Salary-cap gymnastics behind the Heat’s pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

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The NBA just ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that, among other things, limits a team’s ability to acquire multiple highly paid stars.

Yet, the Heat might chase Carmelo Anthony to join LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

How can that happen?

There infinite ways the Heat could make room for Melo, but let’s examine a few baseline scenarios. Let’s begin with Miami’s starting position.

Heat’s current 2014-15 situation

Miami has seven players who might be under contract for next season: LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Justin Hamilton.

LeBron ($20,590,000), Bosh ($20,590,000) and Wade ($20,164,000) have early termination options, which are functionally similar to player options. Haslem ($4,620,000) and Andersen ($1,448,490) have player options. Cole’s salary ($2,038,206) is fully guaranteed, and Hamilton’s ($816,482) is fully unguaranteed. The Heat also have two draft picks – Nos. 26 and No. 55.

Hamilton is good as gone. Miami could easily dump Cole and its first-round pick, which comes with a guaranteed salary, without taking back salary. If Andersen and Haslem opt in, I believe the Heat could also trade them without returning salary – perhaps attaching the first-round pick to Haslem as a sweetener if necessary.

Free agents continue to count against the cap, but other than LeBron, Bosh and Wade – who would terminate their contracts in almost any plan –  Miami could easily renounce everyone else.

Essentially, if required to sign Melo, I believe the Heat could fairly easily pare their roster to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh.

There might be some emotional attachment to casting off Haslem and even Andersen and Cole. But remember, Pat Riley practically gave away Michael Beasley in 2010, just two years removed from Miami drafting Beasley No. 2 overall and one year from him making the All-Rookie team, in order to pursue LeBron and Bosh. I think Riley would overcome any internal dilemma based on nostalgia if it meant getting Melo.

So, the rest of this post will suppose the Heat clear their roster to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh.  It also uses the latest projected salary cap, $63.2 million with a $77 million luxury tax, for 2014-15 and predicts the cap will continuously rise by the same amount it’s projected to increase this year.

How much money would everyone sacrifice?

Once Miami’s roster is down to just LeBron, Wade and Bosh – all of whom terminated their contracts in this scenario – cap holds will leave the Heat over the cap. LeBron, Wade and Bosh would each count at 150 percent of their previous salary, and Miami would have nine roster charges (equal to the rookie minimum salary) to reach the minimum roster of 12.

Once LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign, though, their 2014-15 salaries would replace their free agent amounts. Then Miami could use its remaining cap room to sign Melo.

Under that scenario – if everyone wants to get paid the same amount, which we’ll call the equality plan – each of the now-big four would make $14,658,494 in 2014-15.

If LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign first, they could get higher raises (7.5 percent vs. 4.5 percent) and longer contracts (five years vs. four years) than Melo, so maybe Miami’s original big three would take lower starting salaries and arrange to be on par with Melo over the long run. But for now, we’ll focus on matching salaries only next season.

Of course, $14,658,494 is much less than any of the four could make next season.

Here’s:

  • Max for Melo – both if he stayed with the Knicks or left – and his salary in the equality plan (gold)
  • Max for each  LeBron, Wade and Bosh – they have the same possible max – and their salary in the equality plan (red)

image

Melo 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847

Melo would be forgoing about $67 million over his max with the Knicks or $33 million over his max elsewhere. LeBron, Wade and Bosh would each be surrendering about $29 million.

For the Heat, this would be a huge bargain. The salary cap would restrict their ability to sign all four players – and there’s nothing Micky Arison could do about it. Essentially, the rules prevent him from spending, so if LeBron, Wade and Bosh want to pursue this plan, they would have no standing to even negotiate for higher collective salaries.

Miami would then have the room mid-level exception ($2,732,000) and minimum contracts to fill its roster. By design, it’s difficult for teams to add salary quickly once they’ve gone under the salary cap.

The luxury tax would be no concern at all.

For a year.

LeBron, Wade and Bosh can get paid again soon

If LeBron, Wade and Bosh re-sign, Miami would retain their bird rights. A key facet of bird rights: A team can go over the cap to re-sign players with the.

However, because free agents continue to count against the cap until signing, teams have a very limited ability to sign outside free agents and then exceed the cap to re-sign their own free agents. Hence, LeBron, Wade and Bosh would have to cut their salaries to make room for Melo this offseason.

But they wouldn’t need to make room for Melo next offseason.

LeBron, Wade and/or Bosh could sign a one-year deal – rather than a five-year deal – with the same starting salary as the equality plan. Then, next offseason, they could re-sign for max contracts – and significant raises.

