Kings players want Isaiah Thomas to start; don’t know what they’re running on offense

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If you’ve caught yourself watching a Sacramento Kings game lately and thought to yourself, ‘this can’t get any worse’ only to see it get much, much worse – you’re not the only one.

As it turns out, the Kings players themselves are having a real hard time understanding the train wreck they’re a part of on the court every night.

“They know that they’re playing terrible basketball right now,” said one source close to the players. “But they’ve thrown their hands up trying to figure out Keith Smart.”

Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach in the NBA. He had an interim stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03, and then took a job as an assistant for Don Nelson in Golden State until he was elevated to head coach after Nellie’s retirement prior to the 2010-11 season. He took a roster primed for improvement to a 36-46 record, but the Warriors’ new ownership opted not to keep him.

The reason team insiders overwhelmingly pointed to for his departure was his handling of franchise player Stephen Curry, who Smart benched nightly for out-of-the-NBA guard Acie Law.

Smart could never clearly articulate to the press what Curry wasn’t doing to please him, and while Curry could have played more defense or taken better shots he was twice the player that Law was. Curry’s benching cost the team games and it cost Smart respect in the locker room and within the organization.

The same thing is happening in Sacramento all over again, but this time Smart has the backing of general manager Geoff Petrie – who appears to be more interested in promoting his free agent acquisitions and draft picks than he is in playing the right guys.

Namely, sources close to key Kings players have told ProBasketballTalk that they are frustrated with the fact that point guard Isaiah Thomas isn’t starting and acting as the team’s floor general. Thomas finished seventh in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably could have finished as high as second place when one compares his numbers to that of Ricky Rubio, who held that spot.

Thomas boasted shooting lines of 47.7/40.6/84.1 while averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes per game in 37 starts, which compare favorably to Rubio’s shooting lines of 35.7/34.0/80.3 with averages of 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes per game in 41 starts.

Independent of that comparison, Thomas played well against the league’s best guards, holding Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to 26-of-76 (34.2%) combined shooting for a stretch while being considered by scouts to be an above average defender at his position. Despite standing 5’ 9” tall without shoes, his strength and leaping ability made him a surprising plus-defender in the post.

Being the team’s best player at times down the stretch of last season, Thomas was able to win the starting point guard position, but the Stephen Curry treatment continued. On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.

Perhaps the team didn’t have faith that Jimmer Fredette could turn into a competent NBA player, or maybe it was Petrie’s well-documented quest to obtain Aaron Brooks, but the Kings took a big step toward destroying their continuity at the position when they signed Brooks over the summer. He was a cheap acquisition after playing and talking his way out of Houston and Phoenix, and with Fredette looking like he couldn’t dribble the ball up the court most Kings analysts were okay with adding depth at the position.

Unfortunately, nobody in Sacramento fully understood Smart’s history with point guards, nor did they fully appreciate the impact Thomas could have to rally the team and rally the city toward a product they could be proud of. Immediately Thomas’ role was questioned by team-friendly media sources, despite the fact that Brooks had lost backup duties to Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix before spending a season in China.

Meanwhile, Thomas spent an offseason organizing team workouts, building camaraderie, and eventually he and his teammates would be tasked with learning a tough new Triangle offense.

The Kings started off slow and the resulting confusion and losses gave Smart and Petrie the window they needed to get Brooks in a starting role, which was aided in part by Thomas pressing just like Curry did in Golden State, albeit in a much more dysfunctional situation.

That offense has since been scrapped according to player sources, and right now “they don’t know what they’re running.” The Kings turned to the old failed strategy of Tyreke Evans left and Tyreke right, with random excursions to the hoop by DeMarcus Cousins, high-post offense initiated by Chuck Hayes, and the occasional Jason Thompson post-up.

When on the court, Thomas has been sent to the corner to watch the carnage unfold, because like last season the team refuses to run a pick-and-roll based offense featuring him as the primary or even secondary decision-maker with the ball.

With Kings players in an utter state of confusion nightly, they have reverted to one-on-one ball and rank dead last in assists per game (18.2) and that number has dipped in the last three games to 15.3. This is a far cry from the days of when Thomas was piling up between 5-10 assists per game in 17-of-23 outings to finish last season despite being a second, third or fourth option handling the ball.

