Kyrie Irving is one of many marquee free agents the New York Knicks could pursue this summer, but should they?
The former first overall pick will hit the free agent market this summer and will command a max contract. Playing for the Boston Celtics this season, Irving is averaging 23.8 points and 7.1 assists per game. He has also shot 49 percent from the field and has thrived not living in former teammate LeBron James’ shadow.
And Kyrie Irving isn’t the only big names to whom the Knicks are attracted. Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant will also be a free agent, as will top-tier players Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, and Kemba Walker among others. Come July, the Knicks could have a VIP ticket to this free agency buffet.
But no name, no matter how big, is without flaws. Giving a player a max contract can be as much of a curse as it can a blessing, something the Knicks know all too well.
That isn’t to say the Knicks shouldn’t pursue Kyrie Irving, but they should definitely consider such a move from all angles.
The first thing which stands out with Kyrie Irving, besides his skills, is his basketball pedigree. His father, Drederick, played for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino at Boston University before playing professionally in Australia. The younger Irving, meanwhile, blossomed into a five-star high school prospect and McDonald’s All-American. He then played a year of college ball at Duke before turning pro and being picked first by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011, despite playing just 11 games for the Blue Devils due to injury.
The rest, as they say, is history. Irving averaged 18.5 points per game as a rookie and was named Rookie of the Year. He has six All-Star berths under his belt. In 2016, two years after James returned to Cleveland after four seasons with the Miami Heat, Irving added NBA Champion to his list of accomplishments. He even hit the game-sealing shot in Game 7 to complete the series comeback against the Golden State Warriors.
Throw all those accomplishments together, and Kyrie Irving has become one of the league’s elite scoring point guards. He has averaged 22.2 points and 5.7 assists per game for his career. In an NBA where the scoring point man is king, that adds to his value.
On a New York Knicks team desperate to be a winning squad again, he would immediately become the leader in the locker room at Madison Square Garden.
However, the Knicks shouldn’t just give Kyrie Irving a max contract willy-nilly. Don’t forget, max contracts have burned New York before. Carmelo Anthony’s $124 million deal in 2014 was $5 million less than the max which could be offered but may as well have been a max contract as his play declined. The Knicks gave $100 million to Amare Stoudemire after whiffing on LeBron James in 2010, and the former Phoenix Suns star was injured so often, he was bought out midway through the last year of the deal.
Let’s also not forget Allan Houston, whose max contract proved such an albatross, it gave birth to the NBA’s amnesty clause which was dubbed the “Allan Houston Rule.”
And what does all this have to do with Kyrie Irving? Well, it’s simple. Compared to guys like Durant, Thompson, and Walker, he carries a fair amount of risk, mostly in the injury department.
Look at it this way. Since debuting in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, Irving has played in over 70 games just three times. He has dealt with knee issues the past few years, and even missed the playoffs last year because of his knee. In today’s fast-paced NBA, even with Knicks coach David Fizdale running a more balanced offense, that could prove to be a problem.
Not only that, but Irving’s reputation in Boston has faded this year. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported earlier this month Irving had become “disengaged and detached from his teammates,” never a good sign.
And why does that matter? Let’s say the Knicks sign Irving and another max free agent, but remain a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team? A moody Irving could prove to do more harm than help in such circumstances, even if it is an extreme example of what could go wrong.
Verdict: Sign Kyrie
But when push comes to shove, the New York Knicks need to sign Kyrie Irving. There are more reasons to sign him than there are not to. He grew up in a basketball family across the river in New Jersey, so he knows how great the Knicks used to be. Just imagine how he would feel not only playing for them, but leading them back to greatness.
Statistically, he’s still an excellent scoring point guard with a career VORP of 24.7 and 57.9 career win shares. Injuries aside, he’s still the best point guard available assuming the Knicks don’t draft Ja Morant in June.
This is all to make one final point. Irving and the New York Knicks, if he signs with them, will not have a perfect relationship. There will be disagreements, maybe even some intense ones.
And yet, at the same time, the idea of Irving playing well in a Knicks uniform is a fun one. He and the team could go together like Mike Wazowski and Sully. No days are perfect, but the potential for good far outweighs the bad.
Kyrie Irving will have a lot of suitors this summer. If the Knicks are serious, they’ll go out of their way to ink him early on.