Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cash Over Rings

Note: Not Really The Ring You'd Get
Item: Kyrie Irving requests trade from Cavaliers

A year ago around this time, Kevin Durant was pilloried in many circles for taking a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors. Durant was, according to many blowhards at the moment, a coward; rather than stick with the team that ripped basketball away from a vibrant and beautiful coast city with a championship history, he was supposed to spend his entire career with the heartland schmoes who traded James Harden for 15 cents on the dollar, rather than work out a way to keep four drafted star level players together.

Durant more or less spent the last year showing the world that he was no worse than the second or third best player in the world, earned a Finals MVP, and helped the Dubs win their second ring in three years. He might have also made the Association less interesting in the process, because the Dubs are starting to get to the point of foregone champion conclusion, but that's not his problem. Dude has a ring, lives in the best area of the country, and will rake in endorsement bucks that will greatly outweigh the contractual dough he gave up. It's not out of the question for him to have many rings before his career is done.

Fast forward to now. Irving is looking to do something directly opposite of what Durant did. Rather than buckle in for another year of running roughshod over the lEastern Conference as Option 1B to the LeBron James show, he's pulling his chute on a Cavs franchise that's a questionable Draymond Green suspension and a single legendary defensive play from a 50+ year championship drought, despite having the services of the best player ever (yes, ever) for the vast majority of his career.

Let's leave aside the relative merits of each player... well, actually, let's not. Irving is a great half-court scorer, able to break down nearly every player in the Association off penetration... but he's also an indifferent defender, and a guy who doesn't really involve his teammates as much as you'd like. In the Dub Era of ball movement, open corner threes off penetration and maximum points per possession efficiencies, he's not really the guy you want dominating the rock. He also doesn't rebound like all-around beast Russell Westbrook, stay on the floor forever while staying healthy, and doesn't wear out the opposition with an inordinate number of drawn fouls (aka, the Harden Handbook). When James has been out, Irving doesn't elevate his teammates. He simply, well, gets his, and NBA history is rife with guys like this who never win a damned thing. But since he was with James in the year of the Cav Comeback, he's got his ring, and no one can ever take that away from him.

Now who, honestly, seems like more of a person to pillory?

If I were the man I was twenty or even ten years again, this is where I'd tell you that Irving is a complete greedbucket. That he should willingly subjugate his ego to James, who covers for his defensive lapses and makes sure he rarely if ever sees a double team. That before James returned, Irving was simply another empty calories guard on just another losing team. That unlike Durant, he didn't really care about winning, just being the lead player on a team that didn't have to play too much extra basketball in the late spring.

But I am not that man now.

Instead, I'm a guy in his late '40s, who increasingly sees sports as a con job that doesn't really make him very happy. I'm cord cut and scrambling to make ends meet, living apart from my wife and kids so that I can keep paying the mortgage. I watch games online and in gyms and bars, which means I watch games very infrequently.

Irving wants to cash out for the most he can cash out for. He doesn't want to play for the only team he's ever played for, for the rest of his career, in a borough that got its ring and the next day, well, still remained Cleveland.

If rings matter more to fans than people who will make nine figures and up from playing a game, who is to say they are wrong?

If money matters more than some legacy narrative that, in your heart of hearts, you don't really care that much about, why does anyone need to presume that they know better than the person making the decision?

If everyone with the option to avoid Dan Gilbert and his Comic Sans plantation sensibilities does so, why would it wrinkle the skin on your nose?

And if you were in Irving's shoes, knowing that your earning potential is going to come to a crashing halt after your life is maybe less than a third over...

Would you honestly step away from the biggest possible payday?

Especially when James is likely an overwhelming favorite to shake the dust off Cleveland again in a year...

Because Gilbert cares even less about rings than you do?

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