Tag Archives: Kyrie Irving

Drafts and trades v transfers

When Neymar joined Paris St-Germain from Barcelona in the summer for just less than £200m, it was reported his annual salary would be approximately £28m.

PSG paid out plenty to secure an established world-class talent, but in America, pro sports franchises pay top dollar to sign rookie players straight out of college.

Markelle Fultz of the Washington Huskies university team was the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

He will earn a maximum of $33,727,701 over the course his first contract with the Philadelphia 76ers, including $15,366,120 guaranteed during his first two years.

All that cash for a promising talent who only played one season for the Huskies and may not have what it takes to become a consistent elite-level performer in the NBA.

Welcome to the world of US sport, where money is spent on wages, not transfer fees.

Drafting talent

It’s a strangely egalitarian world, too, given the rampant capitalism which characterises most other walks of American life.

In the NBA and NFL draft system, for example, the previous season’s bottom team get first pick of the potential superstars produced by the US college system.

In reality, teams often trade early picks for more in later rounds of the draft. But in theory, the very best player could join the very worst franchise (according to last season’s standings).

It’s all about balance and trying to avoid one team dominating for years on end, but the other key thing to note is money – as in player transfers – is simply not a factor.

The draft system, in which (technically) amateur athletes join professional teams, sees most of those millions of dollars invested in player contracts and salaries.

The same goes for trades between clubs for established players. Cash rarely changes hands; it’s all about swapping one talent for another (or in some cases several others).

 Level playing field

The biggest trade of the NBA off-season saw Isaiah Thomas signed by Cleveland from Boston, with Kyrie Irving going in the opposite direction (much to his displeasure).

Boston reportedly agreed to give Cleveland a second-round pick in the 2020 draft to seal the deal. Thomas remained on a $30m-a-year deal, with Irving keeping his $20m annual salary.

In football, such exchanges are extremely rare, and even when they do happen usually involve player+cash (or more likely cash+makeweight player).

And any highly-prized footballer in the prime of his career would be looking for a salary upgrade when agreeing to be transferred – and possibly a bonus for signing in the first place.

Supporters of the American system argue it does its job by keeping the playing field relatively level in terms of team strength – although there will still be ‘dynasty’ franchises that rule the roost for several seasons.

The Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers have both dominated in the NBA in recent decades, while the NFL’s New England Patriots have won five Super Bowls since 2001.

Education

Proponents of the draft system also claim it encourages young players to get a college education as they seek a career in professional sports. For every player who ‘makes it’, dozens fall by the wayside, and others who join the pro ranks find their careers are short-lived.

‘When they are released – as the vast majority are – they are ill-equipped to cope with life outside of football’

So gaining a degree, the argument goes, gives those individuals an alternative career to pursue if their dream of playing professionally fails to become a reality.

In truth, the pressure is on young players to turn pro as soon as possible – and maximise their earning potential.

In recognition of this, the NBA now stipulates that they only have to wait a year before becoming eligible for the draft – and don’t even have to attend college in that period.

LeBron James, arguably the game’s biggest star, joined his hometown team Cleveland in the 2003 draft without spending anytime at university.

Released

Footballers are often part of the youth set-up at a professional club from a very young age and work their way through its age-group teams until – if they are one of the chosen few – they are offered a professional contract. More often, they are devastated to find they are not being offered one.

Although education is a mandatory part of their life as young players, critics claim being involved with clubs from early childhood encourages unrealistic expectations that they are already on the path to success, fame and riches, leading them to effectively switch off from gaining qualifications.

So when they are released – as the vast majority are – they are ill-equipped to cope with life outside of football, and many are at risk of mental health problems or going off the rails.

When it comes to young players being transferred for vast sums of money, the pressure on them to justify their new club’s outlay is immense – and sometimes damaging to their career.

Pros and cons

So which system works best overall?

In theory, football’s transfer system rewards clubs for developing young talent, or getting the best out of players.

‘Since the Premier League was launched in the 1992-93 season, it has been won by just six teams’

For smaller ones, selling players to bigger clubs offers a lifeline that may be the difference between financial stability and going out of business.

The risk – and reality – is that the very best players tend to end up at the biggest, best-supported and wealthiest clubs, and those clubs form a self-perpetuating elite which tend to win all the titles and trophies.

