The Cavaliers have been an unmitigated disaster this season, and we may be seeing just the beginning of the team’s problems if they can’t figure out what to do with their All-Star point guard, Kyrie Irving.
It’s a bit premature to be discussing his status, considering that Cleveland can hang onto him for two more seasons beyond this one without entering into any type of long-term contract extension.
But Irving has underwhelmed with the Cavs despite his popularity and stellar performances on the national stage, so a decision to grant him the max extension that he will likely command appears to be already weighing on the franchise.
From Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
But despite winning MVP honors in New Orleans this year, and the 3-point shootout crown at All-Star Weekend the year before, Irving has struggled to reach the same type of success with the Cavs. In his three seasons, the 21-year-old has spent a total of five days above .500, none of them coming after the second week of the season. That’s more a reflection on his team, but it goes to show what Irving, who is currently ranked ninth among point guards in player efficiency rating at 20.04, has overcome to get uncommon national popularity in a small market like Cleveland.
There are those who even wonder whether Irving is truly worth a maximum-level contract, including some within the Cavs organization. His game has regressed a bit this season, particularly from a leadership standpoint, with his clashes with Dion Waiters making headlines, and it has raised a red flag or two in-house.
And while Irving has said all the right things about staying put in public, it’s no secret that Irving’s camp has been making it known for years now the point guard would like to be elsewhere long term. No matter how much he denies it.
That last part is troubling, since Cleveland isn’t exactly a market or a city where stars will be lining up to come sign long-term deals in free agency. The Cavaliers have to build strong relationships with rookies who will become stars, and prove to them that they can create a stable environment where winning is a real option.
Cleveland has yet to do that, obviously, but to be fair, Irving has seemed to regress this season. It may be the atmosphere, it may be his lack of leadership. But Irving has proven many times, and continued to prove in an MVP performance over All-Star weekend that he can be one of the game’s brightest talents.
The Cavaliers need to determine if he’s willing and able to do the same with them in games that count, and they’ll have at minimum one more season beyond this one before they need to make that decision.