Realistically, they would sign a two-year contract with a player option. That way, they could still become free agents in 2015 but would have an extra year of salary protection in case they determine their stock had fallen. (Options can only occur in the final year of a contract, so any deal longer than two years would delay getting a new max contract.)

The Heat would not hold Melo’s bird rights for three years, so he couldn’t take advantage of this plan until 2017. He’d likely receive a four-year contract with a player option regardless.

Here’s:

  • Annual salaries for each LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the equality plan and if they opt out as quickly as possible to re-sign for the max (red)
  • Annual salaries for Melo in the equality plan and if he opts out as quickly as possible to re-sign for the max (gold)

image

Melo 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $25,093,282 $71,047,660

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $22,137,516 $23,797,830 $25,458,143 $27,118,457 $28,778,771 $127,290,716

New contract from one signed in 2014 is italicized

Projecting the 2017-18 salary cap – and therefore Melo’s max as a free agent in 2018 – is so difficult this far ahead, I didn’t even bother with how a multi-year max contract signed then would play out over its duration.

In the same vein, though far less turbulent of an estimate, LeBron, Wade and Bosh would be relying on the salary cap making another large jump 2015-16. I think that’s quite possible, but there is risk.

There’s also risk in accepting a one-year or even two-year deal with a player option. If a player gets hurt or struggles for other reasons, he might make less than had he just accepted a five-year guaranteed contract. Remember, I’m examining max salaries under these scenarios. Players aren’t guaranteed the max.

But if this worked, LeBron, Wade and Bosh could sacrifice about $6 million each in 2014-15 and then make similar salaries in coming years to the max possible had they signed this offseason.

Melo would sacrifice about $24 million over the next four seasons. So, if they plan to opt out in a year, it would make even more sense for LeBron, Wade and Bosh to accept lower starting salaries than Melo.

If LeBron, Wade and/or Bosh opt out next summer to seek bigger contracts, that could make this pursuit much more expensive for Arison. Would he go for it?

What about a plan that gets expensive for the Heat owner immediately?

Signing-and-trading for Melo

Miami could also acquire Melo in a sign-and-trade. That would make the apron – $4 million above the luxury-tax line – rather than the salary cap the key threshold. With a project cap of $63.2 million and luxury tax of $77 million, that’s a lot of extra wiggle room – and money to pay a big four.

In a sign-and-trade route, if they each want the same starting salary, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo could each make $18,190,703 in 2014-15. That’s a significant jump from the $14,658,494 they could each make by signing Melo through cap space (especially because raises in future seasons are based on initial salary).

If the big four collectively maximizes its salary in a sign-and-trade scenario, there would be a host of complications. The Heat would have no room to sign anyone other than nine minimum-salary players and couldn’t add any salary in a trade for a year.

Of course, completing a sign-and-trade for Melo alone would be complicated. Miami, New York and several players would have to agree – making this a big longshot.

Essentially, the Heat would have to sign-and-trade their own free agents – other than LeBron, Wade and Bosh, of course – to the Knicks.

All players signed-and-trade must receive three-year contracts, but only the first year must be guaranteed. Fortunately for the Knicks if they want to go this route, they won’t have cap room this offseason anyway, even if they lose Melo. So, taking a guaranteed year of salary should be no problem. The Heat can structure all their outgoing contracts so they’re fully unguaranteed for 2015-16 and 2016-17, allowing New York to waive them and maximize its 2015 cap room.

But Miami can’t just re-sign one free agent to a salary equal to Melo’s and send him to New York. Anyone in a sign-and-trade whose salary increases by more than 20 percent brings up base-year-compensation issues and probably requires a third team to make the deal work.

However, the Heat might have enough free agents to complete a sign-and-trade on their own. (Even if renounced, a team can sign-and-trade its own free agents.) If Miami signs-and-trades Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden on contracts equal to 120 percent of their 2013-14 salaries, that would be enough to acquire Melo with a 2014-15 salary of $18,190,703 – his equality-plan number in a sign-and-trade scenario.

Of course, those six players must agree to leave Miami for New York. Why would they? The way Chalmers has struggled in the Finals, he might not make $4.8 million elsewhere any other way. Battier could participate and then retire, a way to leave an even stronger legacy in Miami. Douglas, Jones, Beasley and Oden are bit players who probably couldn’t get more money elsewhere. They’re just in the right place at the right time. (If Haslem opts in, the Heat could use him in place of Chalmers. Haslem would have no say in it.)

