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Kyrie Irving trade demand opens path to NBA Finals for Celtics

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As Brian Windhorst’s report makes it abundantly clear that Kyrie Irving has demanded a trade in Cleveland, the path to the NBA Finals is opening for the Boston Celtics ahead of schedule.

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics have built one step at a time, remaining patient as their window of opportunity approaches. Then Kyrie Irving threw a brick through that window from inside the house.

Kyrie Irving has demanded a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, reports ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. In a bombshell article, Windhorst reports that Irving wants out of Cleveland first and foremost because he no longer wants to play in LeBron James’s shadow, seeking to be the focal point of a franchise like he was before LeBron returned to Cleveland.

Irving’s agent made a series of responses on the record to this report, both of which follow the same message and deliberately do not deny the report.

"Kyrie and I had a meeting with Cavs leadership where we discussed many different scenarios in reference to Kyrie and his future with the team," agent Jeffrey Wechsler told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. "The basis of those discussions and what went on in those discussions are between the Cavs and us. We are respectfully going to keep those private.”

Irving informed Cleveland he would prefer to be traded to the San Antonio Spurs but would also be wiling to go to the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, and Minnesota Timberwolves per Windhorst. He even considered requesting a trade after the Cavs won the title last season per Windhorst, but he ultimately decided against it.

ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Cleveland is “disturbed” the trade demand went public for the accurate perception that it will collapse his trade market as he seeks a deal. Indiana Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard can certainly attest to that. New Cavs GM Koby Altman, who was quickly hired after the news leaked according to ESPN’s Wojnarowski, will have to somehow stabilize the market for Irving while also talking him into changing his mind.

Don’t count Boston as one of those trading for Irving. He would only fit onto the team in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, and there are several reasons why that would not be a good idea. Thomas has established himself as an ideal leader and consistent performer in Boston. Trading him for a player who wants out of a contender—even after winning the title—is like throwing an agile and athletic turd in the punch bowl. If Irving wanted to be in Boston, their name would have come up on that list from Haynes. Even if Irving is four years younger, healthy, and is just as good as Thomas, it’s not worth the risk.

The timing of this announcement makes sense solely from the perspective of Irving taking control of the prime of his career when LeBron James moves on from Cleveland. When CelticsBlog asked Irving about his partnership with LeBron after the Cavs eliminated the Celtics in May, he emphasized how Cleveland could build a great dynasty if he, LeBron and the rest of the team remained selfless.

“When you look at how this team is run and who are the driving forces behind it, it has to be myself and Bron. We understand that. It falls on our shoulders as well as everyone else, but we have to carry it. I accepted that. He knows I'm preparing every single day and I'm dedicating myself every single day to this game and I'm leaving it out there, and I expect the same from him.

“When you get to that level of trust and you allow someone to come into a friendship that extends well off the court and you understand how great this era can be if we are selfless to the point where we don't think about anything else except for the greatness of our team and what we can accomplish -- we stay in that moment, we're very special.”

But then they faced the supercharged Golden State Warriors. The course of NBA history could have changed if they had squeezed out that win in Game 3, but destiny tends to come down to a couple missed shots here or there.

To say this news is shocking would be an understatement, as Irving is consistently in the Finals establishing his superstardom while playing with the best all-around player ever. But Irving’s motivations are not quite what everyone expected. His statement during the NBA Finals started to shed a light on this darker corner of his mind.

“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually and then he ends up joining it and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe,” Irving said. “Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself. Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”

That selfless Irving is done with the status quo in Cleveland. He sees the dysfunction that killed the first LeBron team under megalomaniac owner Dan Gilbert repeating itself to a near-comical level. He saw the reports—and probably plenty more inside detail—that the Cavs were on the precipice of pulling off a Paul George trade when David Griffin was let go and is running for the nearest life boat before LeBron lets the ship sink on his way to Los Angeles.

Even if LeBron does sail west next summer, Irving doesn’t want to re-inherit what was once his own castle. Even LeBron is shocked, with Windhorst reporting he has been devastated since learning the news earlier this week.

Whatever LeBron is feeling, the Celtics are experiencing the polar opposite emotion. They always had 2018 marked as their time to take the leap forward, with LeBron either moving West or the Cavs just growing stale. The market for trading stars after they ask out has been clearly established this summer as hibernating. Unlike the Paul George situation, the Cavs are not up against an expiring deal. But when players request a trade and it goes public, it usually happens.

This situation cracks the window to the Finals wide open for Boston. The current team, if the Cavs cannot acquire a commensurate player for Irving, is good enough to take Cleveland the distance. The likelihood of the Cavs getting an even trade for Irving is incredibly slim. The big question for Cleveland comes down to whether they can acquire a collection of effective role players that can help them maintain their edge over Boston.

The gulf between the Celtics and Cavs was greater than Lake Erie last year. The Celtics have taken a big step forward this offseason, bringing in Gordon Hayward while the Cavs essentially maintained their same structure. Now Cleveland could take a step back while the Celtics hit their stride.

This portends quite nicely for Danny Ainge and company, who can continue to patiently wait for the Anthony Davis situation to deteriorate in New Orleans while maintaining a strong chance at the NBA Finals. While building a team to contend for the Finals over the next decade, Boston could make their first trip under Stevens earlier than anticipated. Even if an opportunity like Davis never arises, elite players often end up on the market (see Irving, Kyrie). Boston has punted on less-than-perfect moves a few times now, letting time and external chaos dictate their moves.

The genius evil plan to wait for Cleveland to implode is paying off. At this rate, the Celtics might get on the dance floor at the Finals as soon as this year. Once you’re there, anything can happen, from getting swept off the floor like Cleveland did this year or getting a lucky break like they did a year before. The Celtics don’t have any demigods like LeBron to actually make good on a brief Warriors vulnerability. But they will become the most desirable and accessible destination in the league if it’s clear they are the favorites to make the Finals every year.

It sure isn’t Cleveland now. Nobody wants to head to Ohio during such peculiar times.

Meanwhile, the newest Celtics trade acquisition Marcus Morris is already gearing up for a Finals run.