Sports Nut

Kyrie Irving Is a Mad Genius

His trade request could destroy the Cleveland Cavaliers and might ruin his career. I wholeheartedly approve.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts against the Golden State Warriors in Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals on June 9 in Cleveland.

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Kyrie Irving is a man of remarkable talent. His handles are nonpareil and his ability to finish at the rim around, amongst, under, and betwixt defenders is breathtaking in the most literal sense—you gasp and hold the oxygen inside your lungs until you see the slow-motion replay or turn blue, whichever comes first. He’s part yo-yo champ, part contortionist, an offensive whiz kid who plays three-card Monte with a basketball. He also might be crazy because he’s decided he’s sick of playing with LeBron James.

As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Friday afternoon—the NBA cares not for your Summer Friday—the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard has informed the team that he wants to be traded. Apparently, the 25-year-old Irving, who hit the shot to win the 2016 NBA Finals, is unhappy playing second fiddle to the best player in the world.* He’s got his sights set on first fiddle, and he’s said to have dropped this fiddle-related news on the Cavaliers last week after the ink had dried on the league’s biggest offseason moves. According to Windhorst, James was “blindsided” and “is disappointed.” I, on the other hand, am ecstatic. For basketball fans who don’t live in Northeast Ohio, Irving’s trade demand has injected some much-needed insanity into a league that’s become all too predictable.

Irving is going to get a lot of flak for his request to be shipped out of Cleveland (and he already has). As a shoot-first point guard, he has never been accused of being unselfish, and as an outspoken flat Earther, he isn’t exactly known for his judgment either. Nonetheless, Irving is making the right decision and not just because it gives pallid, sun-weary NBA junkies a reason to stay hooked on Twitter in July.

The Cavs have endured a miserable offseason, one that led Irving to say earlier this week that the team was “in a very peculiar place.” Since losing to the Golden State Warriors in the finals last month, Cleveland has re-signed Kyle Korver and brought in journeymen Jose Calderon and Jeff Green and Turkish power forward Cedi Osman. The Timberwolves, meanwhile, acquired all-star Jimmy Butler, while another perennial all-star, Paul George, went to the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’m sure Jeff Green is a nice guy, but I think Cleveland would’ve been better off with … not Jeff Green.

This is all Dan Gilbert’s fault. The Cavaliers owner, whose success in the NBA can be attributed entirely to the fact that Cleveland had the No. 1 pick the year LeBron James decided to turn pro, managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of competence earlier this summer when he refused to extend the contract of well-liked general manager David Griffin. Gilbert then low-balled the team’s top candidate to succeed Griffin, leaving the Cavs to operate without a GM during the draft and the start of free agency. This is how you end up with Jeff Green instead of Jimmy Butler.

Despite their anemic summer, you could’ve penciled in the Kyrie-LeBron-Love Cavs to waltz through the Eastern Conference and to the finals—where they’d get flayed by the Warriors, naturally. Who knows how much Cleveland could have improved its team if its front office had shown a soupçon of managerial proficiency? Why reward this haplessness with loyalty? LeBron honored his contact during his first stint with the Cavs and Gilbert still called him a “coward” and questioned his moral fiber in a frothy missive written in comic sans. If Kyrie Irving’s path to fulfillment leads to misery for Dan Gilbert, then all the better.

The boss’s awfulness isn’t the only reason it’s logical for Irving to start looking for one-way tickets out of town. James’ departure from Cleveland after his contract expires next year isn’t a sure thing, but—thanks in large part to Captain Comic Sans—it’s looking surer and surer by the day. Irving signed a five-year contract extension with the Cavs in 2014, less than two weeks before James announced, “I’m Coming Home.” Rather than wait to learn his team’s fate via the medium of Sports Illustrated as-told-to feature story—“LeBron James: I’m Coming to My Second Home, the One in Brentwood”—why not escape in advance of the franchise’s likely implosion? Sure, it might be courteous to wait for the man who carried you to a world championship. But would it be so bad to see civility get defenestrated in a league that has gotten exceedingly too chummy and polite?

And besides, there’s an expression regarding the finishing position of nice guys that feels appropriate here. Kyrie Irving is merely following in the footsteps of acerbic superstars of years past. This kind of thing works! Charles Barkley got traded out of Philadelphia in 1992 thanks to his artful tantrums, and he was rewarded with NBA MVP honors and a finals appearance the following season with the Phoenix Suns. When Kobe Bryant asked to be traded to the Chicago Bulls in 2007, Lakers management responded by overhauling the team. The ensuing trades and acquisitions helped them get to three consecutive NBA Finals. Things tend to turn out pretty swell for the squeaky wheels.

Of course, nothing could happen. The Cavs don’t have to trade Kyrie. They could treat us to the most awkward season in NBA history, where every game would be a masterpiece performance of passive-aggressive workplace relations. The steely glances from LeBron would be worth the price of admission alone.

If Irving does get shipped out of Cleveland, reports indicate he wants to play for San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York. He’s not winning a championship on any of those teams (unless Spurs coach Gregg Popovich convinces him to pass more via hypnosis and the Warriors all contract vertigo), but they all offer some pretty fun scenarios. I’m rooting for the Knicks—it’s been more than 50 years since The Twilight Zone’s “Man in the Bottle” episode, and a modern retelling starring Kyrie Irving would teach lots of kids to be careful what they wish for.

No matter what happens, it’s more likely than not that Irving has played the first note of the Cavaliers’ funeral hymnal. It’s hard to imagine the team recovering from whatever slapdash restructuring they’ll be forced to attempt. I also can’t imagine Irving will improve his career by bolting from the best player in the world (a player who also happens to complement his skills perfectly), but it will be a whole lot of fun to watch him try. Plus, it will make Dan Gilbert angry. That should make everyone happy.

*Correction, July 24, 2017: This story originally misstated the year Kyrie Irving hit the shot to win the NBA Finals. It was 2016, not 2015. (Return.)