Two megastars — Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving — are on the well-reported trading block. While there are lots of rumors, what makes sense regarding deals for these two NBA scoring machines? Glad you asked, because Three Man Weave has answers to four burning questions regarding the pair.
Anthony has been linked to potential deals in Houston, OKC, Cleveland and even Portland. Irving has reported suitors from all around the league. Brad Botkin, James Herbert and Matt Moore break down the possibilities.
Should the Cavs trade Kyrie Irving, and why?
Botkin: Yes. Once a player this plainly expresses his desire to leave, chances are he’s going to leave, so you may as well get ahead of it. Irving’s value will likely never be higher than it is now, and if the Cavs keep him through next season, they’ll lose a lot of leverage going into his walk year in 2019. Look how fleeced the Pacers got under similar circumstances in the Paul George trade.
Also, the Cavs’ top priority is convincing LeBron James to re-sign next summer, and the simple truth is that with no cap space and no picks available for trade until 2021, they have no way of improving without trading Irving. They tried to move Love; that didn’t work. It would be hard to get a return that would make the Cavs significantly better than they are with Irving, but at the very least it would represent effort in the ongoing mission to assure LeBron the franchise isn’t stagnant.
Herbert: Yes. There’s no indication Irving is about to soften his stance about wanting a trade, and there’s no sense keeping him around if he’d rather be elsewhere. Of course, this assumes that the Cavaliers can find a trade that makes sense for them. They should be trying to increase their chances of knocking off the Golden State Warriors next season and acquire a young player who can be a part of their core for the foreseeable future with or without James. Trading Irving, their most valuable non-James asset, is their only real way to accomplish these things, though they certainly have less leverage now that the whole league knows he wants out.
These “should Player X be traded?” questions are always more about what the team gets in return. If Cleveland can’t get a good starting point guard, a talented young player and a proven wing, then it doesn’t have to make the move right now. The Cavs need to create a bidding war and trade Irving as soon as their needs are met.
Moore: Yes. The demon is out of the box. There have been too many leaks, too many shots across the bow, and Irving’s intention is perfectly clear. Even if the Cavs were to get Irving and James to work out their differences, it’s probably a matter of time before Irving feels like he wants a bigger role again. There’s no way for Irving to be the player he feels he is on a team with James.points to irreconcilable differences. Irving wants more for his career than he can be with James, who is the best player in the league and one of the all-time best. If Irving’s not on board to do what it takes to play with James, and a chance to contend for championships, it’s time to move on.
And consider this: If James leaves next summer, the Cavs would get nothing for him in return. You’re not trading James ahead of time (most likely). This presents an opportunity to get the picks and young talent the Cavs need to rebuild. And, while Irving is a spectacular one-on-one scorer and an explosive offensive talent, he’s a poor defender and mediocre playmaker. If the Cavs can find a way to add a starting-caliber point (say, Eric Bledsoe) along with future assets, they provide themselves a chance to convince James to stay and set up a Plan B. Most every outcome suggests dealing Irving is the best play on the board.
Can Irving be the best player on a great team, and why?
Botkin: Yes, but it would take the right team. Outside of LeBron and maybe Kevin Durant, there probably isn’t anyone in the league capable of taking a team into the championship conversation without at least one fellow star, if not two, next to him. You put Irving on, say, the Timberwolves, and yeah, there’s a plausible scenario in which he’s the team’s best player on any given night, and that team — with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns as fellow stars and core defenders to cover for Irving on that end — would have the potential to be great.
On the slip side, you put Irving on the Knicks, and no, he’s not going to single-handedly change that franchise on the court. A really interesting case study here would be the Clippers. They have All-Stars in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, but still a need for a true No. 1 option. That would be a real opportunity for Irving to get a realistic shot at proving himself as a go-to player on a potentially good-to-great team.
Herbert: There’s a mountain of evidence that the Kyrie Show isn’t particularly effective, but he could be the biggest name in an ensemble cast. Think about the 2011 Chicago Bulls team that won 62 games when Derrick Rose won MVP or the Kyle Lowry-led Toronto Raptors team that won 56 games two years ago. If Irving were on a team that had great defense, depth and chemistry, there may not be any problems with him as the No. 1 guy. If he were to wind up in a similar situation to the one he was in with the Cavaliers before James came back, though, it could get ugly quickly.
As captivating as Irving is with the ball, as unstoppable as he is one-on-one, he does not create tons of open looks for teammates or help his team defensively. Maybe if he were thrust into a James Harden-like role with good finishers and secondary creators around him, he prove a better facilitator than he’s shown. But in his six years in the league, he has yet to demonstrate he can be the absolute focal point of something special.
Moore: Yes. After Stephen Curry, Irving is the best pure scorer in the NBA. His handles are out of this world, his finishing ability is second to none and he’s capable of knocking down the biggest shots. Having a scorer who can take over games for long stretches and deliver in key moments is the piece some really good teams are missing, and one that could get those clubs to the top tier. If you build the perfect team around Irving, it could be truly great.
Here’s the catch: It’s more difficult to build around Irving than most any other superstar. You need a roster that can knock down 3-pointers late in the shot clock, that can defend at an elite — not high — but at an elite level at positions 2-4 with the versatility to hide Irving. And you need a secondary playmaker on the wing who makes others better without demanding the ball — because it will be in Irving’s hands all the time. If you do all that, and effectively build a team similar to the 2008-11 Los Angeles Lakers, winning a title is still very difficult because other teams have better formulas. It’s possible to build a winner around Irving, but the ceiling doesn’t figure to be championship level — though you’d sell a lot of tickets.
