Monday, February 24, 2014

Simmer down Cleveland – Kyrie isn’t going anywhere, but you might be better off if he does.

Uncle Drew ain't going anywhere...unless Cleveland really wants a ring.

Kyrie Irving caused a stir in Cleveland when he became the latest athlete to hold the city hostage, threatening to leave for greener pastures. Although he never admitted as much on record, word on the street is that he’s already champing at the bit to leave the Paris of Ohio.

Lucky for Cleveland fans, I know two secrets that should put a smile on their faces (no, the secrets have nothing to do with the citizens of Cleveland no longer having to live in Cleveland (1)). 

OK, ready, Clevelanders? Know how Kyrie Irving is threatening to leave? Truth is, he has 0 say in the matter, so he isn’t going anywhere for the next couple years unless Cleveland chooses to move him. There you go, Clevelanders, I can see you’re smiling already!

OK, but now are you ready to really have your mind blown? The second secret is that it’s actually in Cleveland’s best interest to trade him now, because his market value (especially coming off the All-Star game MVP) exceeds his productivity.

Don’t believe me, guys who call this “hating?” Fine, I’ll walk you (slowly) through these 2 “secrets,” by playing another round of: “3 truths, ball don’t lie!”

Truth #1: Kyrie Irving cannot leave on his volition until 2016 at the earliest.        

Because the NBA is essentially a legalized cartel with no real competition for talent (like most major American sports league, mind you), the rules that govern the league are very much skewed in the favor of team owners.
Subsequently, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that dictates league rules has mechanisms in place to minimize any free-market activity that would take money out of the owners’ yacht funds and put it into the player’s “Roth IRA’s” (that’s what the players call their Bourré fund) (2). One such mechanism is the draft, in which players entering the league aren’t allowed to offer their services to the highest bidder (you know, like roughly every other industry in our capitalist democracy), but are rather selected by a team and offered what essentially amounts to a “take-it-or-leave-it” contract (3).
But wait, it gets better! This non-negotiable contract gives the team control of the player for a minimum of 2 years with team options that enable the team to control the player’s right for up to 4 years (4)!

In other words, Kyrie can’t even begin to think about ditching Cleveland until 2016 at the earliest.

Truth #2: The number of players who have declined a max-level contract extension to their rookie contract is a robust 0.

And you thought we were done discussing the slave trade that is the CBA – pshhh, lovely reader, it only gets better!

You see, the CBA has this other fun clause known as the “Early Bird Extension” that enables the team that drafted a given player to offer that player both a longer contract and more money than other teams are allowed. Moreover, the drafting team can offer the player that guaranteed money before competitors can even put in a bid. In the case of Kyrie, Cleveland will be able to offer him said max contract this summer and you can bet your favorite Pog slammer that he’ll take them up on their offer (5).

What makes me so confident that Irving will accept an extension? How about the fact that no player in modern history has ever turned it down? Because turning down guaranteed millions in a profession where careers are short and can end abruptly is loonier than the Pelicans mascot’s creepy face (pre-surgery).  

Truth #3: Kyrie Irving is a good, young player who may turn into a great player. But he is not the superstar many perceive him to be and likely never will be.

Kyrie Irving’s ungodly handles, unconscionable shooting range and frequent trips to the line make him a highly effective scorer. Unfortunately, just about everything else he does reeks of “meh.” Namely, his defense ranges from average to porous and his possession statistics (rebounds, assists, turnovers, steals, etc…) all scream “average.”

Add up the total package and you get a pretty good player who has a change to be very good player…but Kyrie ain’t a superstar and he probably never will be. To wit, I compared Kyrie’s first three NBA seasons to other perimeter players who entered the league at 19-20 years old. What you’ll see is that while Kyrie has performed better than some other players who went on to have highly productive seasons (and he’s one of the more productive high-usage perimeter players to enter the league at 19), he is nowhere near the superstar levels of the NBA’s best:

As you can clearly see, even accounting for the fact that Kyrie has a very high usage rate, he's much closer to the Tony Parker/Mike Conley star-level player than he is the Chris Paul/Rajon Rondo superstar-level performer.

To be clear, none of this is meant to imply that Kyrie Irving won’t be a valuable player for the foreseeable future. At 21, he’s still very young and again, his turnover rate can be somewhat justified by his high usage percentage, which portends well for this future. 

But at the end of the day, he’s not the current or burgeoning superstar much of the league perceives him to be.

If Cleveland really wants to capitalize on their best asset, they should sign Kyrie Irving to an extension…and then trade him to some sucker who thinks Irving will be the type of superstar who leads his team to a championship.  

(1) Kidding. By all accounts Cleveland is a lovely town...especially if you ask someone from Cleveland :)

(2) Thankfully for the players, NBA decision makers are dumb enough that a free market isn’t even necessary for teams to totally overpay players! There’s nothing better than having the league owners lockout the players because the owners can’t control their own absurd spending habits ;)

(3) This rule is cleverly veiled as a means of promoting parity (which the league incorrectly believes is important to attracting fans) as the league claims its improving competitive balance by rewarding the worst teams with the best picks (unfortunately, this doesn't work nearly as well as the media would have you believe). Because rewarding incompetence and undesirable behaviors (like losing on purpose to improve draft position) is how incentives are supposed to work…right?

(4) I’m referring to first round picks here. There are differing rules for 2nd round picks and undrafted free agents as well as additional minutiae that you’re welcome to dive into here.

(5) It should be noted that NOT all players accept the maximum number of years available. For instance, in 2006 Lebron James signed a 3-year max extension with the Cavaliers rather than the 5 year deal he was offered. Sorry Clevelanders, bad example L  


  1. Solid work on this blog. I went through and read most of the articles, I like that you formulate your own unique opinions and back them up with terrific use of statistics and analytics.

    1. Can't thank you enough for the feedback and the kind words. There will be more coming, so keep on checking in.