Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert announced early Tuesday morning that All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving has agreed to a five-year rookie extension to remain in Cleveland.
The max extension, which is worth an estimated $90 million according to Yahoo Sports, will begin in the 2015-16 season and run through the 2019-2020 season. Irving is on the books for $7.1 million next season, the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.
Gilbert, Irving and new Cavaliers coach David Blatt met in New Jersey to discuss the deal, according to reports.
"I'm here for the long haul Cleveland and I'm ecstatic!" Irving wrote on Twitter. "Super excited and blessed to be here and apart of something special. Cleveland Kid."
The 2014 July free agency moratorium opened at midnight ET on Tuesday. Teams and players can reach verbal agreement on new contracts but the deals cannot go official until July 10, when the league's moratorium is lifted.
Irving, 22, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Regarded as one of the premier young point guards in the league, the Duke product averaged a team-high 20.8 points, 6.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season. Irving was named 2012 Rookie of the Year and he was selected to the 2013 and 2014 All-Star teams, earning All-Star MVP honors this season. He is expected to play for USA Basketball during this summer's FIBA World Cup.
Thanks to his all-around offensive game, sterling credentials, upside and marketability, Irving was practically a shoo-in to receive a max rookie extension. However, the deal was consummated only after months of speculation that there could be trouble between team and players. Blatt will mark the third coach of Irving's young career, and reports last season indicated that Irving and teammate Dion Waiters were involved in a locker room incident. One report in February indicated that Irving might not be totally happy in Cleveland, and multiple fans have rushed the Quicken Loans Arena court to urge Irving to remain in town, unlike former Cavaliers star LeBron James.
In truth, the NBA's rookie extensions are structured such that a player in Irving's position would have to go to extraordinary lengths early in his career to leave via free agency. If Irving and the Cavaliers hadn't agreed on an extension this summer, Irving would have proceeded toward restricted free agency in 2015, and Cleveland would have matching rights on any offers made to Irving. The earliest Irving could have left the Cavaliers as an unrestricted free agent would have been 2016, which would have required him to accept a one-year qualifying offer for the 2015-16 season rather than sign an extension or agree to an offer in restricted free agency. Such a decision is essentially unprecedented for a player of Irving’s caliber.
If there's a bone to pick with the scope of this contract it centers on Irving's health and durability. The injury bug has repeatedly bitten Irving, as he's missed 10+ games in each of his three seasons. Back in March, Irving suffered a biceps injury that sidelined him for a portion of Cleveland's failed push to the playoffs. In March 2013, he missed multiple weeks with a shoulder injury, and he suffered a hairline fracture in his finger back in November 2012. Irving also missed 15 games for the Cavaliers during his rookie season and sat out for an extended period of time due to a concussion. He also broke his hand during the summer of 2012, an injury that prevented him from participating in the Las Vegas Summer League. A toe injury also caused him to miss a majority of his one and only season at Duke.
Concerns or not, Cleveland lacked any real leverage in the situation. After James' departure, the Cavaliers need Irving more than he needs the Cavaliers, and a quick non-negotiation was far preferable than a protracted negotiation that drew negative attention to the franchise. Irving will now get the chance to grow with 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, while Cavaliers management can turn its attention to filling out a roster capable of cracking the postseason for the first time since James headed for South Beach.
Grade: A. Irving has some maturing to do, but he's still one of a very few select players who can say they have a real shot at being the league's top point guard once they hit their prime. Securing that type of talent for as long as possible is of prime importance for any franchise, but that's especially true for the Cavaliers, who allowed a 25-year-old James to opt out after his seventh season. Irving, by contrast, is now set to be in Cleveland until after his 28th birthday.