Since moving Brooks into the starting lineup, Smart and Petrie have also put a premium on playing their bad contracts, giving heavy minutes to Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, and Travis Outlaw while Thomas and an improving Fredette ride the pine. It’s crazy, because the only time the team looks coherent on the court is when the Mighty Mite lineup of Thomas and Fredette is on the court – even if Fredette can’t cover a rocking chair and shoots nearly every time he gets the rock.

The players already know, and Cousins even took to wearing an IT jersey for the press the other day, but even casual observers can see that the Kings need to get their high basketball IQ guys on the court. While Brooks’ scoring ability has never been in dispute, he knows only one way to impact a game, and too many times that’s with poorly conceived jump shots and flailing drives to the hoop. More importantly he can’t make it through screens and is responsible for more points on defense than he scores. Evans is the same type of player and is a physical freak, but his inconsistent jumper and bad shot selection in a standstill offense negate any gains he could possibly provide. Marcus Thornton has been dealing with very real off the court issues due to his mother’s health, but his deployment within the non-existent offensive structure has bordered on laughable for one of the league’s best big-time shot-makers. Cousins still takes bad shots, but it’s hard to fault any of these guys when there is no plan, their best playmaker has been sidelined, and the team is making playing time decisions from the Smart and Petrie handbook.

Then again, the Maloofs might just be making Major League 4: The Search for More Money, which makes any conversation about basketball a moot point.

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feb.8, 9:05 P.M.: A Josh Hard for Cam Reddish swap?

• The Knicks and Trail Blazers have talked about a problems swap: Cam Reddish for Josh Hart, reports Ian Begley.

• The Spurs are expressing increasing interest in trading Jakob Poeltl before the deadline, according to Marc Stein. The Toronto Raptors are the most active team in trying to acquire him (a sign they may not be trading everyone away and tearing it down).

TRADE: Lakers find new home for Russell Westbrook in three-team trade

Lakers receive: D'Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt
Jazz receive: Russell Westbrook, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, Lakers 2027 first-round pick (1-4 protected)
Timberwolves receive: Mike Conley, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, second-round picks in 2024, 2025 and 2026

Analysis: This is a win for the Lakers, who suddenly look a lot better now than they did to start the season (putting shooting around LeBron James, what a novel concept). Russell is a better shooter than Westbrook (39.1% from 3 this season), and in recent weeks he has impressed playing off the ball as Minnesota turned more of the offense over to Anthony Edwards (a preview of life with LeBron James and Anthony Davis). Plus, Russell is in the final year of his contract, so the Lakers have flexibility this summer (and can re-sign him). Plus, Beasley brings more shooting and Vanderbilt brings versatile defense, is strong on the glass, can hit jumpers if he sets his feet, and is a player a lot of teams had their eye on.

Danny Ainge gets another high-value pick for the Jazz, but they just gave up a lot of assets for it. After the smart moves and big haul’s Ainge got this summer, they should have gotten more for the three good players they sent out. Utah is expected to buy out Westbrook and both the Clippers and Bulls reportedly have already expressed interest.

Conley is more of a pass-first point guard who should fit better in Minnesota than Russell, he can set up Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. He’s the kind of floor general Minnesota needs. There’s a lot of chemistry work to do with the Timberwolves and Conley is an adult-in-the-room veteran who is expensive but might help this roster find its way.

Feb.8, 5:40 P.M.: The Lakers in talks to trade Russell Westbrook in three-team deal

• The Lakers may have found a way to move on from Russell Westbrook after all, a three-team trade that would send Westbrook and a draft pick (likely one of the Lakers first rounders in 2027 or 2029) to Utah, the Jazz would send Mike Conley to Minnesota, and the Timberwolves would send D’Angelo Russell back to the team that drafted him in the Lakers.

To make the numbers work (Conley makes about $25 million less than Westbrook) Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt need to be thrown in (or other players on the roster). Adrian Wojnarowski says the Lakers and Jazz like the deal and are set, but Minnesota is still talking to other teams about Russell to see if they can find a better deal.

