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On Friday, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported that Kyrie Irving had asked the Cleveland Cavaliers for a trade, wishing to become the focus of an offense and a franchise.
The news came as a shock, as the Cavaliers have been to three straight Finals – winning one championship – and seemed poised to continue their run this season.
However, a bombshell report from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin, and Windhorst on Sunday detailed how Irving became resentful playing behind LeBron James and not receiving, in his eyes, the superstar treatment of some other point guards in the NBA.
According to ESPN, most of Irving’s issues were basketball-related, including that he has tired of playing off the ball while James runs the offense:
“Irving was tired of being Robin to James’ Batman. Tired of having another superstar – even one of the best players of all time – in control of his fate. Yes, he had learned from James in the three seasons they’d played together. Yes, he was appreciative. But Irving felt the time had come to take his destiny into his own hands. He wanted to be the centerpiece of a team, as he thought he was going to be three years ago, when he signed a five-year extension 11 days before James decided to come home.”
There were additional, less basketball-centric issues, too, such as members of James’ inner circle having positions with the team:
“But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity. Irving chafed about how peers such as Damian Lillard and John Wall were the center of their franchises and catered to accordingly.”
As the report notes, Irving also possesses something many stars yearn for: a championship ring. Additionally, Irving averaged more shot attempts than James last season and still had a career high in average points per game.
Some of the fallout seems to have come from the departure of general manager David Griffin, whose contract the Cavs did not renew in June. According to ESPN, Griffin was excellent at managing personalities and egos and often checked in on Irving, aware of Irving’s occasional unhappiness. The Cavs reportedly did not have end-of-season exit meetings, where, as ESPN notes, the team might have become aware of Irving’s increasing desire to leave.
Additionally, in the days after Griffin’s departure, the Cavs began aggressively looking at trades to land either Jimmy Butler or Paul George. According to ESPN, Irving was included in some of the discussed packages, which upset him. According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, before the draft, Irving wanted to be traded to Chicago to play alongside Butler.
However, on draft night, Butler was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and on June 30, George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. According to ESPN, the Cavs, Indiana Pacers, and Denver Nuggets at one point had agreed upon a deal to send George to the Cavs, but the Pacers backed out at the last minute.
All of this tumult – plus the lingering rumors of James’ potential exit next summer – led Irving to tell Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in a July 7 meeting that he wanted out, the report said.
According to ESPN, the Cavs feel confident going forward. Irving has tremendous trade value, and the Cavs plan to approach the situation slowly and cautiously. If they handle a potential trade the right way, they could both get back a win-now piece to appease James and perhaps a future asset should the team enter rebuilding mode.
When a deal might get done is unclear, but for now, all signs point to the end of the Irving-James Cavaliers era.