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Why the Trail Blazers Shouldn’t Even Consider Damian Lillard for Kyrie Irving

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A reader wonders if such a deal could be viable if the Celtics-Cavaliers trade falls through.

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, an unprotected Brooklyn Nets first-rounder, and a couple of players, it was the biggest NBA news of the summer. When that trade hit the skids because of a sketchy Thomas physical—remaining in limbo to this point—the story went nuclear. In this atmosphere, one of our Blazer’s Edge readers wants to know if an alternate trade involving Damian Lillard is practical, should Cleveland’s original plans fall through.

Dear Dave,

With the trade between the Celtics and Cavs possibly imploding, what is your opinion of a swap of our PG with their PG? Would you condone a trade of Lillard to the Cavs for Kyrie Irving? Is it too early to consider changing up McLillard? Would Portland get more in exchange for Irving than just Irving?

Always open to possibilities, so I was just wondering your opinion.

Draven

Sorry, Draven, barring other compensation, the Blazers would be foolish to do this.

Statistically the two players are close enough that beauty ends up in the eye of the beholder. A loyalist to either franchise could make a case for the superiority of their favorite, but it wouldn’t be inarguable. This alone is reason to nix any straight-up deal. Franchises make trades to get ahead, not stay even. Financial considerations can change the equation. Irving makes less than Lillard does. But the difference is not enough to tip the scales.

Lateral moves like this one are a bad idea under most circumstances. Trades disrupt lives and locker rooms. They bring risk. The reward of extra talent, better fit, and cap savings compensate for that risk. When none of those are present, there’s no upside.

Lateral moves are a horrible idea when they involve the cornerstone of your franchise. Getting a tattoo for no good reason isn’t smart, but you can probably live with it. Getting a heart transplant for no good reason is unimaginable. The usual disruption following any trade would be magnified by a thousand as mixed feelings are amplified by, “If they can do that to the franchise ace, who won’t they do it to?” Every player lives with the possibility of being traded, but you’d like to think there are good, predictable reasons for it. A seemingly random trade of a player everyone depends on for no clear gain would destroy morale. Every player in tje locker room would feel like a detached leaf, blowing in the wind. They’d perceive a shocking lack of loyalty and appreciation for the former star. They’d see no further reason to invest loyalty and trust in the franchise themselves.

Speaking of loyalty...even if Lillard and Irving are close enough statistically to call it a wash, there’s no contest in the franchise attachment department. Lillard has said repeatedly that he plans to be with the Blazers for life. Meanwhile Irving wants off of a highly successful, NBA Finals-visiting, former-championship winner. Even if you justify that by extenuating circumstances, there’s no way Irving could bond to the Blazers like Lillard. There’s no history, no reason. This doesn’t just break the tie between them; it shatters it...at least from Portland’s point of view.

Granted, loyalty is often overrated. Normally only less valuable players possess it; the characteristic is to their advantage. When an acknowledged star evidences it towards a smaller-market team, that team has to take it into account. There’s no guarantee their next trade acquisition or draft pick will feel it, and thus no guarantee that they’ll actually stick around.

I say this with full knowledge that situations change. Whatever Lillard says now, it may be necessary for him to play elsewhere before his career ends in order to fulfill his aspirations. There are no guarantees that his loyalty will bear fruit in the future. Nor are there any guarantees that the Lillard-CJ McCollum tandem will remain viable. I suspect that in the long run, both the Blazers and their starting guards will come to the realization that a change would allow for growth on all sides. But trading away Lillard for Irving now wouldn’t erase that scenario. It’d probably hasten it, just with different names on the back of the jerseys and much more bitterness in the process.

Even if the deal between the Cavaliers and Celtics falls through, there’s no way the Blazers should be sniffing around Irving at this time. Even if you give him the edge over Lillard—which is an open question—the payoff wouldn’t be high enough and the potential cost could be immense.

Send along those Mailbag questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave / blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard