Kyrie Irving has been saying he has no intention of leaving the Cavaliers in free agency a lot the last few months, though he’s mostly qualified it slightly by adding the words “right now” into any conversation surrounding the topic.
Making its way around the Web right now is Irving’s two-year-old answer to the question, posed by a child during a recent community appearance (as seen in the video clip below, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sntinel). Back then, with the LeBron James scar much more fresh, Irving was much more straightforward about his plans.
The question, of course, had to be phrased for the most dramatic effect possible.
“Are you going to leave us like LeBron left us?” asked one of the children, who seemed innocent enough.
“It’s a great question,” was Irving’s response. “Um, no, I won’t leave. I’m not leaving.”
It’s worth pointing out that Irving can’t leave anytime soon, at least not if the Cavaliers want him to stay. The team has a contract option that they will most certainly pick up for next season, and can retain the right to match any offer Irving may receive as a restricted free agent the year after that by simply extending him a qualifying offer.
If Irving continues on his current trajectory, he’ll be in line for a max contract from the Cavaliers that will begin in the 2015-16 season, and go for a minimum of three years (if Irving negotiates an opt-out clause). We’re a long way away from him even having the ability to leave Cleveland, but it probably doesn’t hurt for fans in the city to hear him say he’s going to stay anyway. No matter how old the footage is.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.