A lot going on in this potential trade, but for the Lakers Russell would be an upgrade over Westbrook at this point in their careers (his game has matured, and would be a good fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis). Utah would buy out Westbrook, making him a free agent.

• The Knicks, along with the Cavaliers and Heat, are talking to Portland about a Josh Hart, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype. Coaches and front office people around the league love Hart’s versatility and solid play, but he’s going to opt out this summer and be a free agent, whoever trades for him has to be willing to pay up.

• Speaking of Sotto and the Suns, he aso also spoke with Deandre Ayton about what has been a challlenging this season. Here’s what Ayton had to say: “This is more like an adversity type of season for me to show them what type of player I truly am, and me sticking with it and blocking out all the noise and haters, and getting back to the thing I do best, being dominant.”

Feb.8, 2:28 P.M.: Sixers looking hare at Vanderbilt, but will they pay Ainge’s price?

• One of the hottest names on the trade market right now Jazz big man Jarred Vanderbilt, and the 76ers are at the front of the line according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Sixers are looking for versatile depth behind Joel Embiid, and Vanderbilt is absolutely available. The question is price, and you can be sure Danny Ainge in Utah is asking for way too much. The question is will he come down?

Also from Pompey, Nerlens Noel is likely the only Piston to get traded at the deadline. It continues to look less and less likely Bojan Bogdanovic will be sent to a new home by Feb. 9.

• Teams are still calling the Washington Wizards about Kyle Kuzma, and they are still getting shot down, according to Fred Katz at The Athletic. That’s not a surprise, when the Wizards traded Rui Hachimura to the Lakers, it was a signal they were willing to spend to keep Kuzma, who can be a free agent this summer (and will be). There has been some buzz from other teams they could poach Kuzma, which may or may not be true, but Washington is going to have to pay a lot — and maybe overpay a little — to keep him.

• Lakers coach Darvin Ham and guard Russell Westbrook had a brief but heated argument at halftime of the Lakers’ eventual loss to the Thunder on Monday, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Nobody was really focused on those two on Tuesday night anyway.

Feb.8, 11:30 A.M.: The Nets want to make moves to keep Durant, but not everyone wants to help them

• The Brooklyn Nets took the Mavericks’ trade package for Kyrie Irving in large part because it gave them players who could help them right now in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. Brooklyn isn’t done, they are working hard at the deadline to find other “win now” players who can help them be a playoff threat with Durant. However, teams interested in trading for KD this summer — and there are a lot of them — are not willing to help Brooklyn out, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN said on the Hoop Collective podcast. There is a little gamesmanship going on as teams try to force the Nets into a tough spot and clear the path for Durant to demand a trade. Again.

• Add the Raptors to the Pelicans and Timberwolves as teams talking to the Nuggets about backup point guard Bones Hyland. He remains one of the two or three most likely players to be traded at the deadline.

• Speaking of the Raptors, they have talked to the Spurs about a trade for center Jakob Poeltl, according to Marc Stein. As he notes, that’s an interesting move because it is not a “let’s blow this thing up” move, that’s a “let’s retool and win now” move, which makes it less likely the Raptors move someone such as O.G. Anunoby.

• Sources have told NBC Sports that the Raptors are not looking to trade Pascal Siakam (or, at least not at this trade deadline). He is their best player, they either will retool around him or, if they do blow it up (unlikely but possible), they will want the kind of massive deal easier to get in the offseason than at the deadline.

• The Wizards, Raptors, and Celtics also are interested in Poeltl.

• Also from Marc Stein, the Magic are not looking to move Gary Harris, or at least they need to be blown away by an offer. Every young team needs a quality veteran or two in the locker room to teach them how to be NBA professionals, Harris is filling that role in Orlando.

Eric Gordon has been on the trade block since before the Avengers killed off Thanos (or, it feels that way), but this time it is likely he gets moved. The Suns and Clippers — two teams searching for guard help — are at the front of the line, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

TRADE: It’s official: Nets Kessler Edwards to the Kings

Kings receive: Kessler Edwards
Nets receive: Cash, draft rights to David Michineau (who plays for Napoli Basket in Italy)

Analysis: As noted below when we first mentioned this trade could happen, this is a salary dump by the Nets, who free up a roster spot and $8 million in salary and tax. Edwards had fallen out of the Brooklyn rotation this season, but Sacramento gets a look at a young wing defender, reportedly sending him to their G-League team to get a little run and show what he can do. Edwards, a second-round pick (number 44 overall in 2021 out of Pepperdine), has a $1.9 million player option for next season.