Is it that different in the US? In the NBA, only five teams have won more than three championships since the league began in 1947. On the other hand, those five account for 70% of the titles, with the Boston Celtics leading the way with 17, closely followed by the Lakers on 16.

However, eight different teams have won the NBA since 2000. In the NFL, the title has been secured by 12 different franchises since the turn of the century.

Since the Premier League was launched in the 1992-93 season, it has been won by just six teams.

So maybe there’s something in the thinking behind the US system after all…

Trade adds edge to Celtics-Cavs rivalry as NBA season begins

When the NBA season gets underway early on Wednesday morning (UK time), it will do so with a genuine blockbuster.

A repeat of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals would have been an entertaining spectacle under any circumstances, but after an unprecedented trade that sent the disgruntled Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston in exchange for fellow All-Star Isaiah Thomas, there now exists that crucial ingredient to any stand-out rivalry: bad blood.

In a league where it has become commonplace, perhaps to the detriment of the NBA as a whole, for superstar players to join forces in an attempt to maximise their chances of glory, Irving’s decision to request a trade away from the Cleveland Cavaliers should be respected.

Ever since LeBron James returned to his hometown team in 2014, Irving has had the easy life.

James remains the best player in the NBA, and his unselfish playing style and likeable personality have drawn an outstanding ensemble cast to the Cavaliers, resulting in three back-to-back trips to the NBA finals, with an NBA Championship coming in 2016.

Ambition

But all of the success left Irving feeling somewhat marginalised. Drafted by the Cavaliers in 2011, he spent his early NBA career as the unquestioned leader and star of the team, before being firmly pushed into a number two role upon ‘King’ James’ triumphant return.

And so Irving chose to cast off on his own, saying publicly it was his best chance to develop as a player.

“It was my time to do what was best for me in terms of my intentions, and that’s going after something bigger than myself and being in an environment that was conducive to my potential,” he said.

“Now [I’m] taking that next steps as a 25-year-old evolving man and being the best basketball player I can be.”

But despite it being refreshing to see a player in Irving’s position want to lead his own team, it would be a stretch to call the news of his trade request truly shocking. The real surprise was his destination.

Loyalty

‘I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for. Loyalty – it’s just a word’

Isaiah Thomas has always been the underdog. Whereas Irving was the prized #1 draft pick when he entered the league in 2011, the 5ft 9in (yes, really) Thomas was taken with the 60th and final pick by the Sacramento Kings.

Seen by most as a talented player without the physical profile to ever grind out his place in the land of giants that is the NBA, Thomas has improved his game by leaps and bounds each season. He has defied the perceived limits of his diminutive frame to average a remarkable 29 points per game for the Celtics in the 2016-17, a tally good enough for 3rd highest in the league.

The 28-year-old point guard has always worn his emotions on his sleeve, and that passion resonated strongly with the hardcore Boston fanbase.

That connection between player and franchise has rarely ever seen a better example than April of this year, when Thomas’ sister Chyna tragically died in a car accident just one day before the start of the Celtics’ play-off series against the Chicago Bulls.

Thomas chose to suit up and play that very next day, and despite being visibly emotional throughout, managed to lead the Celtics to a 4-2 series win against the Bulls, eventually falling short against the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Injury

But in the often cold, analytics-driven world of the NBA, loyalty between player and franchise can often be a one-way street. When Irving, a younger player on a longer contract, became available, Thomas was the key asset in the Boston offer that persuaded Cleveland to do business.

Thomas, never one to disguise his feelings, has since voiced his thoughts on the trade.

“That s**t hurt. It hurt a lot… I get it: this is a business. Danny [Ainge, Celtics general manager] is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade.

“I think my trade can show people. I want them to see how my getting traded — just like that, without any warning — by the franchise that I scratched and clawed for, and bled for, and put my everything on the line for. Loyalty – it’s just a word.”

Unfortunately, Thomas is unlikely to play in the season-opener due to a nagging hip injury that many feel was a key factor in Boston’s decision to trade him.

But with Irving’s immediate return to his old stomping ground will serve as the perfect introduction to what is sure to be one of the most dramatic NBA seasons in memory.