During a season in which league-wide parity has been the overarching theme, the drama-free Dallas Mavericks dove headfirst into unknown depths by acquiring team arsonist Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets. All it took was Dorian Finney-Smith, point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, some second-round picks, and a first-round selection in 2029. The NBA’s melodramatic scriptwriters are more reliant on plot twists than any league in the world and the trade deadline is when they tend to pull out all the stops.
From Dallas’ perspective, it’s understandable. After advancing to the conference finals a year ago, they believe anything can happen. They defied the odds once before with Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, and a veteran group that gelled. However, this feels like hitting on a hard 16 at the blackjack table. They’ve been desperate to drop any All-Star regardless of fit into the lineup with Luka Dončić after the heady point guard they developed, fled in free agency to the New York Knicks. Irving offers less stability, but higher peaks — and lower valleys. For four years in Brooklyn, he bounced between those two extremes at a dizzying rate.
Irving’s craftsmanship with a ball in his possession is rivaled only by his ability to cause internal strife. Every few months, Irving’s basketball Munchausen’s syndrome manifested an excuse for him to spazz out and leave his teammates in the lurch. In Dallas, the doomsday needle will always be pinned at 11. Maybe Hall of Fame point guard and Mavs head coach Jason Kidd believes he has a better chance of gaining Irving’s trust than Steve Nash, but a few weeks ago, Jacque Vaughn thought he had a good read on Irving too.
We also don’t exactly know how Irving will react to being relocated to Dallas, either. It’s been widely reported that the Los Angeles Lakers were his preferred destination. Not only was Irving interested in reuniting with James, but he was a longtime acolyte of late Laker great Kobe Bryant. Harden spent a year pouting in Brooklyn until he was sent to the franchise he originally sought a trade to. It’s hard to discern whether the Nets shipped him to the Mavs for such a meager package out of spite or because they really were enamored with bringing Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn.
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On paper, it’s actually a good deal for the Mavs
Despite all this, the cost-benefit analysis is in Dallas’ favor. Cuban’s Shark Tank acumen kicked in and he bet on his biggest salvation project yet. On the sticks, Kyrie and Luka Dončić are a no-brainer. Each has an innate ability to poke holes in defenses, slash to the rim, shoot fireballs through the tin from outside and create for teammates. But they also prefer to score off the bounce. Dončić’s 37.6 usage rate ranks as the league’s second-highest and while he thrives alongside low-usage scorers, his new sidekick is not that guy. Instead, Irving is a virtuoso with the rock, who shoots better on assisted jumpers than he does when he’s on a fed catch-and-shoot diet. Defensively, they’re one of the leakiest units in the NBA and Irving only exacerbates that issue unless they have a few more tricks up their sleeve before the trade deadline.
Staggering minutes would solve one glaring issue for the Mavs. They tend to go cold often and give up massive leads when the offense craters by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions during the minutes that Dončić sits. If you extrapolate Dallas’ 120.4 offensive rating with Dončić in the lineup to 48 minutes a game, they would be the NBA’s best offense while their 109.3 rating when he sits would make them the league’s second-lowest scoring unit.
However, there are more than two franchises impacted by the crater Irving’s trade chatter created. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka had an opportunity to become an L.A. legend by mortgaging the future to build a potent 1-2-3 trio consisting of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Irving. Ultimately, it sounds like Pelinka was either sleeping in on Sunday or Cuban swooped in with more urgency.
Pelinka will never hear the end of this, whether or not he actually offered the Nets an offer they could stomach. Dallas’ deal wasn’t hard to beat. Dinwiddie is a solid point guard and was a vocal locker-room leader until he was traded to Washington as part of a five-team deal before the 2021-22 season began. That first-round pick is one fewer and later than the two picks L.A. has available in 2027 and 2029. Still, Dinwiddie’s less of a championship cornerstone and more of a Lego block. It also robbed the NBA of what would have been an awkward-but-necessary détente between Westbrook and Durant.
Can Kyrie keep his shit together long enough to make a difference?
In the end, Irving has to ask himself what was really accomplished in the last 48 hours. “Back and to the left,” isn’t the phrase the Mavericks’ newest chief conspiracy theorist will be muttering to himself as he investigates the magic bullet theory in downtown Dallas on a sunny Thursday morning, it’s an apt description for the backward lateral he subjected himself to. By pooping in his pants and sitting in it for 48 hours, he found himself on a team further out of the title hunt, without his so-called best friend and still doesn’t have the long-term extension he raised hell over.
The Mavericks can try all they might, staggering minutes and winning shootouts through their Luka-Kyrie offensive duopoly, but the latter is still Oppenheimer when he doesn’t get what he wants. He’s a destroyer of worlds and he’s stuck the Mavericks in a catch-22. They either appease him with a long-term deal this offseason, lose him for nothing or he sets off another one of his high-yield bombs. The highwire act didn’t end, it just migrated to Dallas.