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Who Are the Dark-Horse Candidates to Snag Kyrie Irving?

The Thunder came out of nowhere to grab Paul George. Who could do the same for Kyrie?

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Sam Presti watches rom-coms. How do I know? Approximately 67 percent of rom-coms feature A Famous Person falling in love with An Ordinary Person, and those all include some version of the same scene: Paparazzi wait in front of a building (office, apartment, studio) that the Famous Person needs to leave unnoticed. Luckily, the Ordinary Person has the grounded understanding of the world to know that he (it’s always a he) can get her (it’s always a her) out the back way.

That’s how Sam Presti acquired Paul George from the Pacers. The Thunder swept the All-Star away from all the front offices that were competing with each other out front — Cleveland, Boston, Phoenix.

Now Kyrie Irving is reportedly requesting to leave the Cavs. He’s also just a player, standing in front of Dan Gilbert, asking him to trade him. But Kyrie is in a trickier situation than was George, who has one year of team control left on his contract. Irving won’t be able to become a free agent until 2019. The Cavaliers don’t necessarily have to trade him, though with the testiness between him and LeBron James, it may not be much of a choice for much longer.

If Irving does go, he’ll have no say where, since his contract does not include a no-trade clause. That didn’t stop Irving from giving the Cavs a wish list of destinations — Minnesota, San Antonio, Miami, or New York — and reports indicate that some of those suitors are realistic for Cleveland. But any team is on the table, much like it was for the Pacers. Oklahoma City came out of nowhere to grab PG-13 — who could be the Thunder of the Kyrie race?

Los Angeles Clippers

The pattern the Clippers have fallen into year after year (unsuccessful postseason due to season-ending injury after unsuccessful postseason due to season-ending injury) appears ready to break after a hectic summer. Not because of health — the newly maxed Blake Griffin isn’t even guaranteed to be ready for the season — but because a playoff entry isn’t such a clear guarantee without Chris Paul. The Point God’s departure changed the structure of the team, making Los Angeles one of the few Western Conference squads without a star point guard.

Patrick Beverley will likely start in his place, with the only other options being Austin Rivers and Point Blake. Adding Irving would make the Clippers contenders again in this elevated Western Conference, though his on-court identity is much different from CP3’s. Irving is an injection of instant offense, but isn’t equipped to fill the passing ache that Paul leaves behind (though Doc Rivers seems convinced there will be more ball movement without him).

As for what the return could be for Cleveland, the Clippers have reportedly been shopping DeAndre Jordan this summer. That might appeal to the Cavs, who struggled to find an advantage on the boards in the playoffs (even with Tristan Thompson), and could use the defensive boost. Jordan’s contract could be up after this year, just like LeBron James’s; Kyrie has two years left before his player option kicks in. Whereas Cleveland might need to start rebuilding after this season, the Clippers need to find stability again after maxing Griffin until 2022.

Milwaukee Bucks

Two good words (courtesy of Reddit user Barnhard): UNCLE BREW.

Two bad words: Same conference.

It’s the most popular justification (there aren’t many) for the Pacers ultimately settling for Victor Oladipo and his Large Adult Contract: Moving George to the Cavs or the Celtics could have meant seeing him stomp Indiana’s fire out personally on the way to the playoffs, and that may have proved enough for the Pacers to send George west. The same logic could apply to Irving, which is unfortunate for the Bucks.

Kyrie would immediately elevate nearly any team. But a young, talented group like Milwaukee with a sore spot at the point? He could take the Bucks from a first-round out to the most exciting squad in the East. Irving would once again be on a court where he isn’t expected to be the top facilitator, as Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged a team-high 5.4 assists last season. (That figure does fall short of LeBron James’s average, though falling short of LeBron James is generally unavoidable.)

Building a worthwhile return for Cleveland is another thing. The front office would either need to pair with a third team, or package away some of its highest ceiling in players like Khris Middleton or Jabari Parker. It may be a stretch, but it’s too tantalizing a possibility to rule out.

Dallas Mavericks

For Dallas to put up a competitive offer for Irving, the franchise would have to offer a future to Cleveland. And even then, the Cavaliers’ front office will only listen if it believes in the LeBron Gone rumors.

If this were to happen, it could look a lot like what the Clips got for Chris Paul — rather than a star, a spread. If James leaves of his own accord, and the Kevin Love bidding continues to draw low enthusiasm, then Irving is the last Cleveland asset that will draw a major return. From the Mavs, that’s a couple of future first-rounders (the franchise has all its firsts available going forward), sweeteners, and the kicker, Dennis Smith Jr.

No one in Dallas, including the front office, wants to see Smith Jr. go, CBS Sports’s Mike Fisher reported. The move only makes sense if the team is focused on the playoffs now, but owner Mark Cuban said this offseason that the Mavs are “rebuilding.” Though Cuban said that was only the case because Dallas was in the Western Conference — if Cleveland does want to push Kyrie out of the East, then the Mavs would have yet another competitor to deal with in their own loaded conference. Unless the Mavs snag him themselves. After all, teams used to winning often get impatient in a hurry (this season marked the first time Dallas finished under .500 since 2000), especially championship-winning ones that haven’t gotten past the first round in six years.