Unless Carmelo Anthony gets traded, the storm that has been the NBA offseason has likely settled and the new landscape is clear, at least for now. We’ve seen blockbuster trades occurring at alarming rates and some have been absolutely jaw-dropping.
About two-and-a-half months ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers fell in five games to the offensive juggernaut known as Golden State, and they began to look for trades to improve the roster. It seemed as if everybody but LeBron James and Kyrie Irving qualified as trade bait, but that soon changed.
Irving moves on
Reports have come out saying that Cleveland was using Kyrie in trade talks and almost struck a deal on draft night that would have sent him to Phoenix and in turn netted the Cavs Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 overall pick. Cleveland then was going to send the pick to Indiana for star small forward Paul George.
The trade fell through when Cavs owner Dan Gilbert told LeBron he would sign off on the deal only if James would give him confirmation he’d be a Cavalier long term. LeBron did no such thing and that was the end of that. Or so we thought. Irving got a whiff of the situation and came to the conclusion he wanted out and made it known to management by requesting a trade.
Fast-forward a little over a month later and Irving is now a member of the Boston Celtics with Isaiah Thomas going the other way. What may be the most interesting aspect of this situation is not that Irving is on a different team, but rather that reports came out from his camp saying he no longer wanted to play alongside James.
How could this be though? All we’ve heard over the years is how players want to team up with King James because of his knowledge of the game and how much easier he makes it for his teammates to flourish. Why would someone entering the prime of his career want to leave arguably one of the best players of all time?
It’s not like Cleveland has ever been confused with the big markets of New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston or Boston, but the city has definitely been a center of media attention over the last few years with this Cavs serving as perennial Finals participants.
Reports on the Kyrie situation have indicated that one of the reasons he requested a trade was because he supposedly wanted to be “The Man” for a different organization. This could mean a myriad of things. The most constant speculation about this was that the 25-year-old was saying he wants to be the best player for a team not named Cleveland. Kyrie’s camp, however, has said that it's not that he wants to be the best player, but rather that he’s grown tired of being in the shadow of LeBron.
The sad truth is that the city of Cleveland will always revolve around its local boy, even when he’s not a member of the roster. In the four years James played in Miami, the economy in Cleveland nearly crashed and hundreds of businesses went out of business. Since he’s returned, the economy of the city has seen an influx of over $500 million. As popular as Kyrie has become, particularly with the younger crowd, he’ll likely never be able to influence the city, or any city for that matter, the way LeBron can.
Worse than KD and Russ?
Sure, rivalries between teams in the NBA are fun, but player vs. player discord is much more entertaining. We remember how the early 00’s Lakers squad imploded as the two alphas, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, made dis-tracks and tell unpleasant stories about one another in the years following Shaq’s trade to the Miami Heat.
There was also the more recent media frenzy around Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Whether it was the subtle shots they would take at each other through interviews or the social media posts featuring cupcakes, it made for compelling viewing. Even All-Star weekend was consumed by how the pair would play together during the game and if they would even speak. It didn’t look like they would even confront one another as minutes before tip-off Westbrook was seen on the opposite side of the court warming up, away from Durant.
Now, the question is: will LeBron and Kyrie indulge in such pettiness? The answer is still unclear but it would not be surprising if it does come to that. James has shown an ability to provoke on social media, while Irving may also play his part in this hypothetical circus, given he was clearly displeased with his situation in Cleveland and wanted out. Cavs management was under the assumption they could get the two to talk and smooth out the edges of this supposed beef, but that didn't quite work out.
When asked, during his introductory press conference as a Celtic if he had spoken to LeBron during this whole process, Irving confirmed that he hadn’t. You would think after three straight years of playing alongside one another that they would at least reach out and say what was on their minds. That didn't happen, which is a telltale sign that there is bad blood between the pair.
What happens now?
Boston's trip to Cleveland for the first game of the season has gotten a lot more interesting in light of this unexpected saga.
So many things will run through fans' minds as the teams get ready for tip-off, and many of them will center on the Irving-James dynamic. Will they acknowledge each other? Will Kyrie be cheered or booed by the Cleveland faithful? Will he commit a hard foul on LeBron as he attempts to dunk on the whole city of Boston in one play?
The most likely thing that will occur is that they shake hands but little to no words will be shared. You won’t see them chucking it up, talking about all the fun times they’ve had. It's fair to say that it won’t serve as a happy reunion in any sense.
Let us know what you think of this new rivalry in the comments below!