Kevin Love

Looking ahead: Who will make Eastern All-Star Team?

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This summer saw an almost unprecedented shift of All-Star level player talent in the NBA — and a lot of it went from the East to the West. Three All-Stars from a year ago — Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Jimmy Butler — all moved from the Eastern Conference to a now stacked Western Conference.

It led to the question: What will the All-Star teams look like?

Here is my best guess, starting with the Eastern Conference (we will get to the West tomorrow).

ALL-STAR STARTERS (two guards, three frontcourt players):

Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)

Comment: These are voted on by a combination of fan, media, and player votes. Irving may not be in the East come the time for All-Star voting as he has asked for a trade, however, as of this writing, he is still a Cavalier, so he will be treated as a member of the East. Three of these starters are the same as a year ago, with Hayward replacing Butler, and I have Thomas beating out one of the Raptors guards to start thanks to a push from Boston fans.

ALL-STAR RESERVES (two guards, three frontcourt players, two wild cards):

John Wall (Washington Wizards)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Comment: These are selected by a vote of the coaches, and this is where players who have strong first halves will be rewarded. Wall and DeRozan could be starters, they will be close with votes, something also true for the Knicks’ Porzingis. I do not have Carmelo Anthony on this list not because he could be traded to the West, but because as his game fades with age other players will pass him. Putting Embiid on the team implies he’s healthy enough to play at least 40 of the 50ish games played up to that point, which may be more wish than hope from me (and Sixers fans), but I’ll bet it happens. I think we’ll see Drummond take a step forward this season, so I have him making it. There are a host of other guards who could bump Beal or others off this list with strong first halves — Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, to name a couple — last year’s East lineup was guard heavy for that reason.

Head Coach: Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers). Remember, Boston’s Brad Stevens coached in 2017, so he is ineligible this time around, and even if Irving is traded I’m not sure any team is higher in the standings than the Cavaliers. It is possible Scott Brooks in Washington could slide in here if his team comes together and Cleveland stumbles, same with Dwane Casey in Toronto, but the bet here is Lue gets the call again.

Report: Suns willing to trade Eric Bledsoe, Dragan Bender, first-round pick for Kyrie Irving

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We keep hearing whom the Suns won’t trade for Kyrie Irving.

Not Josh Jackson. Not Devin Booker.

What would Phoenix trade for the Cavaliers point guard?

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN:

The Phoenix Suns are the team to watch on Kyrie Irving. Now, they won’t offer Josh Jackson plus that Miami 2018 first and Eric Bledsoe. I’m told they’ll do Bledsoe. They’ll do the pick. Plus, Dragan Bender.

That’s not a bad offer value-wise.

Bledsoe, though a downgrade from Irving, is a good starting point guard when healthy. Bender, the No. 4 pick last year, is still just a teenager who was expected to be somewhat of a project. And that Heat first-round pick – top-seven protected in 2018 then unprotected in 2019 – could prove quite valuable.

But there are reasons Cleveland hasn’t pulled the trigger.

Bender looked out of place in the NBA last season. The Cavs’ title window is open right now, and they don’t have a clear way to develop him. Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Kevin Love, LeBron James and Jeff Green should leave very little playing time available at center and power forward. Even if Bender comes along more quickly than anticipated, his strengths – passing and shooting – matter less on a team that would never need to put the ball in his hands in key moments.

Jackson, on the other hand, could help the Cavaliers on the wing, where they need more depth. Though just a rookie, Jackson is actually older – and projects to be more ready – than Bender. Jackson’s defense would help a team with major deficiencies on that end.

But there are also reasons the Suns are offering Bender instead of Jackson.

Irving is locked up for just two more years, didn’t include Phoenix among his preferred destinations and won’t commit to anything beyond his current contract. The Suns might not win enough in the next two seasons with Irving to justify trading Jackson (under team control for five more seasons, though likely far longer if he pans out).

These teams sound close enough that a deal sounds plausible.

Maybe Phoenix relents and includes Jackson. After all, acquiring Irving is a special opportunity.

Perhaps, the Cavs loop in a third team and flip Bender for someone who fits better in Cleveland. But three-team trades are always difficult to pull off.

Still, it sounds as if the Cavaliers and Suns are at least in the ballpark of each other – something that can’t be said of other teams in the Irving sweepstakes.

Rumor: Nuggets won’t trade Jamal Murray and Gary Harris for Kyrie Irving

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The Cavaliers and Nuggets seemingly share a mutual belief, accurate or not, that the Pacers backed out of a three-way trade that would have included Paul George and Kevin Love.

Could Cleveland (which is still bitter about the missed opportunity) and Denver (which should be thrilled it signed Paul Millsap outright rather than trading assets for Love) connect on a trade that actually happens?

The Nuggets are a logical destination for Kyrie Irving, who has requested a trade.

Denver’s primary playmaker is a center, Nikola Jokic. Irving, oft-criticized for lacking full point-guard skills, could fit well with him  offensively.

