The news of Derrick Rose‘s intent to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers is no surprise, even if a 28-year-old former MVP accepting a minimum salary is a bit of a shock, because the three-time All-Star point guard and the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions circled each other for some time.
What was surprising, though, was the verbiage respected Cleveland.com Cavaliers beat reporter Joe Vardon used to depict the negotiations that led to Rose’s agreement on a one-year, $2.1 million deal — language that LeBron James took exception to as whispers of his feud with Irving were growing louder:
Derrick Rose and the Cavaliers agreed to a one-year deal for $2.1 million contract Monday after spending the day together, discussing how the team will return to the Finals without Kyrie Irving.
Rose, 28, the 2011 NBA MVP whose career has been hampered by knee injuries, will come to the Cavs looking for his first trip to the Finals after eight pro seasons. He’s also looking at a potential starting spot in the same lineup with LeBron James, now that Irving has asked for a trade and James is eager to see him off.
Most jarring was Vardon’s assertion that “James is eager to see [Irving] off.” Perhaps we shouldn’t be stunned that we’re here, given Stephen A. Smith’s reporting the past few days — that Irving’s camp believes James leaked news of the trade request and that James’ camp believes LeBron would “be tempted to beat” Kyrie’s “a**” over resulting perception that the four-time MVP is a bad teammate.
James took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to deny both Vardon and Smith’s reporting, a step the Cavaliers superstar had stopped short of amid rumors he will leave Cleveland in 2018 free agency:
James’ tweets give Cleveland hope that an attempt at resolving the conflict could be in the works. Although, we’ve come to learn over the past six months that hashtags about fake news on Twitter aren’t always genuine. If there is fire behind all this smoke — if Irving is traded and James leaves town next summer — LeBron will not escape the perception that he burned Cleveland again, #NotFacts be damned.
It’s almost unfathomable that a legendary talent whose stated goal has always been his next ring would be “eager” to part ways with a player who he cited as one of his reasons for coming home in 2014, who he called “the superhero to my kids ” this past season, and who scored 78 points in what should have been two series-tying wins over the Golden State Warriors juggernaut in the 2017 Finals.
Whether James wants Irving traded or not, though, the reality of the situation is that the Cavaliers are at least entertaining the idea of moving on without Irving on the roster, according to multiple reports.
Vardon also reported, “Irving’s request to be traded was a topic of discussion between Rose and the Cavs, sources said, though they declined to say if Rose was promised a starting job.” It certainly makes sense that an ex-MVP who has started all but one of the 470 games he’s played in his eight-year NBA career would want to know how news of Irving’s trade request would affect his playing time next season. And this harmonizes with what The Vertical’s Shams Charania first reported on Monday night:
Rose and the Cavaliers have discussed parameters for Rose to play as a starter and reserve, but the three-time NBA All-Star has focused on filling whichever role the franchise requires.
The Cavs planning for another Finals run with Rose and with or without Irving is certainly eyebrow-raising. It may be true, and it’s absolutely necessary to discuss alternatives if the marriage between Cleveland and Irving is bound for a breakup, which, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, it might just be:
The Cavaliers are projecting confidence they can snare a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving, and more than that, they are acting — for now — as if a trade is almost inevitable, and that there is little chance of salvaging their relationship with him, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
Still, the notion that the 2016 NBA champions are already preparing for life without the 25-year-old four-time All-Star who made the most important shot in franchise history is no less astonishing.
Even with LeBron James on the roster, his chances of an eighth consecutive Finals appearance could depend largely upon what the Cavaliers can acquire for Irving, given the improvement of the Boston Celtics this summer. The “king’s ransom” they procure in return better include a point guard, because the dip from Irving to the injury-struck Rose in the starting lineup would be no small fall:
Isolation shooting stats …
Rose: 0.88 PPP (59th percentile)
Kyrie: 1.12 PPP (95th percentile)
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) July 25, 2017
All of which is to say, if the Cavs plan to start Rose in place of a trade Kyrie next season, yikes.
— Ben Rohrbach (@brohrbach) July 25, 2017
Rose cannot carry the offense without James, wait on the wings as LeBron barrels his way to the basket or work in concert with him on pick-and-rolls the same way Irving can. And as porous as Kyrie’s defense has been over the years, the post-surgeries Rose isn’t a marked upgrade on that end, either.
The Phoenix Suns have emerged as favorites in the Irving sweepstakes, including point guard Eric Bledsoe in the package, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, but the Cavs would reportedly also seek the addition of No. 4 pick Josh Jackson. That makes sense from a chemistry standpoint, since James has long served as a mentor to Bledsoe, who is represented by LeBron’s friend and agent Rich Paul.
Bledsoe might also help Cleveland improve its defense, and his offensive efficiency could improve alongside James, but health has always been his biggest concern. The 27-year-old Bledsoe has had multiple knee injuries and seen three of his last four seasons cut short as a result, not unlike Rose.
Jackson would give the Cavs a jolt of young talent they’ve been missing off the bench, but at 20 years old, it’s hard to imagine him making a significant impact on Cleveland’s 2017-18 season. Still, that may represent the best offer for Irving, and the combination of Bledsoe, Jackson and Rose could just be enough to hold off the Celtics and keep the Cavs in contention for the final year of James’ contract.
Like it or not, LeBron and Cleveland might just have to get used to these alternatives as #Facts of life.
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