Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is embodying the delicate balance between a player’s empowerment and responsibility.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN shook the NBA at its core when he reported that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Roughly a month removed from a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance, the Cavaliers are staring down the barrel of a franchise-altering decision.
In the days that have followed, however, Irving has crossed the line between empowerment and responsibility.
Requesting a trade is a player’s right, and there’s no rational way around that being true. It may not sit well with fans, but a player has every right to determine that their future success or personal morale would improve in a different situation.
The act of holding an organization hostage, however, isn’t a part of those unwritten empowerment rules.
When Irving re-signed with the Cavaliers, he put ink on a contract that would keep him in Cleveland for five years. The organization granted him a player option for the 2019-20 season, and over the course of his first two seasons, gave him a ring and another Finals appearance.
Cleveland has also mishandled its salary cap and flooded the roster with quality players on overpaid contracts that have limited its flexibility.
Whether or not Irving is happy with the organization, there’s a reality that should be accepted as fact. When he signed a five-year contract with the Cavaliers, he committed his services to the organization for five seasons.
Requesting a trade is within the realm of his rights, but answering the organization’s phone calls is within the realm of his responsibilities.
According to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic (subscription required), Irving hasn’t answered his phone for the Cavaliers since requesting a trade.
"[LeBron James] was unreachable during the summer of 2010, something Irving is now. The Cavs have unsuccessfully tried to contact Irving, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic, but he is not talking to anyone from the organization."
Therein lies the unfortunate truth of the current situation: Both the player and the organization are in the wrong.
Again: There’s nothing wrong with Irving becoming frustrated with the state of the organization. There’s even less wrong with Irving determining that his future would improve if he were to leave Cleveland and play for another team.
What’s wrong is requesting a trade and then deciding to ignore the organization’s attempts to speak about his future.
Cleveland’s ownership may be the epitome of dysfunction, but the facts remain. Frustration is understandable, and Irving’s is certainly justifiable, but there’s a line to be drawn between sending a message and failing to honor a contract.
A line that Irving isn’t the first or only individual to blur.
If Cleveland is calling and attempting to persuade Irving to stay, then it’s understandable for him to ignore the calls. With a new general manager being hired, however, it would behoove Irving to at least have a conversation with Koby Altman.
Even if Altman can’t convince Irving to stay, he could at least discuss Irving’s trade demands and work with him to figure out an ideal trade scenario.
It’s also worth noting that, while Irving may want to be traded, the organization has no obligation to actually move him. Irving signed a five-year contract, and that means he agreed to play, at least, the next four seasons with Cleveland.
If he wants the organization to honor his trade request, then mutual decency would mean having a healthy discussion with the new lead executive.
I’m not here to sit on a high horse and pretend that I know the inner workings of the contending organization with the most combustible elements—nor am I here to condemn Irving for wanting a way out of Cleveland.
It’s simply a matter of the empowerment of the athlete needing to be balanced with the responsibility they have to the organization they sign a contract with.
With two guaranteed years remaining on his contract, Kyrie Irving still has a responsibility to the organization—just as the Cleveland Cavaliers have a responsibility to limit the dysfunction.
This entire situation is display of the delicate balance between empowerment and responsibility.