NEW YORK — When the Brooklyn Nets visited the LA Clippers in November, All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t there. However, his absence hovered over this November match.
Tyronn Lue, who coached Irving at Cleveland, was asked about his former player who requested a trade to the Cavaliers just over a year after clinching the city’s first NBA title with one of the most iconic shots in NBA history.
“For me, he made my job a lot easier, I’m telling you,” Lue said in November. “Put the basketball in his hands, he can make any play as a basketball player. I’ve always said it offensively, he has no weakness. He can score basketball. He can pass it, finish both hands, can post, mid-range, three-point, off the dribble, he can do it all. Just a special talent.
Lue said that while Irving was in the midst of a team suspension for a minimum of five games without pay after posting a link to a documentary promoting anti-Semitic views on his social media accounts, he later repeatedly refused to apologize for doing so. Beyond that, it had only been months since Irving had tried to orchestrate his own exit from Brooklyn, and it hadn’t even been that long (six years) since Irving had headed to Boston, away from the Riders of Lue.
Flash forward so far, with Irving requesting a trade to Brooklyn again a week before the Feb. 9 deadline. Not only have the Clippers made a solid offer to the Nets for Irving, but Lue is also open to reuniting with his former player, league sources who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the subject tell Athleticism.
This is a significant milestone for a Clippers front office that has built up the depth needed to eventually pull off a move like this. It’s also a big step for Lue, whose chronic frustration this season has oscillated between the inconsistent availability of star wing duo Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and a wing-heavy roster with holes at point guard and centre.
Last June, before free agency began, I wrote that it made no sense for the Clippers to pursue Irving. On the contrary, his behavior this season should reinforce these concerns. For a Clippers team that generates internal and external consternation over the availability of its stars, it seems outrageous to add a player as usually unreliable as Irving.
But the patchy season the Clippers have had so far has made them more open to acquiring the 30-year-old, 6-foot-2 first guard, earning more than $36 million in the final year of his contract. . The Clippers attempted to fill their point guard hole by signing John Wall in the offseason to compete with incumbent starter Reggie Jackson. But Wall’s 34-game stint before an abdominal injury on January 13 was disappointing on both sides of the ball, while Jackson lost his starting job to Terance Mann in early January. Only the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Houston Rockets have a worse assist turnover ratio than the Clippers (1.59) in 56 games this season.
When available, George and Leonard did most of the playing, facilitation and ball handling. At their best, the superstar duo were highly effective. But at worst, both wore themselves out late in games. The starkest example came in a humiliating road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that saw George and Leonard miss 11 of their last 13 shots, but the Clippers also struggled to run the strip on their three wins in of this current road trip.
The most recent of the three came Saturday against the Knicks, when the Clippers narrowly escaped a slump to win in overtime after blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead. Lue used eight players at a season low when the roster was completely healthy outside of Wall: Leonard, George, Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Norman Powell, Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson. Robert Covington is out of rotation despite his theoretical 3-and-D ability at 6-foot-7. Luke Kennard hasn’t played despite his 3-point shooting prowess (45.3% this season). It would appear that Wall, Jackson, Covington and Kennard are the main trade candidates in a possible deal with Irving.
The Clippers front office is usually active this time of year – the franchise has made a mid-season change for a rotation player every season since former head coach Doc Rivers was stripped of personnel decisions during the 2017 offseason. Their current need for a traditional point guard mirrors the conversation two years ago, which ended with the Clippers acquiring Rajon Rondo, another player with whom Lue had a previous employment relationship.
In light of Rondo’s disappointing tenure, the Clippers’ front office had appeared to downplay the need for a traditional point guard, viewing them as less necessary on a two-star team. But while Lue moved Mann into the starting lineup, he otherwise resisted playing non-leading lineups, using Jackson to close out games even though he didn’t always see Jackson as the ideal version of that player. Irving, despite his many flaws, fills that void better than Jackson.
There are certainly concerns about Irving’s history of dressing room destabilization in his previous stops. Lue helped build a culture with the Clippers where the team is resilient and balanced. The Clippers responded to a six-game losing streak by going 9-5, and are consistently playing hard even after trailing in double digits.
“Like the basketball character, it’s like you can be counted on every day to do what you do at the highest level, and are you – how committed are you to those habits,” said said president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank after the 2022 NBA draft. “You know, the bond you create with your teammates is part of the character of basketball. Can you be the same teammate when things go badly for you and when things go well for you?”
Lue, for her part, praised Irving’s leadership qualities when asked in November.
“He had leadership qualities,” Lue said of Irving about their time together in Cleveland. “I think he was young, but when Bron got there it was a bit different. Because Bron became the leader of the team and everyone kind of followed Bron’s lead. But Kyrie would still be there early, putting in his work and doing what he had to do for his game. young.
Although Mann admitted Athleticism that he does not know Irving as well as some of his veteran teammates, he noted Irving’s respect in the league, echoing a sentiment many players have when Irving’s name comes up.
“He’s a great player, everyone knows that,” Mann said. Athleticism Saturday night. “Everyone also knows that he does his thing, with his decisions, and you have to respect that. I have to respect his CV. You have to respect what he wants. The guys know what’s going on. It’s difficult to say, because we don’t really know. Some of us don’t really know it like that. Other guys do. But nobody really talks about it that much.
Ultimately, Lue and the front office are here to get in position to win a championship with Leonard and George, risk and all. If they are able to acquire Irving, it will be up to the two stars to lead in ways that minimize Irving’s worst qualities. Both acknowledged that they needed to keep the team stable until the trade deadline.
“As far as we know, what we have is what we have,” said George, who won an Olympic gold medal with Irving with the United States men’s basketball team in 2016. You don’t look ahead. For us, we want to play the best basketball before the break. So anything else or any other thought is kinda out of your mind. Our job is to compete. Play for each other. And again, step into the break with some momentum. And then look forward to coming out of the break with momentum.“
“I think we’re going to pretty much stay where we are,” Leonard said on Saturday night. ” I do not think about it. We have to win games, we play every other day and we have good teams ahead of us. This is how I will stay focused.
The ball is in the Nets’ court. They can decide to keep Irving, and maybe Kevin Durant’s possible return from injury stabilizes the team again. They can also trade Irving to the Crosstown rivals Clippers, who have every incentive to get a deal, or they can move him elsewhere. But if Irving comes to the Clippers, LA will have to manage the situation to ward off any potential consequences.
“I have always told the truth,” Lue said in December. “Tell guys the truth when you have to tell them the truth. And so for me, it started with LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin (Love in Cleveland), just holding those guys accountable. When I had to put my foot down , it starts with these guys first. And then, like I said, everyone will line up.
Indeed, Lue’s own accountability, as well as his reputation for holding stars accountable, will be key if the Clippers pull off this trade-off.
(Top photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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