Feb. 7, 8:05 P.M.: Warriors softening stance on trading James Wiseman

• It’s incredibly difficult to throw in the towel on a No.2 pick, and the Golden State Warriors rarely make in-season trades. However, with the defending champs hovering around .500 — and now without Stephen Curry for maybe a month — Golden State is softening its position on a possible James Wiseman trade, reports Anthony Slater at The Athletic. Same with Moses Moody, a developing young guard who can’t help the Warriors much this season. What are the Warriors looking for? Veterans who can help this season, at just about any position across the board.

• It’s not trade related but passing it along anyway: Kevin Durant will miss the All-Star Game due to his knee injury, the Nets announced. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will appoint his replacement.

• Also being reported about All-Star weekend: the Trail Blazers’ Shaedon Sharpe has pulled out of the Dunk Contest.

Feb. 7, 4:10 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• We are very close to another trade, but it’s another cap space move primarily: The Nets will send second-year forward Kessler Edwards to the Kings in exchange for cash, reports both Shams Charnia at The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. The Kings, looking for defense, get a young wing defender they can roll the dice on, while the Nets open up a roster spot for future moves and save $8 million against the tax. Edwards showed some potential as a rookie, but in his second year (on a deeper Brooklyn team) he has been outside the rotation, and not impressed when he has gotten into games. He has a team option for $1.9 million next season. Edwards can veto the trade because of Bird Rights issues but is expected to approve it.

• It’s now official, Mat Ishbia has taken control of the Phoenix Suns organization. We don’t know what kind of owner Ishbia will be, but there is a sense he will spend more willingly and be more aggressive than the Robert Sarver regime – he reportedly is pushing for the team to make a splash at the trade deadline — which is good for Suns fans and the league. Plus, he will clean up the troubles in the organization that pushed Sarver out.

Feb. 7, 3:05 P.M.: Don’t bet on a Durant trade at the deadline. This summer…

• Kevin Durant and the Nets are talking about the long-term (and likely short-term) direction of the franchise, but Brooklyn is not making its other superstar available to teams, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This provides details and is in line with what sources from other teams have told NBC Sports (and I have reported previously): They are under the impression the Nets are going to try and build a contender around KD this season, maybe including another deal or two, and try to convince him to stay. If Durant ends up on the move, it will be over the summer.

• The backup big man market is one of the most crowded at the trade deadline, but you can add another name to it: JaVale McGee. Dallas is looking to move on, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

• The Nuggets and Pistons are the teams talking to New York most recently about a Cam Reddish trade, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Reddish remains one of the players most likely to be on the move by Thursday.

• Kyrie Irving practiced with the Mavericks today — he was the first player to the facilities — and is expected to make his debut with the team Wednesday night.

Feb. 7, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and are expected to waive Dedmon, making him a free agent.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Reports: Lakers agree to three-team Westbrook trade with Jazz, Timberwolves

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UPDATE: And the deal is agreed do, the three sides are on board.

The pick is protected 1-4, according to the report, and there are now other players involved.

This is a win for the Lakers, who give up one pick and get an upgrade at the point and two other players who upgrade their rotation. They are not sudden favorites in the West — the Lakers still sit as the 13th seed at the time of the trade — but if they can get into the postseason with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis this is a team no team wants to face.

Russell Westbrook likely will be bought out by the Jazz and become a free agent. Ainge got what he wanted in Utah, another quality draft asset. Minnesota gets a point guard who is more of a floor general, a pass-first one who can play next to Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns (once he gets healthy) and fit in better.

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There may be a Russell Westbrook trade out there after all.

