Kyrie Irving could have been a Pacer and Paul George could have been a Cavalier, but the Cavaliers ultimately decided against it.
Indiana had Irving on its board as the No. 1 target for George, league sources said. The Pacers had a willingness to do a deal straight up, but Cleveland declined several times, league sources said.
There was another deal that would have sent Kevin Love to the Nuggets, Gary Harris to the Pacers, and George to the Cavs, but it ultimately fell apart because Cleveland didn’t want to send Indiana an unprotected draft pick, according to Woj.
After the three-team deal fell apart, the Pacers ultimately moved on and dealt George to the Thunder. A few weeks later, Irving made his demand for a trade after the NBA draft and the start of free agency.
Irving averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists last season in his fourth All-Star campaign.
Why an Irving-George swap made sense
George isn’t the elite offensive player Irving is, but he’s a far more well-rounded player and can play both ends of the floor. He’s exactly what the Cavaliers need, even if they had to give up their All-Star point guard for him. They needed to shake up their core and George is a better player.
The Pacers would have gotten the centerpiece they needed moving forward. Irving is an All-Star point guard and one of the best shot creators in the game. He isn’t the perfect player, but for a team with a dearth of talent, perfect isn’t the target. Irving made sense as the Pacers’ primary target.
The Cavaliers would have had to worry about retaining George after just one season, but playing in Cleveland and winning may have been enough to keep him around. Plus, LeBron James could be leaving next season anyway — he hasn’t made any commitment to Cleveland beyond that. It’s a risk the Cavaliers should have been willing to take.
The Cavs put themselves in this place
Hindsight is always 20/20 — the Cavaliers should have done the Irving-for-George swap, straight up. But in that moment, the Cavaliers wanted a James-Irving-George trio to play with the Warriors on the perimeter.
That’s the most ideal trio for the Cavs, so it makes sense for them not to make that move. But the Cavaliers set themselves up for this by not having exit meetings to end the season.
Had the Cavaliers done that, they could have quelled Irving’s desires to move on from the organization or been proactive in finding him another home. Now, they’re stuck looking for suitors for Irving and trying to find something close to an equal return.
Plus, Irving’s desire to move out from under James’ shadow isn’t new. He reportedly thought about requesting a trade after the Cavs won the NBA Finals last year. The Cavaliers failed to keep tabs on that situation, and they’re paying for it now.
Such are the perils of organizational dysfunction. The Cavaliers went into this offseason with no stability. They had no general manager during the NBA draft and the crucial parts of NBA free agency. Their best player remains coy on his commitment beyond next season and, now, their most explosive offensive weapon wants out. Now they’re scrambling to pick up the pieces.