Kyrie Irving tried to force his way out of Brooklyn over the summer, but the market for him was thin and his plan didn’t work. He opted in to stay in Brooklyn.
Irving’s plan did work at the trade deadline — he again demanded a trade and this time, he got his wish and was sent to Dallas to team up with Luka Dončić on the Mavericks. It’s a deal with clear winners and losers, but the cases are muddier for both of the principal teams involved. Let’s break down who won and who lost in this latest Kyrie Irving trade. Let’s start with a reminder of what the trade itself involved.
Mavericks receive: Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris.
Nets receive: Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick, 2027 and 2029 second-round picks.
WINNER: Kyrie Irving
Irving made a brilliant business move demanding a trade before the deadline. His troubles with the Nets going back to the summer stem in part from him not getting the max contract extension he wants — four years, $198.5 million, with no strings. When the Nets weren’t going to give him that extension, Irving forced his way to a new team where he is more likely to get paid (not that it’s close to a lock, the Mavs are reportedly hesitant).
Irving now gets to play next to Dončić, another of the league’s top five players, and is on a team with the potential to contend in a wide-open conference, and he gets a relatively clean slate to prove he is worthy of that massive contract this summer. Irving got what he wanted out of this.
WINNER: Luka Doncic
Luka Dončić was good with this trade — Dallas went to him and got his approval before proceeding with it, reports Marc Stein.
Dončić has been at a historic usage rate this season and was physically wearing down from the load. Dallas desperately needed another shot creator and star next to Dončić to lighten his load. Now, Dallas has that in the guy with maybe the best handles in the league, someone averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game and shooting 37.4% from 3.
There are a lot of questions about the fit of Dončić and Irving together — will Irving accept a role as the No.2 option on this team (as he did with Durant most of the time)? How well will Doncic play off the ball? This trade makes the Mavericks’ 23rd-ranked defense worse. And that is just the start. But it’s a move the Mavericks had to make, and now Dončić knows they will do everything they can to land stars to put around him. Which is what he wanted to see.
The Dallas Mavericks showed how desperate they were as a franchise with this potentially Faustian trade.
The only team that might have been more desperate? The Lakers. They are squandering an All-NBA level, record-breaking season of a 38-year-old LeBron James, sitting four games below .500 and outside the play-in tournament. LeBron wanted this trade to happen. The Lakers wanted it to happen. Irving wanted it to happen.
Lakers GM Rob Pelinka tried, the problem is the Nets want to retool a contender around Durant immediately — Brooklyn wanted players who can help them win now. That’s not what the Lakers could offer. The Lajers had tempting future picks, but the player at the heart of any offer was Russell Westbrook. The Mavericks could offer more, better players right now plus the picks (there is also a report that Nets owner Joe Tsai didn’t want to send Irving to his preferred destination). Dallas won the day. LeBron’s reaction?
There is no clear path to building a title contender around LeBron and Anthony Davis. Trading for Irving would have been a huge gamble, but that is where the Lakers are now. They have to roll those dice, and they will try again with the next superstar who becomes available.
ASK AGAIN LATER: Brooklyn Nets
There is a case to make the Nets did well in this trade — and maybe even got better by making the roster deeper, and more versatile. They got out of the Kyrie Irving business and don’t have to pay him long-term — if they had made this trade over the summer the conventional wisdom reaction would have been, “good job getting out from under all this.” And the Nets landed a couple of quality players who can help them now in Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith. Brooklyn GM Sean Marks did as well as he could with the situation.
Still, Brooklyn got worse in the short term — any team that trades a superstar does not get equal talent back.
Whether this ultimately is a win or loss for them will hinge on two future moves, or lack of moves:
1) Can the Nets make another trade or two before the deadline? Even with a healthy Durant and what is now a deep and versatile roster, the Nets lack the second high-end star they will need come the postseason (Ben Simmons is not going to be that guy). Brooklyn now has picks and players at its disposal to make more roster upgrades, particularly defensively.
2) Will Kevin Durant stay in Brooklyn, or ask for another trade? Can the Nets keep him happy? Durant didn’t think there was a future in Brooklyn last summer and asked for a trade, but the Nets
didn’t really try couldn’t find one to their liking. If the rest of this season goes just okay and the Nets get bounced in the first round, that KD trade request very well could be back on the table, and the Nets could be back to rebuilding, but without their picks to do it.
There is one other disappointment in all this — it looked like the Nets, under Jacque Vaughn, had figured it out. They went 18-2 in the games before Durant got injured. Vaughn had quieted the noise around the team, had them focus on the court, and Brooklyn looked like a real threat in the East. Now that is gone.
ASK AGAIN LATER: Dallas Mavericks
The argument for this being a win for Dallas is it makes them a contender in the wide-open West — they have two superstars who can match any duo in the conference, and have surrounded them with shooting. The Mavericks’ offense should be elite.
The problem in the contender theory is the Mavericks already have the 23rd-ranked defense in the NBA and now have traded away their best defender in Finney-Smith. If the Mavericks are going to fulfill the promise of their offense, they will have to make more trades to upgrade that defense. Reports are the Mavericks are aggressively looking for other moves to bolster that end of the floor.
However, the biggest question for Dallas is the long term — do they want to give Irving the four-year max contract he wants at the end of this season? Marc Stein reported the Mavericks did not promise a new contract to Irving at the end of the year, but you don’t make this trade if you’re not open to it. The Mavericks get a test run through the final third of the season, although Irving will most likely be on his best behavior the next couple of months.
If the Mavericks don’t bring back Irving, they just traded away their two most valuable trade asset players plus a could of high-value picks — Dallas weakened their position to get the next star. Dallas gave up a lot, do they have to pay up now?
WINNERS: Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks
For 20 games when both Irving and Durant were healthy and on the floor — and the distractions quieted down — the Nets looked like a team that could win the East. Now… not so much. The Nets are good, and maybe they have another move or two that returns them to contender status, but that is a long shot. The Nets are a dangerous opponent, but not one the real contenders in the East, the Buck and the Celtics, can beat.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the team the Bucks and Celtics should worry about.
WINNER: Houston Rockets
Remember when Houston traded James Harden to the Nets? The Rockets now control — either outright have or have swap rights — for every Nets first-round pick between now and 2027. Those picks look much more valuable tonight than they did 24 hours ago, and if Durant does ask for a trade and push his way out of Brooklyn this summer then the Rockets could be sitting on a treasure chest. This trade was good news for the Rockets.