According to multiple reports, the Lakers are in discussions for a three-team point-gaurd trade that would send Westbrook and a draft pick (one of the Lakers first rounders in 2027 or 2029) to Utah, the Jazz would send veteran point Mike Conley to Minnesota, and the Timberwolves would send D'Angelo Russell back to the Lakers team that drafted him in 2015, plus the Lakers likely would get another Jazz player such as Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt (it’s the only way the numbers work).

Adrian Wojnarowski says the Lakers and Jazz like the deal and are set, but Minnesota is still talking to other teams about Russell to see if they can find a better deal.

This trade makes the Lakers better — Russell is a better shooter (39.1% from 3 this season), and he has played well in recent weeks working more off-ball while Anthony Edwards’ role in the offense has increased. Also, Russell’s contract expires after this season, so he doesn’t eat into their cap space.

The Timberwolves would get an adult in the room, a pass-first point guard who is a traditional floor general in Conley. He can work on or off the ball and could run pick-and-rolls with Rudy Gobert or, when he gets healthy, Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Jazz would buy out Westbrook, making him a free agent.

The questions seem to surround protections on the picks as well as if the Timberwolves believe there is a stronger market for Russell. This also could have been leaked by one of the parties hoping to get the deal done in an effort to put pressure on the others to agree to terms.

With the trade deadline a day away, this is one to watch — nothing is certain, but this trade feels like it’s on the two-yard line.

 

Sharpe out, Knicks center Jericho Sims reportedly in for Dunk Contest

NBA: DEC 14 Knicks at Bulls
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High-flying Trail Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe was the first name leaked as taking part in the All-Star Saturday Night Dunk Contest.

Now he has decided to pull out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic, to be replaced by second-year Knicks center Jericho Sims.

Sims joins G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin, and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Trey Murphy.

Sims is incredibly athletic — he recorded the third-highest vertical leap in the history of the NBA Draft Combine. In games, he rolls and dunks. Hard. He’s also played an expanded, but still limited, role for Tom Thibodeau this season, getting into 43 games and averaging 3.8 points a night.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City. The event will be broadcast on TNT.

 

Kyrie Irving says at times he “felt very disrespected” in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics
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Kyrie Irving says he is happy. He said he feels celebrated and respected by his new team in Dallas.

While fans in Brooklyn, Boston and Cleveland may snicker and say “wait for it…”, a happy Irving right now is a good thing for a Mavericks team desperate to put a high-level shot creator next to superstar Luka Dončić. Irving emphasized his joy in playing the game while speaking to the media Tuesday after his first practice with his new team. He praised the Mavericks organization while saying he sometimes didn’t feel respected in Brooklyn. Here are Irving’s comments, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I just know I want to be places where I’m celebrated and not just tolerated or just kind of dealt with in a way that doesn’t make me feel respected,” Irving said after Tuesday’s practice at USC’s Galen Hall. “There were times throughout this process when I was in Brooklyn where I felt very disrespected and my talent — I work extremely hard at what I do. No one ever talks about my work ethic, though. Everyone talks about what I’m doing off the floor, so I just wanted to change that narrative, write my own story and just continue preparing in the gym, and now that I’m in Dallas, just focus on what I control.”

Irving makes it hard not to talk about his off-the-floor choices when he does things that keep him away from his team, such as his vaccination status a season ago, or a Tweet earlier this season promoting a movie with anti-Semitic themes that led to an eight-game suspension by the Nets.

When on the court, Irving’s skills are unquestionable — he has the league’s best handles and averages 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, plus he is shooting 37.4% from 3. It’s those skills he wants to bring to Dallas and make the focus. He wants to move on from the negativity surrounding him in Brooklyn.

Irving cited a lack of “transparency and honesty from people in the front office” as a reason he did not feeling comfortable continuing his career with the Nets…

“I don’t want to go into too many details because it’s water under the bridge now,” said Irving… “I wish them well. I left them in fourth place. I did what I was supposed to do, took care of my teammates, was incredibly selfless in my approach to leading, and I just want to do all the right things for myself — not to appease anybody that had something negative to say about me or judge me. This basketball game — just, it’s fun, and I want to keep it that way.”

If it stays fun and about basketball, this will be an excellent trade for the Mavericks. Irving will have to prove his critics wrong by keeping the spotlight on the court.