The deep, dark truth about the Dallas Mavericks before today’s massive Kyrie Irving trade was that they were stuck — stuck with a roster that didn’t fit the timeline of its young superstar, stuck with limited ways to get out of it due to years of mismanagement and bad luck.
It was widely believed the only way for this Mavericks roster to take the next step and finally get that star sidekick for Luka Doncic was to be patient, allow draft picks to become available and then cash in when the time is right. That sounded fine on paper, but looking at the rest of the league, it was never perfect. When the Mavericks convey the final pick of the Kristaps Porzingis trade at the 2023 draft, yes the Mavericks would have all of their own picks to trade. But that’s not all trades take.
They take picks, but they take players, salary, young talent, prospects. Consider this: the Memphis Grizzlies are currently second in the West. They not only own all their own draft picks going forward, but they’re getting an additional first rounder from Golden State in 2024. Plus all the young and talented players they have across the roster, like Desmond Bane, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Ziaire Williams, and David Roddy. The New Orleans Pelicans have a gaggle of young, intriguing players, own all their future firsts, and have four incoming first rounders from the Lakers and the Bucks, not to mention a pick swap with the Lakers in 2023.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? They’re not too bad right now. And they own about a billion picks and have desirable talent to trade to boot. The point is, if a no-doubter star were to be made available through trade in the next two to three years, the Mavericks would get outbid by multiple teams. So that meant if the Mavericks were going to win a trade on a star, it’d have to be one with some red flags. A “distressed asset” as they like to call it, a player that wouldn’t have most of the league’s ears perked up with interest.
Enter Kyrie Irving.
If you don’t know anything about Irving besides his basketball resume, it’s easy to be amazed at the relatively low cost the Mavericks traded him for. Spencer Dinwiddie, a good-not-great secondary scorer, Dorian Finney-Smith, a solid, but aging, 3-and-D forward, and one first round pick in 2029, plus some seconds. That’s two 29-year-old players who have reached the end of their potential and a distant first rounder. That’s not exactly the crazy trade packages we’ve seen, like the Jazz’s haul for Rudy Gobert or the Spurs bounty from the Dejounte Murray trade. And, purely from a basketball standpoint, Irving is significantly better and more accomplished than either of those players. Irving scored 27 points and made the game-winner in a Game 7 of an NBA Finals! If you take a step back it truly is kind of crazy what Irving cost.
That’s the problem, however, when you take a step in. Here’s the part where I share my feelings about Irving’s troubling off the court issues and I’ll be frank: if this part doesn’t bother you, or you’re already rolling your eyes, or you’re firing up Twitter to tell me off, don’t. I don’t care. Having to cover Irving, personally, sucks. This is a guy who has spread awful antisemitic rhetoric at a time where violence against the Jewish community in this country is rising. The fact that when writing a post about a player the Mavericks traded for, part of my analysis and research included me looking at a Wikipedia article titled “List of synagogue shootings” is appalling. Irving might not actually hate Jewish people, but the hateful language and misinformation he’s shared on his platforms, whether that’s talking to the media directly or through social media, can be harmful. Before 2018, there’s never been a gunman that’s attacked a synagogue in America — there have been three instances since (2018 in Pittsburgh, 2019 in Poway, California, and 2022 in Colleyville, Texas). Irving obviously isn’t to blame, as a lot of forces in this country are banking on hate being a profitable industry, but we live in a country where disturbed, bigoted people are enacting their terrible thoughts more frequently and more violently than ever before and anyone empowering or amplifying that hatred, especially ones with as much reach as Irving, should be ashamed. Between women and the Jewish community, the Mavericks within the last five years have done a lot to potentially drive away those fans thanks to this trade and the Mavericks sexual harassment scandal. It’s not hard to blame any fan if after all this they question why they’re a fan of this team in the first place.
It would be easy to forgive and forget if Irving showed any remorse or accountability for his words, but he hasn’t. He double-downed so hard on the antisemitic rhetoric he shared that the Nets had to suspend Irving until he sincerely apologized and the Anti-Defamation League returned his donation, not believing Irving had truly learned anything. Irving finally apologized through Instagram after his suspension. We haven’t heard much from him on the topic since. Oh, and this isn’t even covering his anti-vaxxer status which caused him to miss a lot of games during the pandemic seasons from 2020-2022.