Where does Anthony make the most sense?
Botkin: Oklahoma City. There have been reports the sides have been circling each other (whatever that means), and if the two can indeed find a way to hook up, Oklahoma City would become an immediate title contender. That’s not hyperbole. Melo could become the Olympic version of himself, which is his best version.
Melo would slot in perfectly as a stretch 4, with plenty of versatile defenders around him in George, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams to more than compensate for his inadequacies at that end. Basically, he would just have to score, and would be able to do so without being the defense’s main priority. OKC already is the best-equipped team from a defensive standpoint to compete with the Warriors. You add Melo’s scoring to George and Russell Westbrook, and you’ve really got something.
Herbert: Houston. Anthony wants to go to a stable organization and he wants a chance to compete for a championship. The Rockets are a perfect fit, and their roster complements him if he’s ready to return to the role that served him so well in 2012-13, and on the international stage. On this team, with Chris Paul and Harden as the primary playmakers and Trevor Ariza guarding the opposition’s best wing, Anthony can start at power forward and feast on open looks. It is time for Anthony to get rid of the burden of trying to bring a franchise back to relevance and instead fit in on a team trying to build on a 55-win season.
This assumes that Houston will be able to acquire Anthony without surrendering much more than Ryan Anderson and a draft pick or two. The way the roster is constructed, that kind of deal would make the Rockets one of the most dangerous and balanced teams in the league. But if it were simple to complete something like that, it would have been done already.
Moore: New York. Sometimes it’s best if two complicated viewpoints are left to be complicated together. If Melo goes to Houston and doesn’t adapt to being a spot-up shooter and third wheel, that’s going to get ugly. Many have faith he’ll do so. However, it’s not based on nothing we’ve seen from him in an NBA context — but only in the Olympics, a drastically different setting. If he goes to OKC, the problem is even further enhanced. Westbrook had the highest usage in the NBA (41.7 percent) last season, and isn’t the playmaker that Harden or Paul is. OKC wants to convince George to stay next summer, and Anthony threatens PG’s shots and role. Anthony also is a non-defender who would share the floor with Enes Kanter on bench units, and that lineup would bleed like a stuck pig.
We can talk ourselves into any potential trade destination, but Anthony is a difficult roster fit, and that’s been proven time and time again. His teams in Denver thrived around him, but more as bustling city built around an individual offensive spire. Though the team was effective, it wasn’t because he was helping his teammates.
The best place outside of New York is Cleveland because of James. the only player who Anthony would have to admit is a level above him. But what becomes of Love? At this stage, Anthony is best suited to play power forward. That’s the only position Love can occupy — he cannot handle center duties and isn’t quick enough to guard wings.
Consequently, the best option remains a complicated — if not bad — one for Anthony. He should stay in New York, close to his son, paving the way for the development and emergence of Kristaps Porzingis.
Who makes a bigger impact, Melo or Irving, wherever they land?
Botkin: Melo, because he’s still an elite scorer. Obviously Kyrie is, too, but the difference is Kyrie wants to be the No. 1 guy. Melo has tried that career route, and failed, and appears ready to play as a secondary option on a team like Houston, or Oklahoma City, or Cleveland. Say what you will about Melo’s shortcomings as a guy you can build a franchise around, but as second or third option, particularly in a wide-open offense like Houston’s, or on a team like OKC with a ton of defensive support around him, he is still terrifying.
If Kyrie were to end up with a team like Minnesota, or Boston, that answer may be different. And if both stay put, clearly Kyrie will have more of an impact next season. But if Melo ends up leaving New York, which seems likely — and given his no-trade clause — we pretty much know he’ll be on a really good team next season. Can’t say the same thing for Kyrie. A lot of people are going to be really surprised by how good Melo can still be.
Herbert: Tough to say without knowing where Irving ends up, but Anthony gets the nod because of his reported preference to go to Houston. If he does reunite with Mike D’Antoni, this would be the most interesting experiment in the NBA. Everybody knows how effective Anthony can be in a pace-and-space system, and having three guys who can create offense the way Paul, Harden and Anthony can would put pressure on even the league’s very best defensive teams, Warriors included. That’s just a ton of firepower, and if that trio stumbles into great chemistry, the Rockets could be legitimately scary.
Moore: Irving. He is capable of playing defense, but chooses not to. He’s capable of growing as a passer and playmaker, but chooses not to. But he has learned how to coexist next to other stars, and how to sacrifice to win.
Anthony is not a good defensive player, plus he chooses to not give effort. He’s never going to be a playmaker; it runs counter to everything he is as a player. And he’s never learned to really coexist and empower stars next to him. There isn’t a capable star player, outside of Porzingis, who hasn’t felt pushed out because of Anthony’s style.
There’s also a notable difference in efficiency. Anthony had a 48.8 effective field goal percentage last season; Irving was at 53.8 percent. Even making the allowance that Irving was helped by playing with James, we’re talking about two players who seek and take difficult shots, but Irving is much more efficient. If you’re going to have an ISO-heavy, one-on-one, always-look-to-score Black Mamba clone on your team in 2017, he better be efficient. Between these two, that’s Irving. Bottom line: Considering all the big stars moved this summer (Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul), neither Irving nor Anthony will have as big an impact next season, if moved — even if Anthony were to contribute to a winning team or if Irving puts up incredible numbers.