The Dallas Mavericks opted for the seismic shift in-season, trading for Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday afternoon. You’re likely aware of this news by this point, but I’m writing this within an hour of hearing the news. It felt worth it to put down some immediate reactions to this trade, even if some of them may not age well. There’s some good to this trade, some bad, and possibly some ugly as well.
From a purely basketball perspective, this trade makes a ton of sense for both sides. For the Nets, this wasn’t the best collection of long-term assets they could have gotten in return for Irving despite a limited market. Two unprotected first round picks, assuming they were both put on the table, are almost certainly juicier than what they got from the Mavericks.
The problem is that unless the Nets pivoted and immediately turned those Lakers picks into a player that could help them this year, they would be wasting another great year from Kevin Durant. The Dallas package allows the Nets to field a competitive team and maximize their chances of making it out of the East this season. The Celtics are the best team in the East, but they aren’t unbeatable, and neither are the rest of the teams at the top of the conference. Post-trade, the Nets are good enough to make an Eastern Conference Finals run and that was the desired outcome for owner Joe Tsai and the Net’s front office.
For the Mavericks, it’s easy to talk yourself into Irving’s talent. It’s intoxicating. He is arguably the best tough shot maker in the league and is capable of doing things on the basketball court we’ve literally never seen before. He has the league’s best handle, can get anywhere on the floor he wants, and can finish over taller defenders in the lane at will.
The team needed another ball handler and playmaker, and Kyrie is one of the best, full stop. Opponents will always put their best defender on Luka, leaving Kyrie to feast in isolation. Surround him with Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, and Christian Wood, and you have the makings of a top five offense. Defensively, Spencer Dinwiddie was far from a lockdown defender, so the addition of Kyrie won’t take away from the team’s ability to defend. The Mavericks were a bad defensive team before the trade and will continue to be one moving forward.
As far as what the team gave up, I was the President, Secretary, and Treasurer of the Spencer Dinwiddie fan club. Dinwiddie was the sort of distressed asset I thought could flourish in Dallas and he absolutely did. He’s far from a perfect player but his contract was not the albatross many thought it would be.
Clearly, the Nets thought he was a net positive asset and you have to credit him for doing the work to turn his reputation around. Dorian Finney-Smith was beloved by all. With hard work, “Doe-Doe” was able to go from afterthought to one of the league’s best 3-and-D players. His personality embodied everything Mavericks fans wanted in their players. He was a delight in the locker room and he will surely be missed. On court he had probably maxed out every ounce of talent he had. He was a valuable role player but was never going to develop into a star. You have to give up something in order to get something and the Mavericks gritted their teeth and made the right call based on talent. Unfortunately for Dallas, it’s not Irving’s talent that's in question, it’s everything else.
In theory, the Nets were supposed to be the ideal basketball situation for Irving. The front office had essentially handed the keys to the kingdom to him and Kevin Durant when the duo signed there in the summer of 2019. It was so good for him, that he felt comfortable stating that the team didn’t actually need a head coach. He and Durant were more than capable of leading the team.
Off the court, Irving did his best to let everyone know who was in charge. On the court, Irving would sometimes ignore play calls passed down from his coach and openly defy him. Steve Nash aside, if there was anyone in the world that Irving should have been loyal to, it’s Kevin Durant. Durant left a dynasty and chose to make Irving the co-star of the next chapter of his career. And yet, Irving has proven time and time again that he is capable of being loyal to one person and one person only: Kyrie Irving. Reports that Jason Kidd was his favorite player and he and Nico Harrison had a great relationship during their time together at Nike are wholly irrelevant. The second your best interests no longer align with his, Irving is happy to leave you at the altar.
If you have any doubts about what Irving is capable of once he’s decided he’s done with a team, take a look at the playoff series against the Bucks during his last year on the Boston Celtics. He inexplicably made the decision to guard Giannis and was torched over and over and over again. Offensively, he would alternate between taking some truly terrible shots, even by his standards, and flat out refusing to participate in the offense. It was sabotage.
His antics aside, he has a concerning history of injuries as well. All in all, he’s simply undependable and can’t be counted on. His availability on a night-to-night basis is anyone’s guess and he will toss a grenade into the locker room on a whim. Dinwiddie and Wood were labeled as malcontents and their ability to assimilate in the locker room was questioned before their arrival. After enough time, however, the team and fanbase grew comfortable with their ability to fit in. There is no amount of time that can pass that will allow anyone to feel at peace. We were boring before this trade, post-trade, we will be must see television but in a HBO series-Chernobyl type of way. For as long as Irving is a Maverick, the team will be playing Russian roulette while walking a tight rope over a Grand Canyon filled to the brim with poisonous snakes.
The Maverick’s set the franchise back when they failed to include injury protections in Kristaps Porzingis’s max contract. He threatened to take the qualifying offer from the Knicks if they didn't give him his full max and the fact is he didn’t have the leverage to make such demands. He was never going to take the qualifying offer and leave guaranteed money on the table. The team would have been better served including provisions that tied compensation to games played and certain benchmarks. Dallas gambled by giving him that contract and lost.
One would think the team might have learned their lesson but this trade proves they are bound to repeat history. Reports indicate the Nets were okay with the idea of extending Kyrie but wanted to protect themselves in some way. Kyrie seemingly balked at the idea and immediately asked for a trade. If things go swimmingly this season, the Mavericks will lack the leverage to ask Kyrie to compromise on his contract in any way. If they don’t give him exactly what he wants, he’ll likely board the first Los Angeles-bound plane and sign with LeBron James.
He knows this. The team knows this. The Lakers know this. Regardless of what is said in the introductory press conference, Irving has no intention of fitting in and playing ball. He didn’t do it on a team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He didn’t do it with his friend Kevin Durant and there is no reason to believe he will do so now. We were low on assets before this trade. Were Irving to walk, we don't have enough left in the treasure chest to pivot in a meaningful way. It’s far from hyperbolic to say the team’s, and Luka’s, future are now in the hands of Kyrie Irving. If you’ve been paying attention for the last seven to eight years, that should terrify you.
Maybe this will work, maybe it will work for the first time since Kyrie hit a low probability shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2016. Ignore all recent history, ignore how no major deadline deal has resulted in a NBA Finals win since perhaps the Rockets in the 90’s. Ignore all that at your own peril. Irving’s here now and we’re all along for the ride.