Yep, I’m back again, playing NBA General Manager.
I’m sorry, ya’ll. But I just can’t let this Kyrie Irving to the Atlanta Hawks thing go. Since news of his desire to be traded leaked out of Cleveland, we’ve heard every scenario imaginable of why he won’t succeed being “the man” at another team.
Well, I for one am a big Kyrie Irving fan. I’m also an advocate of the teams in the city and state I’ve called home for almost 11 years being successful. So it makes sense on a personal level why I say, “Kyrie to the Hawks” is a natural fit. But it’s more than personal. Here are some reasons why I think getting the Cleveland dynamo in a Hawks jersey is advantageous to both parties.
1. The Hawks need a superstar — bad. Look, I’m not saying adding Irving to the Hawks’ roster — especially the current roster as it stands — is going to create instant success. Chances are, if Atlanta is a 35-40 win team now with the current talent situation, adding Kyrie may only give you another five to seven wins right away. But it’s bigger than the wins. There’s absolutely no reason why a cosmopolitan, southern metropolis like Atlanta shouldn’t have a NBA superstar on its roster. It creates buzz and an immediate uptick in fan interest and ticket sales. And even though the Hawks have been a picture of decent consistency in the league — 10 straight playoff seasons — the city and its fanbase begs for some more sizzle. Kyrie brings that instantly.
2. Kyrie needs a project. He wants to be the man on his own team. And although many are saying he can’t carry a team based on the previous two seasons he spent with the Cavs before LeBron got there, I say that argument is flawed. In the same breath, everyone who says Kyrie has only become as good as he is because of LeBron also says he wasn’t that good before LeBron. The solution to that equation is simple. It’s called “maturity.” Kyrie is a better player for being around LeBron, sure. But he’s also several years older, wiser and NBA-savvy. I believe wholeheartedly he has the talent, and now the seasoning and experience, to carry and build a team, and there aren’t many teams he could go to other than the Hawks that could showcase the impact his presence and skill could immediately have on a franchise, holistically speaking (not just wins and losses). The best way Kyrie can prove his worth as “the man,” is to go to a situation that will be built just for him and around his attributes.
And the way Atlanta’s roster is set up, there’s not only a lot Kyrie could add, but there’s a ton that could be added around him.
3. Adding Kyrie fits the Hawks’ current tanking mode. Dress it up however you want, but the Hawks are officially in tank mode. And after the failed Dwight Howard experiment, I can’t say I don’t blame them. He wasn’t the splash addition the front office thought he’d be (I could’ve told you that), and so they unloaded him for little to nothing. Now, Paul Millsap is gone, which means the entire 60-win season squad is scattered abroad the NBA landscape, so it looks like Atlanta’s biding its time, building through the draft and possibly (hopefully) getting set to add a big piece in next year’s ridiculously lucrative free agency pool.
So here’s my thought: If unloading to reload next year is what you’re already doing, just go ahead and make it complete. Send everything you’ve got of tradable value to Cleveland to get Irving. Initially when I made the argument that Atlanta should go get Kyrie, the question was raised, “What can the Hawks give of any value?” I admit, it stumped me then. But since Cleveland added Derrick Rose to a one year deal, I’m no longer stumped. The Cavs now have who they think could be an heir apparent to Kyrie, which means they should be more inclined to dump Irving off their roster for less. Perfect! The benefit of throwing the kitchen sink to Cleveland to get Kyrie now is that you’ll still be in a position to work free agency next season, AND you’ll already have your superstar to boot.
4. Kyrie can get a 2-for-1 in ATL that he can’t get elsewhere. So we’ve established that Kyrie wants to be the man on his own team. Great. But when we look at his trade wish list, we got problems:
-San Antonio Spurs — Already established. Kwahi Leonard is the star, but as I heard one sports commentator on the radio say the other day, the only “man” on the Spurs team is head coach Greg Popovich.
-New York Knicks — Dumpster fire organization. That ain’t what ya want, Kyrie.
-Minnesota Timberwolves — Again, with Jimmy Butler there now playing for his old coach, you’re not muscling in on that. It’s a more established team than what would fit Kyrie’s wishes.
-Miami Heat — I’ll admit, of the four, this makes the most sense. But Atlanta makes more. Why? Here comes the 2-for-1:
Kyrie already likes San Antonio. There’s something about its culture, about Popovich’s offensive coaching philosophy that piques his interest. But, again, he won’t be the man there. But in Atlanta, you’ve got a Popovich disciple in head coach Mike Budenholzer. He knows Popovich’s system, and has employed it to reasonable success in Atlanta. So you get San Antonio-style team culture without the other already established players, therefore allowing you to carve out your own identity, uninhibited by other players competing for your spotlight. Perfect scenario!
5. Going after Kyrie would be a franchise-changing statement. I hear people ask all the time: “Why doesn’t anyone ever want to come to Atlanta?” It’s a top-notch city that seems to attract everything and everyone except star athletes. Blame that on the front office. One reason why none of the big named players come here is because the Hawks’ front office has done little to nothing to show it’s serious about building a winner. Even if Kyrie spurns an Atlanta overture, it still bodes well for the franchise as the most alluring free agent pool in league history looms next offseason, because it shows other superstars that the Hawks now have an aggressive front office that wants to win NOW. And if Irving says, “Yes, I’ll come to Atlanta,” well that just made the Hawks more appealing to other stars than it’s been in years.
Listen, I understand Irving isn’t a perfect player. He’s got question marks on defense. He dribbles a lot. He’s had some attitude issues in the past. I get it. But for Atlanta, the plusses far outweigh the minuses — especially when you are currently bereft of major star power. And for Kyrie, again, it’s the best place possible for him to be his own man, build his own team and play in a system and for a coach that would cater to his talents.
Besides all that, red looks good on him anyway.
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News in the East Atlanta suburb of Covington, GA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.