Dogged by rumors that he has wanted out of Cleveland, Irving and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert tweeted Tuesday morning that they have agreed to terms on a new five-year contract extension. Neither side announced the terms of the deal, but several outlets reported that it was a maximum deal worth about $90 million that will keep him in Cleveland for the next six years.
“Looking forward to the next 6 years of @KyrieIrving in CLE,” Gilbert tweeted not long after the free agent market opened at midnight on Tuesday. “Just shook hands (and) intend to sign on the 10th. Can’t be more excited about @cavs.”
The deal cannot officially be signed until July 10, per NBA rules. But it was a huge step forward for the Cavaliers and for Irving, and the first big splash of the new NBA fiscal year.
While most eyes were fixated on what LeBron James will do as an unrestricted free agent, Gilbert and a contingent of Cavaliers brass, including new head coach David Blatt, immediately set their sights on Irving, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 who has been equal parts sensational and frustrating in his first three seasons in the league.
Irving has made two straight All-Star games, was named MVP of last year’s festival in New Orleans and has positioned himself as the new age point guard, a ball-dominant, score-first attacker who averaged 20.8 points and 6.1 assists last season.
But Irving has also been prone to injury, has had a difficult time getting on the same page with his backcourt mate Dion Waiters and has been criticized at times for a style of play that was perceived as selfish. He has yet to play in a playoff game in his first three years, will be playing for his third coach in four seasons and grew irritated toward the end of last season by the constant speculation about his future in Cleveland.
“The barrage and little bit of attack that I saw, I’ve been getting it all season and I feel I definitely don’t deserve it,” Irving said before a loss to Charlotte late in the season. “It’s one of those things where I can deal with it, but at a certain point, it’s gotten too much. It’s been like that the whole entire season.”
After being non-committal about his future in Cleveland for most of last season, he wasted little time after the market opened at midnight Tuesday to show Cavaliers fans that he’s all in.
“I’m here for the long haul Cleveland!!! and I’m ecstatic!!” Irving tweeted. “Super excited and blessed to be here and a part of something special. #ClevelandKID”
The move was also a smart financial decision for Irving. Had he declined the massive extension, Irving still would have had to play two more seasons before being eligible for unrestricted free agency. He could have become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2015. But any other team would only be able to offer him a four-year deal, not the five years that the Cavaliers gave him, and Gilbert would have had the right to match any offer Irving received.
That it never got to that point was a big step in the right direction for Gilbert, who has been searching for some stability since James left for Miami in 2010.
The offseason got off to a rocky start when Gilbert abruptly fired coach Mike Brown after one season and also dismissed GM Chris Grant. He promoted the well-respected David Griffin to the top executive job and then made the bold choice to bring Blatt from Israel to take over as coach.
The Cavs also have No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, a promising swing man with major defensive chops and athleticism, to play alongside Irving, not to mention a glimmer of hope at getting James to return to Cleveland in free agency.
When the market opened, many thought the only team that could convince James to leave Miami, where he has won two titles and been to four straight NBA Finals, was the Cavaliers. But when fellow Heat stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also opted out of their contracts, the Heat became heavy favorites to reunite the three All-Stars.
James is the dream. Irving is the reality.
“We’re making strides in the right direction,” Irving said when the season ended. “I want to be part of something special.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.