Kyrie Irving‘s trade request last summer reportedly blindsided LeBron James. The quickly emerging narrative that Irving wanted to leave because of LeBron surely didn’t diffuse tension. It reached the point LeBron was reportedly eager for the Cavaliers to trade Irving.
But, according to multiple sources, James ultimately asked the Cavs’ front office not to trade Irving after the request was made known, promising to bridge the apparent gap with him.
According to sources, Irving needs minor knee surgery as a follow to the procedure he underwent during the 2015 Finals to repair his broken knee cap.
According to multiple sources, Irving threatened to sit out the season and have surgery on his knee, convincing Gilbert and Cleveland’s front office that the relationship with Irving was not salvageable.
The Cavs chose to move Irving rather than call his bluff, which upset James, sources said.
It’s so poetic.
What’s far messier is the implicit finger-pointing – yes, more of that – and ass-covering in this report. The agendas at play are thinly veiled.
The Cavaliers look like they’ve lost the Irving trade so far. Isaiah Thomas has been hurt and looks plenty rusty. Jae Crowder is having the worst year of his career. The Nets, whose first-round pick Cleveland acquired from the Celtics, are overachieving.
Nobody wants to take the blame for this mess.
Cavs brass, from owner Dan Gilbert to general manager Koby Altman, sure doesn’t. If Irving is portrayed as a less valuable asset, the return he fetched won’t look quite as underwhelming. The Cavaliers say they were backed fully into a corner with an injured player, and if everyone buys it, maybe they can swing the narrative about Thomas being the only damaged goods in the trade. Perhaps, Irving is on the verge of breaking down – though he’s playing pretty darn well in Boston. It’s a tough sell.
LeBron has the benefit of hindsight. Even if he soured on the trade with foresight, his frustration is lingering because of the results. If he were wrong and the trade looked like a victory for Cleveland, he would quickly forgive the Cavs for not honoring his request to keep Irving. LeBron also has the luxury of nobody knowing the counterfactual. Reality has gone poorly for the Cavaliers. Perhaps, keeping Irving would have gone even worse, with him sitting out the entire season and lowering his trade value while providing no help in Cleveland’s bid to beat the Warriors.
But it matters only so much what blame levied by LeBron is fair. He can become a free agent next summer, and in many ways, his perception matters more than reality. If he were upset with the Cavs defying his request not to trade Irving, why would he be any less upset with the team now that he’s seen how it’s playing out?