This offseason in the NBA promises to be one of the most unpredictable in the history of the league. Top players such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony may switch squads after opting out of their contracts. Kevin Love is one of many who has a desire to be traded to a championship-worthy squad. It seems evident that many of the top players have the desire to be in a win-now situation. Kyrie Irving, after signing a nice $90 million extension, is the exception to the rule; instead, one of the top point guards in the league appears to be in it for the long haul in wanting to help develop a high-caliber team.
The 2013-2014 season was an interesting one for the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the first time since LeBron James left in 2010, Cleveland had an opportunity to make the playoffs; however, despite many points in the season where they crept near the eight spot in the Eastern Conference, ultimately, they ended up five games out of the eighth spot taken by the Atlanta Hawks. On the plus side, Cleveland increased their win total by nine games this past season, which is a major improvement. One of the most significant reasons for the change was the availability of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving who managed to play in 71 games this past season, compared to the previous season’s 59.
It helped leaps and bounds to have Irving on the court the majority of the season. Yes, the surging point guard saw a bit of a drop off; however, his presence on the court will always give the Cavaliers a winning chance on the court. Considering it was his third season and the point guard still has not made the playoffs, he very well could have done what Kevin Love is currently doing, stating that he will not sign a contract extension. Instead, Irving, much like LeBron James earlier in his career, wants to help Cleveland bring a championship home down the road. If he had his choice, he could have been picky and stayed only until his contract runs out in 2016/2017. Instead, Cleveland is refusing to let another star player skip town.
Additionally, it helps Irving when his franchise trusts him enough to garner himself a hefty contract that would be difficult for one to refuse. Irving sees a possibility in Cleveland. Last season his team grew leaps and bounds from the cellar of the Central Division. Yes, small forward Luol Deng will be leaving the team, and it is possible for starting center Spencer Hawes to leave as well. However, Cleveland still has Dion Waiters (15.9 ppg) and Tristan Thompson (11.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg). Additionally, they managed to draft the top pick in the draft Andrew Wiggins, a player who will fit in perfectly in place of Deng. Last season, the Kansas swingman averaged 17.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.2 spg and 1 bpg. As such, if he lives up to expectations he may serve as an excellent right hand man as he is an athletic forward who can do one thing the Cavaliers lacked last season — play defense.
Based on the growth Cleveland has shown since Irving was picked up by them three years ago, he has trust in ownership to build a solid core around him. This is why he is staying and wants to get better the old fashion way by fostering development as a squad. At the same time, Cleveland also has the flexibility this offseason to sign others to the club who want to play with the blossoming point guard.
Currently, Cleveland only has $32 million spent in cap space. If they spend wisely and entice players based on improvement from this season, they have the likelihood of signing players such as shooting guards Gordon Hayward and Jordan Crawford along with center Marcin Gortat and Greg Monroe. Most likely small forwards are off the table unless it is a bench player simply because it is the position that Wiggins plays. Furthermore, as much as Cleveland would love to bring LeBron James back, it is not going to happen. There are two things LeBron wants, and they are to win now and to get a max contract, neither of which Cleveland can provide. More importantly, James will not play for Cleveland as long as owner Dan Gilbert, who had a nasty split with the now four-time MVP, remains in charge.
Irving does not need LeBron James. He has begun to prove that if he can stay healthy, he is another player that can lead a team. All Irving needs is a solid group of role players to assist him and newly-appointed coach David Blatt.
Whether Cleveland can become a playoff team next year is anybody’s guess. Certainly with the strides the team made this season and with a couple of blossoming guards on the squad, Cleveland may be an attractive team for free agents, particularly now that its star player is locked in. Kyrie Irving signing a contract extension and being in for the long haul is something to respect, especially in today’s modern game where players jump ship with a blink of an eye. Now the young man needs to prove he can raise his game and cause Cleveland to ascend towards the top of the Eastern Conference and the NBA once again.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey