The full list of winners and losers borne by Kyrie Irving‘s desire to be traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers is a long way from being decided. Even if the team fulfills his request, how the Cavs fare without him, what they get in return and what Irving does with his next team will take months, maybe even years, to play out.
There is one name, though, already on the winners’ side of the ledger: LeBron James.
Up until last Friday, when ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, citing anonymous sources, reported Irving had told owner Dan Gilbert he wanted out of Cleveland, the crosshairs of nationwide conversation had been on James and his rumored interest in leaving the franchise next summer. The consensus among several league executives contacted by B/R was that James will indeed opt out of his contract and head elsewhere, most likely to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers, to develop his post-career interest in Hollywood’s TV and film industry.
The focus was on how James’ intentions were impacting the Cavs’ attempts to add talent, how the psyche of the team might be affected during the season with its biggest star having one foot out the door and what such a move—his second exodus from his hometown team—would do to James’ legacy.
All that has taken a backseat to the drama surrounding Irving. Now it’s Irving who is having his character questioned for wanting to leave a team that has gone to three consecutive Finals and won a championship. Now speculation concerns how the Cavs should deal with Irving’s disaffection, not James’.
According to Windhorst, while Irving informed several teammates of his request, James was not one of them, and that LeBron was blindsided by the idea that Irving was unhappy. Just like the midseason firing of David Blatt two years ago and the dismissal of David Griffin this summer, James and/or sources close to him have disavowed he had any knowledge or influence on the decision.
While it’s hard to believe in those instances that a player with James’ prestige and strong opinions wouldn’t at least be informed, the idea that Irving would tell both owner Dan Gilbert and teammates several weeks ago he wanted out and James would be kept in the dark is even harder to fathom. Especially since an ESPN report also said Irving considered making his request a year ago, shortly after the Cavs claimed their lone title. Is it really conceivable Irving could’ve been that frustrated for that long and James would be completely unaware of it?
No wonder those around Irving suspect someone in James’ camp was the source who leaked Irving’s trade request, as ESPN also has reported. Who benefits from that becoming public knowledge? Not Irving, for obvious reasons. Not the Cavs, since they’ve already had to deal with several negative developments this summer.
First, it was Griffin, who presided over the achievements of the last three years, not being retained. Then it was Chauncey Billups, despite having no prior front-office experience, turning down a five-year offer to be team president. And, of course, the rumors of James’ uncertain future in Cleveland—rumors that, unlike other speculation concerning him, he has yet to deny or address via social media or anywhere else.
The Cavs also undoubtedly would have preferred to work on moving Irving without the other 29 teams knowing they have to or risk having an unhappy star the entire season.
So there’s only one person helped by the news about Irving: James. Not only does this report shift the spotlight off his desire to leave, it offers one more potential reason why he’d want to go.
James denied a report by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith that he is unhappy with Irving’s request and “would be tempted to beat his ass,” given the opportunity. James responded on Twitter:
A league source familiar with James’ mindset told B/R that, as of Monday, the news that Irving would like to leave has provided a welcome boost of motivation, not only for James, but for the entire Cavaliers organization. It is motivation for James to prove he can win without Irving, and motivation for the Cavs that might have been waning after losing two of three times to the Golden State Warriors, who then added to their arsenal via free agency. Irving has provided both a reason and a means to add fresh, hungry talent to a core that has stayed intact for the last three years.
And don’t miss this part of James’ tweet about Smith’s report: “#EnjoyingMySummer.”
There were plenty of reasons for that not to be the case in June and early July. But now that all the attention is on Irving, it makes perfect sense.
Ric Bucher is a senior NBA writer for Bleacher Report.
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