What makes this even more complicated is what Irving has done for social causes prior to his bizarre antisemitic slant. He’s donated to the black community, called out the NBA’s desire to return to playing basketball during the heart of the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. This is why I don’t think Irving is actually a bad and hateful dude, but a complicated one.
We’re now almost 1,000 words into a column about a basketball trade and haven’t even discussed the basketball part. The layers of crap you have to dig through to get to Kyrie Irving, The Basketball Player is why Irving was acquired by the Mavericks so relatively cheaply, considering Irving’s basketball accomplishments. Unfortunately, even when you strip away the off court drama, Irving still has plenty of basketball related red flags:
- Irving has been an injury prone player. Even looking at his time in Cleveland and Boston, before the pandemic forced him out of games because of his refusal to take the vaccine, Irving only played 70 or more games three times in his first eight seasons. He’s had various lower leg injuries and knee surgeries. These types of things don’t get better as a player nears age 31, which also means Irving is another piece that doesn’t match Luka Doncic’s timeline.
- Irving has now left three teams on bad terms — forcing his way out of Cleveland and away from LeBron James after winning a title, jettisoning from the promising core of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston with a cantankerous attitude, and now demanding a trade away from Kevin Durant and Brooklyn, where Durant and Irving famously decided to team up together to try and win a title. The list of teammates Irving has decided he wants no part of is basically an All-NBA team: LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, James Harden, and Kevin Durant.
So the Mavericks have decided to hitch all of that to Luka Doncic, with three more guaranteed seasons on Doncic’s contract in Dallas remaining after this one. Even if Irving’s off the court drama doesn’t get in the way, he’s willingly parted ways and butted heads with some of the best players in the NBA. What will make Doncic any different?
That’s why the Mavericks have crossed the point of no return. This is it. While the Mavericks still have some picks to play with and held on to their only two young promising trade chips in Josh Green and Jaden Hardy, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith represented the two best bang for buck contracts that would appeal to teams and help in salary matching. Finney-Smith was widely respected across the league and Dinwiddie rebuilt his reputation in Dallas with his stunning efficiency. The Mavericks still have moves open to them, but Irving is clearly the big fish the team has wanted for some time now. If Irving doesn’t work, the Mavericks will have to navigate a possible sign-and-trade or, gasp, rely on plan powder...again. Selling Mavericks fans on the cap room Irving could generate if he leaves Dallas this summer is like selling a man dying of thirst salt water. The Irving trade could be the line drawn where the downfall of the Doncic era in Dallas starts. That’s how risky this trade is.
But, why risk it? The honest to god reason is that despite all his faults, all his red flags, Irving is still the most offensively talented guard in the game of basketball. During the entire reign of Dirk Nowitzki and now the in-progress era of Doncic, Dallas has never had a twosome as talented as this. This is only the seventh time in franchise history the team has had two All-Stars on the roster. It’s the first time since 2003 both All-Stars were selected (Jason Kidd in 2009 and Josh Howard in 2007 were injury replacements). It’s the first time in franchise history the team has two All-Star starters, with Irving voted in as a starter in the East this season. Irving is that talented, despite the lack of playoff success since his championship in 2016.
Ironically enough, despite the noise Irving brought onto himself, he’s having one of the best seasons of his career. He’s scoring 27.1 points, with 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. He’s shooting a career-high on two pointers (56.9 percent), he’s played in 40 games despite the early suspension, and he’s posting the third-highest true shooting percentage of his career (60.4 percent). His rim rate has declined a bit as he nears age 31, as he’s below his career average of share of shots at the rim, but he’s also averaging a career-high three point rate.
In terms of basketball fit, that’s the one part of the trade that is a no-brainer. Irving has played alongside two dominant basketball wings in his career, James and Durant, so he’s used to working alongside another high-usage player and remaining productive. Irving’s shooting makes him very malleable in any sort of lineup, as he’s been at or above 40 percent on catch-and-shoot threes for the majority of his career. One aspect of his scoring stands out in particular when you think about Irving’s fit with the Mavericks — for all players that have had at least 150 isolation possessions this season, Irving leads all of them with 1.28 points per possession, according to NBA.com. Irving is shooting a staggering 55.8 percent on isolations, which also leads all players who have at least 150 isolation possessions.