Plus, the Nuggets have plenty of other intriguing assets worthy of Irving. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris stand out. Wilson Chandler and Will Barton could help make salaries match and upgrade the Cavs’ wing depth. Denver also has all its first-round picks.

Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

I hear Denver will not give up Murray and Harris in a deal.

Are the Nuggets refusing to trade Murray and Harris in a package – or is neither player available, even separately? Again, this is the type of detail that gets clouded as trade negotiations get leaked.

Both Murray and Harris would be a high price to pay for Irving, but Irving is more valuable than each individually. Even though Irving is unwilling to provide assurances beyond his current contract, which he can opt out of in two years, Denver is good enough to capitalize on his talent right now. The Nuggets can assess how much they value the present vs. the future, but with Millsap and Jokic, this is a team ready to make noise.

If Denver isn’t willing to trade Murray and Harris for Irving, OK. But if the Nuggets aren’t willing to trade Murray or Harris – and Jokic looks even more untouchable – for Irving, I don’t see how a deal gets done.

Report: Kyrie Irving not ready to commit to any team that trades for him

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Kyrie Irving is the rarely available young star who’s actually on the trade market.

But he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. Then what? It’s an important question any team considering trading with the Cavaliers must assess.

Don’t expect much clarity.

Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer:

I’m told Irving is not about to commit to any team at this point. He has two seasons left on his contract and wants to keep his options open.

Commit by signing an extension or commit by verbally assuring his new team he’ll re-sign? There’s a huge difference, but details like that often get lost in the trade-rumor grapevine.

The largest extension Irving could sign within six months of a trade is one year, $21,104,148. By contrast, Irving’s max salary if he opts out in 2019-20 projects to be about $32 million.

That’d be a large income drop while granting only one additional year of team control.

Six months after being traded, Irving could sign a three-year extension worth $73,361,218 ($24,453,739 annually). If he waits until July, he could sign a four-year extension worth $101,437,733 ($25,359,433 annually).

By contrast, if Irving plays out his contract then opts out in 2019, his max salary projects to be about $188 million over five years ($38 million annually) if he re-signs or $139 million over four years ($35 million annually) if he signs elsewhere.

So, there’s large incentive for Irving to forgo an extension. Anything larger than the one-year, $21,104,148 extension would require trust between Irving and the trading team, anyway.

Would Irving commit to re-signing after his contract expired, a la Kevin Love when Cleveland traded for him in 2014? Maybe not. Even if he did, it’d be non-binding. And a lot can change in two years, no matter the stated plan now.

But potential trade partners would still prefer that assurance. It’s easier to trade significant assets for Irving if he at least says he’d plan to re-sign. Irving reportedly told the Cavaliers he’d prefer a trade to the Knicks, Heat, Spurs and Timberwolves. That’s a clear flashing signal to teams on – and off – that list. But it’s still not the same as a pledge to re-sign.

It’s just unclear, even with this report, where Irving draws the line. A contract extension always seemed far-fetched, especially now. But would Irving promise to re-sign if the right team is ready to trade for him?

He wants out of Cleveland. We’ll see what he’s willing to do to facilitate a trade.

Kyrie Irving confidant, reportedly: "He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him"

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In the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request – clearly a reaction to LeBron James – I’ve often thought about the above video.

A reporter asked Irving how LeBron has been like a father to him. A clearly flabbergasted Irving responds: “He’s been a great leader for us. I wouldn’t – I have one father. That’s my dad, Drederick Irving.”

LeBron never called himself Irving’s father. LeBron didn’t direct the reporter to ask Irving that question.

But LeBron’s presence, his leadership, how he presents his leadership all led the reporter down that road. Even if LeBron, like the rest of us, would’ve cringed at the question, the mere fact that he plays on the same team as Irving made it so Irving was put into that awkward position.

So, there may or may not be personal animosity between Irving and LeBron. There could still be a disconnect between the Cavaliers’ biggest stars.

Stephen A. Smith of The Undefeated:

“Kyrie isn’t saying he’s better than LeBron and should be seen that way,” a close confidant of Irving’s told me. “He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him … treating him like he’s the child and LeBron’s the father or big brother he’s supposed to look up to.

“Kyrie knows he’s a franchise-caliber talent. He wants to be treated like it. And he’s tired of hearing about what LeBron needs, and he’s damn sure tired of hearing LeBron sound like he always needs more. As if the crew they have isn’t enough.”

Is this about LeBron repeatedly saying the Cavs needed another point guard last season? He was clearly talking about a backup for Irving, not replacing Irving. Perhaps, Irving or someone close to him took it differently?

Or maybe LeBron makes even more noise behind the scenes about needing more.

He doesn’t have enough – not to have a reasonable chance of beating these Warriors. Irving and Kevin Love lead a strong supporting cast, but Golden State is one of the greatest teams of all time. For LeBron to win another title, he needs more. I don’t blame LeBron for pushing for it.

I also understand that – and so much else of what LeBron naturally invites – wearing on Irving.