David Richard/USA Today Sports

Ranking Kyrie Irving's 4 trade preferences in relation to the Celtics

Ty Anderson
July 22, 2017 - 2:01 pm

It’s official: Kyrie Irving, like any sensible person, wants out of Cleveland.

Done playing with LeBron James and now in search of a new team where he can be considered more of the focal point of that team’s style, Irving has outlined four teams he’d prefer to be traded to: the Heat, Knicks, Spurs, and Timberwolves.

That’s not the worst news for the Celtics in the immediate future, you’d say, as an Irving trade would undoubtedly weaken an already wounded Cavaliers squad -- and with LeBron’s 2018 departure already considered an automatic -- and open the door for the Celtics to return to their first NBA Finals since 2010’s seven-game loss to the Lakers.

In fact, Cleveland’s great Cleveland-esque comedown -- this team went from expecting to land one of Jimmy Butler, Paul George, or Carmelo Anthony to now expecting to lose both Irving and James within the next calendar year -- can only mean good news for a talent-drained Eastern Conference, with the Celtics set to become a force by default.

But that’s not to say that these landing spots wouldn’t affect the C’s in some way, shape, or form somewhere down the line, though, especially when it comes to the five-year plan that’s currently in the midst of developing before Danny Ainge’s eyes.

Irving, who does not have an no-trade clause, can be moved to any team in the NBA.

But sticking to just the four teams he’s most interested in, it only makes sense to rank them in regards to their relation to what the Celtics are attempting to build in Boston.

4. New York Knicks

I’m honestly laughing as I write this because no matter what I say, the fact that the Knicks are the Knicks remains the most damning thing in basketball, and maybe even all of sports. What’s worse than being a Knicks fans, honestly. I tried this for a quick minute when they acquired Amar’e Stoudemire, who was one of my all-time favorite players to watch (I will go to my grave saying that those Suns teams should have won something), and it was absolute hell on earth. What’s worse? Maybe the Jets? The Browns? I’d say the Nets, but they don’t even have fans outside of kids that like cool sports merch; “You like the Nets?” “Nah, man, I just like this logo a lot.” That is the exact conversation literally any time you meet somebody wearing Brooklyn Nets gear.

Still, the Knicks make Irving’s top four of teams he’d like to go to.

Seemingly optimal trade partners in the sense that they have something that a) doesn’t want to be there and b) is something the Cavs could use next season in Carmelo Anthony, an Irving-for-Melo trade makes sense, but is among the worst possible moves for the Cavs to make if and when they do decide to move Irving, especially when you consider the fact that Carmelo would likely bounce with LeBron next summer. They also wouldn’t settle for that off the jump. Instead, Cleveland’s first ask would most certainly center around Kristaps Porzingis. But that’s not happening and that’s not the point.

Why doesn’t an Irving-to-New-York move impose the fear it should? Because the Knicks really don’t have enough to work this trade without bringing another team into the mix, and that comes with more assets coming out. And even if they somehow pull this move off, this league is trending towards needing much more than two stars, which is what they would have in Irving and Porzingis, to legitimately compete.

And for those thinking that the Knicks could appease Anthony enough to keep him around with this move and make it yet another attempted Big Three in N.Y. are lost in the sense that would only lead to more of the problems Irving apparently has playing with a ball-dominant player like LeBron, and thus probably leading to the same woes.

Also, again, they’re the Knicks and nothing they do ever works out the way it should.

3. San Antonio Spurs

I’m 25 years old. The Spurs have sucked once in my entire life. Once! And it was 20 years ago and it ended with them selecting Tim Duncan, who collected five NBA titles with the Spurs along with two MVPs, three NBA Finals MVPs, and 15 All-Star nominations over an utterly absurd 19-year career, with the first overall pick. Worth it.

But that’s also my way of telling you that I’ve never lived a year of my life expecting the Spurs to be bad. So them getting Kyrie would really just be the norm to me.

I fully expected the Spurs to be the ones to land Chris Paul before the Rockets swooped in and formed their all-world backcourt with Paul and James Harden, and it would only make sense for a San Antonio swing-and-miss on Paul to end with Irving instead.

