A league that thought it couldn’t be surprised any more this summer was stunned Friday afternoon with the disclosure that four-time All-Star guard Kyrie Irving has asked the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade him — a request whose potential ramifications are staggering.
The reason, according to multiple sources, is that Irving no longer wants a secondary role playing alongside LeBron James and wants an opportunity to play for a team where he is its focal point — something obviously impossible on any team with James on it. The 25-year-old Irving was second on the Cavs to James in scoring last season, averaging a career-best 25.4 points per game and posting the highest Player Efficiency Rating (23) of his career.
Irving is making this request despite the incredible success the Cavaliers have had since James returned to Cleveland in 2014 — three straight Finals appearances, including the improbable 2016 title after the Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit, and Irving hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of Game 7.
ESPN.com first reported the request.
Irving’s agent, Jeff Wechsler, said by phone Friday: “What I can tell you is we had a meeting a couple of weeks ago, and we sat down and discussed Kyrie’s future with the team and all the scenarios. The contents of that meeting we’re going to keep between the team and us.”
The meeting with Cavs’ management was within the last couple of weeks, though it’s unclear exactly when. Nor is there any indication at present whether the team will honor Irving’s request.
"(Irving) said he wanted to be the focal point, wanted to be the franchise player and no longer wanted to play alongside LeBron,” one source said.
James, according to two sources, had no idea that Irving was unhappy with his role this past season or wanted out of Cleveland. James’s future in Cleveland is already uncertain after this season; he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and many around the league have believed for weeks that he’s likely to leave the Cavs for a second time and sign either with the Lakers or Clippers next summer.
The Cavs have been in flux ever since the team and former general manager David Griffin jointly announced June 19 that he would not be returning to the team next season. Cleveland offered the GM job to former NBA star Chauncey Billups, but Billups turned the Cavs down after considering the offer for a couple of weeks. Assistant GM Koby Altman has been handling most of the team’s day-to-day operations since the announcement.
Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s Draft, in hopes of being traded to Chicago and playing with All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler. Just before Griffin and the team decided to part ways, Griffin had been working on a three-team deal that would have brought Butler to the Cavs.
But Chicago traded Butler to Minnesota on Draft night for a package of guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, and the 7th pick overall in the first round.
The first overall pick in the 2011 Draft after one season at Duke, Irving has established himself as perhaps the best ballhandler in the league and one of its most prolific and lethal scorers. He made two All-Star teams before James’s return, but the Cavaliers didn’t have much success with Irving as their main star, going a combined 72-152 his first three years.
Irving signed a five-year, $94.3 million max rookie extension in January, 2014. Having Irving under a long-term deal was one of the reasons James decided to return to the Cavs later that year, along with the team’s acquisition of Kevin Love from Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins, the first pick in the 2014 Draft.
With James, Irving and Love leading the way, Cleveland has been the dominant team in the Eastern Conference the last three years, going a combined 36-5 in the last three years against east postseason opponents. And while Irving has had to play off of James for much of that time, he seemed to have found a comfort zone in doing so, saying frequently how much he’d learned about winning and improved team chemistry with James in the locker room.
Yet that, apparently, is no longer enough.
It is unclear if James and Irving have spoken with each other since Irving made the trade request.
“LeBron right now, he’s not caught up with any of this,” one source said. “He’s made a decision that he’s focused on next year. No matter what the team looks like he’s going to be focused on what he always is focused on; helping the team win.”
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