A Debate With Myself: The Kyrie Irving Conundrum

[Checks Voicemail]

Hi Mike,

It’s Scott Perry, General Manager of the New York Knickerbockers. Listen, I know we don’t know each other, and I know I’m infinitely more qualified than you in all things basketball, and I know I work in tandem with someone whose Princeton degree suggests he’s MUCH MUCH smarter than you, and I know I have plenty of people on my payroll whose opinions I trust, but look man: this one’s tough. All this talk that Kyrie’s coming; we’ve got a really good shot, I just…[sigh] Look, if KD says, “I want him,” done – end of conversation; and if Kevin falls through or Kyrie decides to go elsewhere, then it’s a non-issue of course, but…see, what if Kevin signs but doesn’t demand Kyrie? Should we still sign him? I’m conflicted. So do me favor: take some time to think it over, and hit me back.

—-

Yo, is he for real? What’s there to think about? It’s Kyrie f***ing Irving. One of the best players in the NBA. Top — 

Top what?  Not Top 10.  Maybe Top 20.

Maybe?!? You’re out of your mind.

Well, considering we reside in the same mind…

You’re here questioning whether the New York Knicks, mired in suffering and futility for the better parts of two decades, should sign a 27-year-old point guard who’s a 6-time All-Star and an NBA champion.  Have you ever seen this dude play?

Elite handles, elite finishing, money J in both the mid-range and from deep…

So Stephon Marbury with a better resume.

No…what?  Are you —

I noticed there was nothing about defense in that list of skills. That’s exactly what we need – a shoot-first, defense-last point guard making 30+ million dollars a year for the next four years. Good idea.

Yo, are you for real right now? THE MAN IS SPECIAL. 

I don’t see it.

It doesn’t matter what you see. Your eyes are lying to you, but you know what don’t lie? Numbers.

I swear to God, if that bottom row is Stephon…

Whoa, good for you. You’re smarter than you look.

For real – if you think there is any comparison between Kyrie Irving and Stephon Marbury, you should not be allowed to write about basketball. For anyone. Ever.

I don’t write about basketball. I’m a figment of the imagination of some guy that writes about basketball. So are you. Maybe you’re not so smart.

I’m smart enough to recognize someone who tells only half the story to try to make his point. Convenient you left out career FG%, 3PT%, FT%,1 and pretty much every other efficiency and/or team impact stat.

Kyrie plays in an era where Yi Jianlian’s workout chair would be a Defensive Player of the Year finalist, so eff–

I’m not arguing eras with you. Kyrie Irving is as productive as point guards come, he instantly makes the Knicks a playoff contender by himself

Because he did so well in Boston. Stacked in terms of talent and depth, and his return from injury instantly made them…a 4-seed in a LeBron-less East only to flame out in the 2nd round.

Are you saying he’s not a winner? That he doesn’t impact winning? Three consecutive NBA Finals, 1 ring…and may I remind you, that ring came at the expense of THE GREATEST REGULAR SEASON TEAM OF ALL-TIME.

And courtesy of LeBron James and Adam Silver.

But who hit the shot? Refresh my memory? Who hit the most important shot in the history of the NBA Finals?

You’re right. Kudos for hitting the shot. Kudos for, after what felt like an eternity of offensive futility, brick after brick after brick, he hit the shot that the guy who carried him there was too drained to hit.

I hate everything about you. Games 3-7, dude averaged 30.8 points on almost 51% from the field with about 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per, significantly outplaying the UNANIMOUS MVP of the League. You know what? I won’t waste my breath. Kyrie finished this year Top 15 in both scoring (14th) and assists (11th), has a proven track record of winning, and doesn’t shy away from the big moments, which is exactly what we need in this city. You wanna talk about defense? Who gives a sh**? You said it yourself – no one plays defense anymore anyway.

I never said that.

You implied it. Besides, we have Mitch back there to erase mistakes.

To be clear, you said you weren’t going to waste your breath, and then you kept talking. But I’ll play along. You think Kyrie’s this basketball god, you think his play on the court is too tantalizing to resist – fine. My biggest issues with him have very little to do with his play on the court. I was joking with my Marbury comparison, but here’s what they do have in common: they’re both score-first guards from the NY Metropolitan area who play no defense, possess no leadership skills, and might be just flat-out weirdos.

Marcus Smart disagrees with your leadership point, and what? You’re gonna dismiss an all-world talent because he thinks that world is flat?

I don’t care that he thinks the Earth is flat, or pretends to think the Earth is flat, or whatever. Let’s go through the list. He announced before the season that he was re-signing in Boston and has since all but officially broken that promise; he has mastered the art of subtly – and sometimes not-so-subtly – throwing teammates under the bus a la his mentor from Cleveland; he gets confrontational with the media, often coming off thin-skinned; he doesn’t know how to NOT cause drama, as evidenced by things like his “I called ‘Bron” BS; and the flat-earth stuff, if he doesn’t actually believe it, then he’s just a troll. Now in some circumstances, none of this would matter, but as we’ve seen, Kyrie is not someone who can keep all this stuff from affecting his play – you watch that Milwaukee series?2 – or his ability to maintain a locker room. So yes, would I want a player with his talent? Of course. But only if it comes with leadership like Dame’s. In fact, I like everything about Dame better. Just give me that guy.

