The Cleveland Cavaliers are still one loss away from officially losing the NBA Finals, but the intra-team sniping has already begun.
Down 3-0, the Cavaliers face a nearly impossible task in coming back against the Golden State Warriors to win the fourth championship of LeBron James’ career. When you think about how they got to this point, there are so many what-ifs for this team going through the last year: What if Chris Paul stays healthy and the Cavs play the Rockets instead? What if Isaiah Thomas plays like he did last year in Boston? What if the Clone LeBron initiative works out?
But easily the biggest what-if is what if Kyrie Irving is still in a Cavaliers uniform at the beginning of the year? There’s no way to know for sure where the Cavs would be now if that happened, but one team veteran seems pretty sure in this quote given to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:
“We’d be up 3-0 if Kyrie was still here. I have no doubt. Do you?”
Would the Cavaliers be up 3-0 in the NBA Finals with Kyrie Irving?
That’s almost impossible to say for certain, but the answer is probably no.
The Warrior might be the strongest collection of talent the NBA has ever seen, and they rolled through a Cavaliers team with Irving in the fold in last year’s NBA Finals. In fact, the Cavaliers were down 3-0 at this point last year, so it seems the best evidence we have is that the Cavaliers would still be down in this series even if they had Irving.
What would the Cavaliers look like right now with Kyrie Irving?
This whole hypothetical scenario basically ignores who would be on the Cavaliers roster if the Kyrie trade to Boston didn’t go through. Jae Crowder, one of the players received from Boston, was one of the pieces in the trade that landed George Hill and Rodney Hood, while Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson might still be Lakers if Cleveland didn’t ship away Thomas to Los Angeles.
Not all of those pieces have been great for Cleveland, but Hill has been the Cavaliers’ third-leading scorer in the playoffs while Nance’s versatility on defense seems pretty important against the Warriors’ offense, which requires switches more than any unit in the league. The Cavaliers might still have made some moves at the trade deadline this season even with Irving, but you can’t just add Irving to this roster and call it a day.
Is there anyone in Cleveland who doesn’t regret the Kyrie trade?
That’s going to be a tough one. The trade seemed to go south nearly the second Thomas hit the court and the Cavaliers have basically been playing catch-up ever since. The team still managed to make it to the Finals for the fourth straight year, but they clearly haven’t been up to snuff against the Warriors.
Irving averaged more than 27 points per game in the 2016 NBA Finals, the sole year in which the Cavaliers topped the Warriors, and the Warriors haven’t missed seeing him this season. It’s the kind of trade that had one Cavaliers player call Celtics GM Danny Ainge some not so kind words.
Part of the impetus for the Kyrie trade was also the specter of James possibly leaving Cleveland after this season, as the team was hoping to use the Brooklyn Nets pick to retool for the future. Let’s just say that speculation hasn’t died down.
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