Led by a win-now core featuring Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, along with the brilliance of head coach Gregg Popovich, the 25-year-old Irving would become the third piece that the Spurs undoubtedly need to go against the Warriors and beyond.

He may even be enough to maybe get San Antonio into the Finals, which at first glance would seem like a break for the C’s should they find a way to topple the Cavaliers for the East’s crown this season (or any time soon for that matter), as it would mean that they would avoid the 16-1 playoff buzzsaw known as the Warriors.  

But it really wouldn’t be.  

Popovich’s Spurs are the only team that Celtics coach Brad Stevens has yet to beat in his NBA coaching career (he’s 0-8), although they’ve gotten close of late, with three-straight single-digit losses to the Spurs, and with a three-point loss in Dec. 2015 serving as their closest brush with victory. It’s also admittedly hard to imagine that changing if they were to add a player of Irving’s caliber to their roster, though, especially if the stakes were raised in an NBA Final, where Popovich is 5-1 all time.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Celtics -- even with a current Big Three built around Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and now Gordon Hayward -- are in this for the long haul. That’s why they’ve straight-up refused to trade the Brooklyn picks, and why they decided to stockpile even more picks when they finally did land the No. 1 pick this past draft lottery. The thinking is that they’ll spend money now, sure, but also build a nucleus that will allow them to compete for a decade versus the three-to-five year window you see most teams commit to, which was arguably started by the C’s first Big Three of the 21st century, which lasted five years.

The T’Wolves, with a strong, youthful core, are also built for the long haul.

But they are also beginning to make moves that represent bids to compete in the present (which is overdue, as the T’Wolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004) as well as the future, headlined by the acquisition of Jimmy Butler at last month’s draft, and free agent signings Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and veteran sixth man Jamal Crawford.

Adding that versatile foursome to a core built around Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is the start of Tom Thibodeau’s club taking that next step towards becoming a formidable West threat. And adding an in-his-prime Kyrie to the mix would make them more than legitimate, too. Perhaps not to an instant championship contending level of legitimacy, but a level that the club has simply not had since the days of Kevin Garnett.

It seems somewhat silly to worry about a team the Celtics will only play a couple of times per year, and I can’t deny that, but thinking about the T’Wolves having this potential core after the Golden State Warriors begin their fade out of championship contention is pretty scary to envision. Let’s be real: The Celtics, and the rest of the NBA, are trying to wait out the Warriors. But solid growth under Thibodeau -- and with none of that Irving-boosted core necessarily going anywhere given their age (Butler would be the oldest of that Big Four five years from now, at 32) -- could align the T’Wolves to simply grab the torch from the Warriors and become the West’s next constant threat.

Then you’re back to waiting/trying to play catch-up if you’re the (older) Celtics. Not fun.

This, of course, is more of a long-term fear than any of the other four teams, but if this whole wait-it-out slow build has been about the long term, seeing this potentially slip from your hands with the formation of a young, developing superteam is Yikes City.

1. Miami Heat

If the Hayward sweepstakes taught us anything, it’s that the Celtics are more appealing to NBA free agents than the Heat. And I would say enjoy this moment, Celtics fans, because it will never happen again or be anything close to the norm moving forward.

Nobody wants to hear this, I know, but as a destination alone for an NBA player, Miami beats the piss out of Boston every single day of the week. It’s nice and sunny all the time, the fans aren’t going to ride you (the “Good job, good effort” kid has to be like 20 and found something better to do by now, right?), and there’s a nightlife.

Add a player of Irving’s status to the mix and it becomes an on-court destination, too.

Right now, the Heat do not offer much to free agents. Hassan Whiteside is a tremendous center, but he’s not the franchise piece that Dwyane Wade was when he successfully recruited LeBron and Chris Bosh for the franchise’s first and only superteam. Add Irving, however, and this is a totally different story. He’s that dynamic.

That’s when a player like Hayward, for example, would have to seriously question where his best chance at a title and best chance at a seriously enjoyable life would be.

The Celtics win that battle now, sure, but if you’re adding an all-world player like Irving to the Heat, it’s a game they’re probably going to lose more often than not, especially when you’re talking about a legend such as Pat Riley calling the shots in South Beach.

It would also be the start of some roundabout payback for the C’s scooping Hayward away from them after what was originally considered to be a ‘great’ meeting in Miami.