That fits in nicely with the Mavericks switch-and-attack heavy scheme that Doncic has perfected. So often the Mavericks offense boils down to either Doncic or Dinwiddie finding the weak link on the defensive end, using a teammate to set a screen, force the switch, and attack. Irving’s game is tailormade for that style and should thrive both next to Doncic and without.
Without Doncic is also another big reason this trade was likely made. Despite Dinwiddie’s resurgence in Dallas, the Mavericks offense was still anemic with Doncic off the floor. According to stats site Cleaning the Glass, with Doncic on the floor, the Mavericks score 120.8 points per 100 possessions, a league-leading number. Without Doncic, that number tumbles all the way to 107.7, which would be amongst the league’s worst. Dallas is also rather infamously 0-7 in games Doncic doesn’t suit up, so there’s another area for Irving to clean up.
This trade will also be a good way to answer the question about Doncic’s usage, and whether he can truly morph into the off-ball player he’s capable of being. Until this very moment, Doncic hasn’t had another teammate worthy of Doncic taking a significant step back with the ball, although Jalen Brunson last season was close. Just as before the trade, the Mavericks rotation still features only three guys that can attack off the dribble (Doncic, Irving, Green), so it’s not like that problem is solved. But Irving is good enough and has the stature to warrant Doncic doing a bit more off the ball, whether that’s cutting or screening. It’s not hard to imagine how dominant Doncic could be as a screener for Irving, catching the ball on the short roll and attacking 4-on-3 situations with his brilliant vision and midrange scoring. Doncic is posting a career-high usage rate this season and if the team wants to get the most out of this Irving/Doncic pairing, the coaching staff has to find a way to get Doncic to do more off the ball than occasionally get a rest.
Defensively Irving can be a good defender when he wants to, and those moments are few and far between. He’s bigger and longer than you probably expect and can use those tools to guard his position admirably — whenever he feels like it, which isn’t a ringing endorsement. At the very least Irving won’t be a drastic drop-off from Dinwiddie, who has been a space cadet on defense this season. Losing Finney-Smith definitely hurts, both as someone close to Doncic and as one of the few players on the roster that actually liked to play defense. But if I may go on a brief tangent — Finney-Smith is a beloved player, and for good reason. He turned himself from an undrafted free agent into a quality playoff starter, and is one of the major franchise development successes. He’d been in Dallas for six and a half seasons and that length of time, combined with Finney-Smith’s good personality, made him a fan favorite. At the end of the day, however, Finney-Smith is a wing player who only averaged double-figure points one time in his career, is nearing 30, and has never been very dynamic. That’s no fault of Finney-Smith’s, but more Dallas’ management placing him so high on the totem pole. The Mavericks have been stuck on a roster that includes a lot of nice stories, but not enough talent. Moving Finney-Smith hurts as fans, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s more of a business-as-usual move when you look at how other contenders overhaul their rosters over a two to three year period.
Dallas still has some wiggle room going forward. Once the 2023 pick conveys to the Knicks, the Mavericks can trade the 2024 and 2026 picks or the 2025 and 2027 picks. Pair one of those sets with blue-chipper Josh Green and Dallas could potentially find a way into another star deal, maybe one without as many red flags. But there’s no denying the Mavericks have planted their own flag in the ground and begun to shape the roster in earnest to match the talent level of a typical title contender. The only problem is that flag is planted into maybe one of the most unreliable stars in NBA history. That history, from Cleveland to Boston to Brooklyn, says that this will fail. The Mavericks are banking their franchise on it succeeding.
We went LIVE minutes after the trade for Kyrie Irving. It’s it in the player embedded below, and to make sure you don’t miss a single one moving forward, subscribe to the Mavs Moneyball podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Pocketcasts, or Castbox.
You can check our our After Dark Recap podcasts, Spotify Live recordings, Moneyball Minute shows, and guest shows on the Mavs Moneyball Podcast feed. Please subscribe, rate, and review.