Could Kyrie Irving pull a LeBron, bolt from Cleveland?
Now one of the brightest young stars in the NBA, Irving is surrounded by promising young talent that has Cleveland fans excited about the future. Between Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, and Anthony Bennett, the Cavaliers could become title contenders if they can successfully develop their gifted players.
Cleveland fans, however, must be forewarned that when they are on the brink of something great, they may have their hearts ripped out once again. On the heels of team owner Dan Gilbert saying that he felt confident in keeping Irving in Cleveland for the long haul, Irving responded by saying that he was not yet ready to talk about contracts. "It's still too early to be talking about that stuff, especially a contract extension," Irving said.
His other words were encouraging, as he insisted that he has a great relationship with Gilbert and would like to bring a championship to Cleveland, but his unwillingness to commit to a city that recently lost a hometown hero has to make fans a little wary.
If Irving were to leave, it wouldn't be for a few years. He is under contract through next season, and then has a $9.2 million qualifying offer for the 2015-16 campaign. The Cavaliers are nearly certain to extend the qualifying offer to Irving. Irving could decline the offer in an attempt to get a max contract. If he were to do that, however, he would become a restricted free agent, and the Cavaliers could match any offer he receives. With Irving looking like a potential Hall of Fame player, the Cavaliers would likely match a max contract offer, essentially locking Irving in Cleveland if he declines the qualifying offer.
If the 2015 offseason rolls around and Irving is still uncertain about staying in Cleveland long-term, he could accept the qualifying offer. That would allow him to play for $9.2 million during the 2015-16 season, then hit unrestricted free agency in 2016, allowing him to sign with whoever he wants.
This is obviously very far down the road, but after "The Decision," it's never too early to talk about the Cavaliers' star players and their eventual free agency.
My advice to Cleveland fans would be to not worry too much about Irving. With free agency so far down the road, there is no reason to make a long-term commitment to any city - anything can happen between now and the 2015-16 season. What Irving may be trying to protect himself against is the situation that LeBron found himself in - essentially being the team's only good player season after season. The way the Cavaliers are headed, however, Irving should be one of several impressive players in a few years. Who knows, maybe LeBron will even be back on the team after he has the opportunity to test free agency.
Unlike LeBron's Cavaliers, this current Cavaliers team has plenty of promising pieces surrounding their best player, Irving. As long as those pieces don't end up crumbling and failing to develop into quality players, Irving should find himself on a solid team that he wants to be a part of.