slight twist.

Trade 2:

Clippers send DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams, Brice Johnson, and a future 1st round pick to Cavs

Cavs send Kyrie Irving and Channing Frye to Clippers

Because Lou Williams is in this deal, the trade could not be completed for another month or so yet. Swapping Lou for Austin and Frye for Shumpert at once both fixes and weakens the original proposal. On one hand, the Clippers could use a floor spacer like Frye, as none of their big men are currently capable of shooting threes. They also don’t have to give up Austin, who is younger and better than Lou. On the other hand, Shumpert is probably more valuable to the Clippers, as Frye’s poor defense would be further exposed on a team already lacking defensive players. The Cavs would clear some of their big man cluster, and gain a future 1st round pick, a nice bonus. However, Lou doesn’t help them nearly as much as Austin now or potentially in the future. At bottom, this trade has the same basic problems as the first, with only the edges of the deal shaken up.

A third option would be to do the trade without DeAndre Jordan involved.

Trade 3:

Clippers send Austin Rivers, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, and Brice Johnson to the Cavs

Cavs send Kyrie Irving and Kay Felder to Clippers

This would be fascinating. While Clippers’ fans have already grown to love Patrick Beverley and his fit with the 2017-2018 roster, he absolutely must be included in a trade for Kyrie if DJ is not involved. This trade sacrifices the Clippers’ likely closing backcourt as it stands today, pushing Milos Teodosic into the starting shooting guard role alongside Kyrie. That backcourt with Danilo Gallinari, Blake, and DJ would be explosive offensively. It would also be putrid defensively, as the Clippers would give up their two best perimeter defenders for a big negative on that end. The Cavaliers would acquire a true starting point guard in Beverley and a terrific 6th man with Austin, both of whom are fantastic fits next to LeBron. Sam Dekker is a combo forward who is a versatile fit around the pieces already on the Cavs roster. If LeBron were to leave next summer, Brice, Dekker, and the future 1st would be valuable pieces in a rebuild, and Austin and Beverley could easily be flipped for additional assets. This would be a lot for the Clippers to give up, but it might be worth it for them.

The fourth trade is a three-team deal with another team that has been mentioned a lot in the Irving talks: the Phoenix Suns.

Trade 4:

Clippers receive: Kyrie Irving, Tyson Chandler, and Kay Felder

Cavaliers receive: Eric Bledsoe, Austin Rivers, and a future 1st round pick from Clippers

Suns receive: DeAndre Jordan, Brice Johnson, Edy Tavares, and a future 2nd round pick from Cavs

Three team deals are always super complicated, though this one is simpler than most. At its crux, the Clippers are getting Irving, while Chandler would arrive to replace the starting center spot vacated by Jordan. The Cavaliers downgrade some at point guard, but Bledsoe is a terrific replacement for Irving, one who would form a frightening athletic tandem with LeBron. The Suns upgrade at center, though losing Bledsoe would be tough for them. They are the biggest question marks in this deal, and their willingness to go through with it entirely depends on how likely they think the probability of DeAndre re-signing is. If they think he would stick around there, the deal becomes acceptable. If not, it wouldn’t go through.

I don’t think the Clippers will be able to land Kyrie Irving. Their main asset in any Irving trade would be DeAndre Jordan, and the Cavaliers don’t really need him while Tristan Thompson is on the roster. Finding a landing spot for Thompson and dragging another team into the deal would make matters even more difficult. Therefore, the first two trades, while theoretically balanced in terms of talent and “value”, wouldn’t really work for the Cavs unless a Thompson deal is already under way. The third deal is probably the best overall for the Cavs (they might actually be a better team after the trade), but would absolutely gut the Clippers. Receiving Kyrie Irving without giving up DJ would be a coup, however, and I would probably be ok with that deal, albeit with some misgivings. The three-team trade could be the most well-rounded of the deals, though the Suns wouldn’t have much a reason to do it unless DJ confirmed that he would re-sign there. Even if he did, they still might turn it down, as there is nobody in their pipeline who could replace Bledsoe as a starting point guard (unless they really, really like Tyler Ulis). All in all, none of the deals screams “perfect fit!”.

While Kyrie Irving is on the trade market and the Clippers technically have enough assets to trade for him, the path to landing Kyrie on the Clips is a difficult one. The fit between their players and Cleveland’s needs just does not match up well, especially considering that Beverley and Dekker can’t be traded for another month yet. If Kyrie somehow ends up on the Clippers, I would be surprised indeed.