Next summer, Kyrie Irving will hold the keys to his own future for the first time since 2009 – when he committed to playing college basketball for Duke. His contract officially runs out in 2020, but Kyrie has the opportunity to opt-out next summer and become an unrestricted free agent. Doing so would near double his current salary, therefore even if he is to remain in Boston past this upcoming season, he will almost certainly not still be playing under his current deal.
To many, it would seem as if Kyrie is in an ideal situation in Boston. He is surrounded by a youthful starting five that could easily all be All-Stars this season. He is being coached by Brad Stevens, one of the most brilliant minds in the NBA today. The general manager Danny Ainge (“Trader Danny” as he is affectionately known across Boston) will always make the necessary moves to elevate the team; and the only issue with this – the idea of Ainge actually trading Irving himself – could be negated with a no-trade clause in the player’s new deal. All in all, it seems as if Kyrie is in a pretty great spot to continue playing his basketball in Boston.
Kyrie isn’t afraid of a big call
But Kyrie isn’t like every other player. He left LeBron James and the Cavaliers after three straight trips to the NBA Finals. Sure, he was the second option to James, but he was also the closer, as demonstrated by his championship winning 3 over Steph Curry in 2016, and the game-winner in the Christmas day rematch later on that year. He had won a ring with Cleveland, and if not for the brilliance of Golden State, he would likely have had 3; yet this was not enough for Kyrie. He wanted to lead his own franchise, he demanded a trade, and got moved to Boston. And while it seemed as if he was the driving force of this new Boston team, their success in the playoffs without Irving (lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals) shows that they can compete without him, and so the talk of him moving on to another team started up shortly after that defeat in late May.
Within his initial trade demand, Irving furnished the Cavs with a list of 4 places he’d like to go to: New York, Miami, Minnesota and San Antonio. If he was looking to win, he would have to rule Miami out now, at least in its current iteration. This Heat team is in salary cap hell, too good to get a good draft pick, too bad to ever have a shot at competing, and paying a fortune to do it all. Now while this does not necessarily rule them out in Irving’s eyes, it certainly lowers their attractiveness. San Antonio has changed greatly in the past year, and it is not known if Irving would still be up for moving there without Kawhi Leonard. As a result, Kyrie is left with 3 truly attractive propositions: Boston, Minnesota or New York.
Regardless of which of the 3 he picked, Kyrie would be primed for contention for years to come, and able to play with people he likes and respects. I’ve already laid out the pros for him staying in Boston, and it is likely this would also give him the best chance to compete for a title, all while remaining the true leader of the Celtics.
Kyrie’s path to the Timberwolves would involve the trading away of Jeff Teague – assuming he opts in to his 2019-20 player option – but this could likely be done for a first round pick, or equivalent. Doing so would free up enough room to sign Kyrie, before extending Jimmy Butler’s deal and signing Karl-Anthony Towns to a long-term contract. This would mean accepting the inevitability of the luxury tax, and probably decimating any bench depth. However, this would leave them with a big 4 of Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Butler and KAT, which would be enough to compete with any team around the league, especially if they could find some cheap interior defense.
However, if current reports are to be believed, Kyrie’s first choice for his future would be to play for the Knicks. Everything outside with basketball makes perfect sense about this move. He would be back in his hometown, in arguably the biggest commercial market available to him, with a chance to make himself a legend to some of the most passionate fans in the country. New York is just a different beast to anywhere else, and if he wants to be the star man in America’s biggest city, there’s not much Boston – or anyone else – can really do to convince him otherwise. From a basketball standpoint, it even makes perfect sense.
Irving to make a super team in New York?
The Knicks already have space for one max contract next summer, and if they could somehow manage to trade two of Joakim Noah, Tim Hardaway and Courtney Lee, they’d have room for two. Kyrie would obviously be coming, and he likely could draw another star too. In this era of star mobility in the NBA, no free agent is ever truly set to return to their current team until the contract is fully signed.
As a result, there are two real targets to join Kyrie and Kristaps Porzingis in New York. One is Jimmy Butler, a close friend of Irving’s, who reportedly would be open to leaving Minnesota, and does want to play alongside Kyrie at some point. The trio of him, Kyrie and Porzingis would be pretty scary, especially in the East. However, the other target, Kevin Durant, would probably make them favourites to win the whole thing. While weakening Golden State considerably, acquiring Durant would likely take the Knicks over the entire East, and whoever would make it out of the West. We’ve seen Durant move before, and representatives within the Knicks feel as if they can really put forward a great pitch if afforded the opportunity. Either trio, but especially the latter, would put the Knicks right into title contention.
While his possible landing spot may be up for debate, what is not in question is that Kyrie will compete wherever he chooses to go next season. However, what would happen to the Boston Celtics, after giving up Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round pick (which ended up becoming Colin Sexton) for Irving, only for him to leave 2 years later?
Well, they still have a year to contend before then, and are the second favourites this year to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy next June. This year will tell us a lot about what an Irving-less Celtics would look like, as we will be able to see the continued development of the youthful trio of Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Boston will be just fine
If last year’s playoff run is any indicator though, the Celtics would probably still be elite contenders without Kyrie. They took LeBron and the Cavs to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving or Gordon Hayward; so add in Hayward, and more time for the young stars to develop, and they’ll likely contend for years to come. They would not have any cap space to sign a like-for-like replacement for Kyrie, but the in-house options, both at point guard (Rozier) and primary scorer (Hayward and Tatum) should be more than enough to keep this Celtics team competitive for years to come.
Nobody has any idea what Kyrie wants, he could just as easily re-sign with Boston as jump ship to New York, but there’s one thing we do know for sure. Both Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics will be competing deep into the playoffs for years to come.