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Acquiring Kyrie Irving: A Realignment of Risk

Should the Wolves trade Andrew Wiggins for Kyrie Irving if the opportunity is there?

2017 NBA Finals - Game Five Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I know it’s all we’ve been talking about for the last couple of days, but it’s late July. We should be thankful there’s a major topic of conversation at all.

So the Kyrie Irving story advanced some yesterday, with indications that the Cavs are amenable to trading him as opposed to trying to salvage the situation, though trades are never done until they are done, so that could change.

The Wolves, of course, are on Irving’s list of preferred destinations, though that doesn’t have a lot of meaning as the Cavs will take the best deal they can get from their perspective. However, it clearly invites the Wolves to engage with the Cavs on a potential deal.

The brilliant Zach Lowe wrote on what an Irving deal would look like, writing:

Cleveland is seeking a bundle of assets, but the highest priority right now is snagging a blue-chip young player, according to sources across the league.

Of course Andrew Wiggins is one of the bluest chips around when it comes to young NBA players. Lowe doesn’t spend a lot of time on the Wolves in the article, mostly pointing out the salary problems involved in trading Wiggins for Irving and suggesting another team would be required to take on money from the Wolves.

Later Lowe spoke to Brian Windhorst, who originally broke the story of Irving’s trade request, on his podcast. Windhorst seemed much more bullish on a possible Wolves deal, calling Wiggins perhaps “the best of both worlds” for the Cavs as a linchpin for a deal.

This was also what he discussed on Doogie Wolfson’s podcast.

Meanwhile, the actual level of Wolves interest remains unclear. No doubt they have at least checked in the with the Cavs, but there has been no reporting at this point about about what, if anything, they would be willing to do.

I think offering Andrew Wiggins makes them a real player in these talks. I don’t know if the Cavs ultimately choose that direction, but Wiggins is a guy they have to seriously think about if they ultimately move Irving. Without Wiggins there is no discussion.

Glen Taylor, of course, has a major say in this as well as Tom Thibodeau, and while I don’t know anything, it’s possible that Taylor would be hesitant to move Wiggins, who he clearly has fondness for. On the other hand, that max contract extension they will have to do...

Which brings me, finally, to the point. What is a trade like this for the Wolves? I would define it as a realignment of risk for the most part.

Dane wrote an excellent piece yesterday laying out what a max extension for Wiggins would look like. And that’s a lot of money—$148M over five seasons starting at over $25M and escalating to well over $30M. The risk you are avoiding by making such a trade is committing to that salary for a player who remains in large part projection.

The rules in place that make it easy for teams to retain their players coming off rookie deals—the early extension rules and restricted free agency—are valuable but also can be a curse. A good player on a rookie contract is hugely valuable, but being compelled to “overpay” because you have no other options is dangerous and sometimes damaging. The Wolves were lucky enough to be able to cash in one of their players in this situation—Zach LaVine—to get a real star in Jimmy Butler. Does it make sense to do the same thing with Wiggins?

I have never been the biggest Wiggins guy. He has real flaws, and after three seasons and nearly 9000 minutes, I’m not convinced he will ever improve on them enough to make a max contract a good investment. On the other hand, the list of things I’ve been wrong about is pretty long, and the risk you are taking if you do make such a deal is that he becomes a star and you have lost out on a long-term core piece.

Still, that risk is mitigated by getting a prime Kyrie Irving. He is obviously not without weaknesses. He’s a poor defender and not the most natural of point guards in terms of distribution. But he’s a tremendous scorer and a terrific shooter, he’s been very good in the post-season, and he creates a “big three” along with Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns that is worthy of the name.

It gives the Wolves a clear two year window to push at Golden State as hard as they can.

But it also imputes more risk after those two years. At that point, the Wolves will be looking at three max contracts they will have to give out if they want to retain that big three, and that’s if things go well and both Butler and Irving are interested in staying. Towns’ max extension will kick in for the 2019-20 season, and both Butler and Irving are likely to opt out of their final contract years in that summer of 2019 as well.

If disaster strikes and both of those guys walk, you are left with Towns and...well, Towns. KAT, I believe, will be so good that even that isn’t the worst place to be, but it obviously leaves you it a very tough spot. Still, I don’t know if it makes sense to think about it that way.

I don’t know exactly how teams operate, though obviously they plan for contingencies. But I think if you like a player and like a deal, you have to be confident it will work short and medium term. That you will have things in place to retain the guys you want to retain and move the franchise forward.

There is very little long-term in the NBA anymore. The recent CBAs shortened contracts so that almost as soon as you sign a player, you are on the clock to make it work as quickly as possible. Trading for Kyrie Irving exacerbates that, but in a good way. It adds talent and makes winning even more likely, which is a good thing.

At any rate, risk. That’s what this is all about. If you are believer in Wiggins future, the risk might be too great for you. If you aren’t, it’s more appealing.

I have to admit I’m torn, which surprises me given my lukewarm feelings about Wiggins. But Irving’s flaws along with the roster fixes that would be needed over the next 12 months (half of Irving’s remaining contract!) give me pause.

In the end I think I would do it, because Irving is very good and I am nervous about that Wiggins extension, but, right or wrong, the answer is not obvious to me.

I wonder how obvious it is to the Wolves braintrust and ownership?