The Spurs are interested in acquiring Kyrie Irving, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday, and it’s mutual: The point guard is reportedly willing to commit to an extension in San Antonio. It’s the Cleveland front office that, like an overprotective future in-law, won't allow this relationship to stomp the glass.
When Irving gave the Cavs a wish list of franchises—San Antonio, Miami, Minnesota, and New York—that he wanted to be traded to, there was no reason to expect owner Dan Gilbert would honor that request. Irving still has two guaranteed years left on his deal, which doesn’t include a no-trade clause; he has little leverage to force anything. As a healthy, 25-year-old, top-10 point guard in the league, the only reason Cleveland may feel dealing Irving is necessary (Woj called his departure “inevitable”) is, as former Cavs GM David Griffin put it, because Irving could “sink the ship from within.” So the Cavs are looking for the most appealing return in the entire NBA, not necessarily just of the four teams Irving wished for—unless, of course, one of those best benefited Cleveland, which is no longer operating under the assumption that LeBron James is a lock to stay in the city after he enters free agency this summer.
The Cavs are looking for a specific type of return, a deal that could replace Irving with talent that entices James and is young enough to begin a “soft rebuild” should he, too, leave. It’s why new GM Koby Altman, per Woj, entertained the idea of trading with the Knicks, lusting after Kristaps Porzingis, and the Timberwolves, considering Andrew Wiggins. But with those players seemingly off-limits for their respective franchises, those talks stalled. The Spurs have no such rising star, only a fully formed one in Kawhi Leonard and the experienced, competent assets that surround him.
Irving’s willingness to commit to an extension makes him all the more valuable to San Antonio, which has spent the last few seasons grappling with the idea that 35-year-old Tony Parker is, in fact, aging. Gregg Popovich is a master at cultivating new talent under the leadership of current starters, keeping the Spurs a perennial model of success. Acquiring Irving would bring the type of instant talent boost to the organization that LaMarcus Aldridge was supposed to. Irving’s value might persuade the Spurs to deal generously—the conundrum, as Wojnarowski mentioned, is whether the Cavs have enough trust in James to re-sign that they’ll accept anything other than an investment for the long-term future. Parker, Aldridge, and Danny Green would mean little on a roster with Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver.
Should the Cavs make this transaction—should Irving get his wish, after all—it likely means that Cleveland holds faith that the kid from Akron will stay. A court shared by Kawhi and Kyrie is a wonderful thought, but that’s what it will likely stay. If LeBron recommitted to Cleveland, it’d open the door to a trade, but Irving shouldn't get his hopes up. Neither, it seems, will Cleveland.