Should the Charlotte Hornets make a trade offer for reportedly unhappy Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving?
ESPN reported Friday afternoon that Irving, who played his one college season at Duke, has requested a trade off the team that drafted him first overall in 2011.
The Cavaliers have had unprecedented success since forward LeBron James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014. The Cavs have reached the NBA Finals the past three seasons, winning the championship over the Golden State Warriors in June 2016.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has covered the Cavaliers and James extensively, Irving made his request directly to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, saying he no longer desired to play alongside James and would prefer to be the focal point of another NBA team.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford has often quoted team owner Michael Jordan as saying the basketball staff should pursue anything daily that might improve the roster. Could that include a play for Irving, named an Eastern Conference All-Star in four of his previous six NBA seasons?
The Hornets are already solid for a starter at point guard. Kemba Walker, who was drafted ninth overall in 2011, made his first All-Star appearance in New Orleans in February. He is one of the NBA’s better pick-and-roll ballhandlers and has significantly improved his 3-point shooting over the past two seasons.
Irving is a spectacular and explosive scorer. Last season he averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists. He was an excellent shooter, averaging 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
One big question would be whether the Hornets have assets the Cavaliers would consider attractive. They would still be in win-now mode, looking to keep James from moving on after his contract expires.
Walker’s numbers last season were similar: He averaged 23.2 points and 5.5 assists. He wasn’t quite as good a shooter, averaging 44 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the foul line.
The arguments for Irving over Walker
▪ Irving is a slightly more creative scorer (though only slightly; two seasons ago Walker led the NBA in scoring in late-and-close game situations).
▪ Irving has far more playoff experience (52 games, versus 11 for Walker, whose teams have never advanced beyond the first round).
▪ Irving is younger (25, versus Walker’s 27 because Irving turned pro after one college season, while Walker turned pro as a junior).
The arguments for Walker over Irving
▪ Walker is a better defender. Irving has always been shaky as an NBA defender. Walker might not be the best of perimeter defenders, but he puts more focus on that end of the court.
▪ Walker has a more team-friendly contract. He makes $12 million each of the next two seasons. Irving is scheduled to make $18.8 million next season, $20.1 million in 2018-19 and $21.3 million in 2019-20.
▪ Walker is a known quantity, a leader on and off the court for the Hornets, and loves living and playing in Charlotte. Irving has been more high-maintenance in the past: He reportedly had a difficult relationship with former Cavs coach David Blatt.
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell