Much has been made over the last several weeks about Brandon Tierney of CBS Sports Radio speculating on the possibility that Kyrie Irving is “not long” for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While Irving has refuted Tierney’s speculation, and Tierney himself has admitted that the Cavaliers control Irving’s future for the next several years, some fans are still worried for a variety of reasons. Some are uncomfortable with the way Irving has stated that he is happy to be a Cavalier “right now”. For others, these rumors are all too similar to those heard about LeBron James before he made his decision to join the Miami Heat via free agency. Of course, many believe that Irving leaving would be “Cleveland’s luck” and that he is as good as gone for that reason alone. While no one can guarantee that Irving will be a Cavalier for the rest of his career, it is highly unlikely he leaves Cleveland anytime soon due to the following facts.
1. He is under contract for a minimum of two more years.
Irving is under contract for the 2013-2014 season for a salary of $5,607,240. The Cavaliers hold a player option for the 2014-2015 season for $7,070,730. Barring some sort of career threatening/altering injury to Irving (knock on wood), they will assuredly exercise that option.
2. The Cavaliers can resign Irving next summer.
Even though Irving has two more years on his current contract, the Cavaliers can sign Irving to an extension next summer, a year before he and his agent would be able to negotiate with other teams. Once again, barring major injury Irving will likely be offered the team’s five-year maximum salary slot. This is important because of fact number three.
3. No restricted free agent has ever turned down a max extension.
This simply hasn’t happened, and it is highly unlikely that Irving will be the first to do so. Even if he does, fact number four will not allow him to leave.
4. NBA franchises can match all offers to their restricted free agents.
It doesn’t matter if the Cavaliers are somehow over the cap (they won’t be), or if another team offers Irving a max contract after the Cavaliers refused to do so (won’t happen). The Cavaliers can simply match whatever another team signs Irving to and he stays in Cleveland, whether he wants to or not. Now what if Irving refuses to sign as a restricted free agent and simply signs a one-year qualifying offer? This will never happen due to fact number five.
5. Dan Gilbert will never go through “The Decision” again.
Irving will never have the chance to accept a one-year qualifying offer and leave the Cleveland Cavaliers as an unrestricted free agent in 2016 because Dan Gilbert won’t allow it. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Irving will ever even become a restricted free agent. Why, you ask? The Cavaliers will strongly insist that Irving sign a five-year maximum contract next summer because they know that he really has no choice but to accept it. Even if he were to somehow hold off until restricted free agency, no other team can offer him as much as his current team, and the Cavaliers would match any other offer immediately. If for some reason Irving and his agent refused all negotiations up to and through restricted free agency in an attempt to sign a one-year qualifying offer and then become a restricted free agent, or try to add a series of opt-outs to his extension (although one after his fourth year would be fairly typical), then the Cavaliers will in all likelihood trade him for a king’s ransom before he ever even becomes a restricted free agent In this situation, the Cavaliers will not worry about where Irving wants to play as his new team will have at least one season (probably closer to two as Grant does not seem like the kind of guy who would sit on his hands in this situation) to convince him to sign with them. The Cavaliers could easily get at least the quality of return Carmelo Anthony earned the Nuggets (Gallinari, Felton, Mozgov, Wilson Chandler) and contend for the next several years without Irving, but with a deeper core.
Because of these reasons, and probably many others, the future for Irving in Cleveland fairly easy to predict. Next summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers will offer Irving a five-year maximum contract extension that begins in 2015. Irving will sign this deal, ensuring the Cavaliers contractual control over this young superstar until the summer of 2020. At this point Irving will have spent the first nine years of his career in Cleveland. While nothing is guaranteed, especially beyond that point, the knowledge that NBA contract rules heavily favor Irving remaining a Cleveland Cavalier for the next several years should be encouraging to Cavaliers fans and let all of us breathe a bit more easily.