Well, Dame’s not a free agent and has essentially committed to Portland for life, so either A) he’ll never be available, or B) he’d have to go back on his word like Kyrie, which would turn you off.

Okay, forget Dame. Give me Kawhi, Klay, Jimmy…hell, give me Kemba.

Convenient you’ve forgotten how Kawhi in San Antonio ended, and Jimmy in Minn…wait a minute. Hold on. Did you say Kemba? Wait…whoa, whoa, whoa, let me make sure I’ve got this right: after comparing Kyrie to the Beijing Baller, you’ve doubled down on your blasphemy by saying you actually prefer Kemba “I’ve Been to the Playoffs Twice in 8 Years” Walker?

ESPN did a great comparison about a month-and-a-half ago, and the gap between the two isn’t what you think. Factor in the leadership, the discrepancy in fragility, and the fact that Kemba might not command the max

Okay, stop. No one anywhere has suggested that Kemba will sign for anything less than the max, so that point’s irrelevant. Let’s talk injuries —

Yes, let’s – in eight years, he has missed 148 regular season games. That’s 19 per year. You want to pay 30+ million annually to a guy that is going to miss about a quarter of the season, on average, over the life of his contract?

I would like to point out that missed games do not directly correlate to “fragility.” Ever heard of load management? And even if he gets nicked up from time to time —

Nicked up…

— you still don’t pass up on a talent like him based on past injuries. Through his Age-26 season, Dwyane Wade missed an average of about 20 games per. Had he become a free agent that summer, you’re passing on him? No. You don’t get to speak. No one would pass on him, not even someone as stupid as you. Over the next three years, Wade played 79 games, 77 games, 76 games and posted three of the best statistical seasons of his career. My point being: Kyrie hasn’t even hit his physical prime yet. He’s still so young. These guys get older, they figure out their bodies, they take better care of their bodies, and suddenly they’re not so injury-prone.

You left out the part where Wade missed 94 games over four years after that. So I’m not the only one who tells half-truths that suit them.

We can only sign Kyrie for a maximum of four years anyway! All we need is three moderately healthy years, his load managed so that he’s fresh for the playoffs, and we’re good.

So you’re gambling that his next three seasons will miraculously follow Wade’s best three seasons, that he’ll suddenly be healthier and more productive than he’s ever been…tell me again why you’re not a GM?

I’m gambling that, like Wade, he’s able to make small adjustments to his game, his fitness regimen, his diet, so that as he gets older, he gets healthier. I’m gambling that he doesn’t want this to be his last big contract, and he will make the necessary adjustments to prolong his prime. And I’m gambling that our staff will give him all the resources he needs to accomplish this.

Right, because our staff did such a good job of keeping our last All-Star healthy. Whatever. Injuries are unpredictable, so I’ll concede that this is possible. Let’s address the leadership point I made. I noticed you had nothing to say other than, [clown voice] “Marcus Smart disagrees.

That’s supposed to be me?

Duh.

I’m gonna make my point, and then I’m going to end this conversation. You want to blame him for everything that went wrong in Boston, and that’s fine. He deserves some blame, and when you’re the star, the top dog, that’s what you sign up for. But he can only control so much. He can’t control his max running mate breaking his leg in Year 1 and spending all of Year 2 trying to shake off rust; he can’t control his front office standing idly by while egos balloon in the locker room, waiting for a perfect deal that never presented itself, missing out on opportunity after opportunity to cash in their stockpiled assets; he can’t control young guys like Terry Rozier thinking they’re much better than they are and then bitching when they don’t play starters’ minutes; and he can’t control a coach failing to manage what was a supremely talented roster. Was Kyrie a good leader? Probably not. But neither was Stevens. Neither was Ainge. And neither were the other elder statesmen of the team, though no one will say anything about that. So it’s no wonder that after he saw the signs, he’d rethink that commitment. He said he’d re-sign at the beginning of the season before this stuff reared its ugly head. But wanting out once he realized the toxicity of the situation? It’s just smart.

So you want a guy that bails when the going gets tough?

He’s a free agent, and Boston was never on his list in the first place.

He demanded a trade away from the back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference Champs, joined a deep and talented Celtics squad that many believed could rival the Warriors, and now wants another new team…

Maybe you didn’t hear me before. He’s a FREE agent. Emphasis on free.

CAN YOU GUYS PLEASE STOP ARGUING? I NEED TO MAKE A DECISION. WHAT AM I GONNA TELL SCOTT?

Tell him it’s not worth it. Heed Terry Rozier’s warning and go in a different direction. Draft a play-maker and use the 30+ mil you had earmarked for Kyrie to build a roster with championship-level depth.

Or just use common sense and sign the superstar that wants to play for you and fills a desperate need.

Signing Kyrie is an old Knicks move.

Blowing a sure thing is an old Knicks move.

What are you gonna do?

Yeah, what are you gonna do?

WELL, FIRST I’M GONNA DO SOME RESEARCH OF MY OWN.

We covered everything.

Yeah, what more do you need?

I NEED TO FIND A REALLY GOOD THERAPIST…

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