There’s a massive difference between getting traded and asking for a trade, but when the news broke Friday that Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland it dropped a bomb on what’s already been an explosive NBA off-season.
In Cleveland for a good time and not necessarily a long time, we learned that Irving is trying to take a page out of LeBron James’s book and dictate the terms of his career rather than letting the Cavs do it for him. Or at least Irving’s going to try that route with everyone expecting LeBron to hightail it out of Cleveland after next season.
While we may never know the legitimacy of the juiciest tidbit from this weekend's report—that Irving is sick and tired of playing second fiddle to the best player in the NBA—what appears to be legit is Irving sees the writing on the wall. As a superstar himself, he doesn’t want to be left on the dance floor without a partner. So why not get out while the Cavs are still good?
There’s so much to wade through around this story, so many rumors that need to be confirmed, and so many conversations that must take place that we’re probably weeks away from Irving getting traded—if it even happens. And while we can expect to get more insight into the motivation behind Irving’s trade request and his true feelings as the summer progresses, we for sure know this: if the Cavaliers end up trading him to one of the two teams that are reportedly on his wishlist, the ones that just happen to reside in the Western Conference, then the NBA might as well just tell the Eastern Conference to take next season off. Because what will be the point?
The talent discrepancy between the conferences has arguably never been so great and the prospect of the East losing another superstar to the West is something we wish the league could do something about. Only it can't. So just like us, it sits back and watches its product become less competitive and more predictable. And who wants that?
So NBA fans, at least the ones that don’t want every superstar not named LeBron playing in the West, hope the Cavs find a way to fix the issues between LeBron and Kyrie or ship Irving to the two Eastern squads he'd prefer (Miami, and for some ridiculous reason, New York). We’ve already seen Paul George and Jimmy Butler switch conferences this off-season, going from the East to the West. Now Irving would prefer to take his talents to San Antonio or Minnesota. It would mean the West would be home to 17 out of the top 20 players in the NBA, by our estimates. And, of course, 18 of the top 20 next summer when LeBron joins the Lakers as so many have speculated. The Eastern Conference is quickly becoming a wasteland.
We haven’t seen it this weak since the days after Michael Jordan’s second retirement. Now, sending Kyrie out West would mean the Western Conference Finals would be the de-facto NBA Finals. A Warriors-Rockets or Warriors-Spurs WCF would easily be way more entertaining and dramatic than another Warriors-Cavs NBA Finals featuring LeBron and no Kyrie. At this point, why even bother with the Eastern Conference Finals?
Yes, you can argue about the Celtics with the addition of Gordon Hayward and John Wall just extended with the Wizards, but we still like LeBron and the Cavs over those two squads. The talent drain in the East has reached a disturbing level and we need to brace ourselves for the fact that it's only going to get worse. When LeBron leaves next summer, that will be the fatal blow. As is, the East will enter the 2017-18 season on wobbly legs, teetering on the brink of irrelevancy with Kyrie looking to jet for better basketball and to be as far away from LeBron as possible (for one season).