And why would the Knicks agree? For one, Melo would have to convince them he’s leaving regardless. The Heat would also have to send draft picks to make it worth their while. But remember, if everything else comes together, it’s easy to structure a dual sign-and-trade as not to interfere with New York’s 2015 cap space.

As before, Melo would be subject to a short contract and smaller raises than the Heat’s current big three, but all four players come out ahead of the cap-space model.

Here’s:

  • Annual salaries for each LeBron, Wade and Bosh in the equality plan and if Miami gets Melo in a sign-and-trade (red)
  • Annual salaries for Melo in the equality plan and if he joins the Heat in a sign-and-trade (gold)

image

Melo 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Total
Max if re-signs $22,458,402 $24,142,782 $25,827,162 $27,511,542 $29,195,922 $129,135,810
Max if signs elsewhere $22,458,402 $23,469,030 $24,479,658 $25,490,286   $95,897,375
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $16,637,391   $62,591,769
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $15,318,126 $15,977,758 $25,093,282 $71,047,660
Equality plan with S&T $18,190,703 $19,009,285 $19,827,867 $20,646,448   $77,674,303

 

LeBron, Wade, Bosh 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 Total
Max if
re-sign
$20,659,633 $22,209,105 $23,758,578 $25,308,050 $26,857,523   $98,133,256
Equality plan $14,658,494 $15,757,881 $16,857,268 $17,956,655 $19,056,042   $69,627,847
Equality plan with early opt out $14,658,494 $22,137,516 $23,797,830 $25,458,143 $27,118,457 $28,778,771 $127,290,716
Equality plan with S&T $18,190,703 $19,555,006 $20,919,309 $22,283,611 $23,647,914   $86,405,840

New contract from one signed in 2014 is italicized

However, what’s a win for LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo is not a win for Arison, at least not directly. Acquiring Melo in a sign-and-trade and filling the team to the hard cap of the apron would give the Heat a 2014-15 payroll of $87 million, including luxury-tax payments. On the hook for so much guaranteed money, they’d likely face the tax annually – and the repeater penalty.

This sign-and-trade plan, though it offers substantially higher salaries than using cap space, can be combined with the opt-out plan to get even more money to LeBron, Wade and Bosh as soon as 2015 and Melo as soon as 2017.

But a sign-and-trade, with all the moving parts, is so unlikely, let’s just stop here.

A compromise

No matter what, LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo must collectively compromise to make this happen. That’s the new Collective Bargaining Agreement working.

The document just can’t completely prohibit players from sacrificing salary to build a team as they see fit.

So many variables remain, including what each of the four key players desires, where the cap is set and whether Miami moves its other players. There’s a lot to sort out.

But – scaled up or down depending on other influences – here’s what might work best if LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Melo are committed to making a big four:

  • No sign-and-trade. It’d be difficult, though not impossible, to get everyone else on board.
  • Haslem and Andersen opt out.
  • Miami trades Cole and its first-round draft pick for future picks.
  • Wade signs a four-year contract that starts higher than the equality-plan salary, because he gave up the most money in 2010. It’s the last major deal of his career.
  • Melo signs a four-year contract with a player option that starts higher than the equality-plan salary, because he has the most to gain by signing elsewhere and gets the smallest annual raises. After the third year, he opts out and re-signs to get a higher salary, potentially the max.
  • LeBron and Bosh each sign two-year deals starting below the equality-plan salary with player options. After next season, both opt out and re-sign for five-year max contracts.
  • The Heat re-sign Haslem to the room exception and Chris Andersen and Ray Allen to minimum contracts.

Will it happen? Who knows?

But it’s definitely workable.

After missing out on Kyrie Irving, now what for Lakers?

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The Lakers tried. Maybe not as hard as some segments of Lakers’ nation wanted, but Rob Pelinka and company tried. Los Angeles had serious negotiations with the Brooklyn Nets about bringing Kyrie Irving to Los Angeles, potentially giving them a true at-his-peak third star next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It didn’t work out — Irving is headed to the Dallas Mavericks.

Why it didn’t work out is a glimpse into the mindset of the Lakers’ front office — whether fans think they did the wise thing or should have pushed more chips into the center of the table — and informs what will come next for the Lakers.

The primary reason the Lakers’ trade offer didn’t work out was beyond the team’s control — Brooklyn wanted to quickly retool a competitive, contending team around Kevin Durant and the Lakers couldn’t offer the quality of players needed to make that happen. The core of any Lakers’ offer was two distant first-round picks — 2027 and 2029 — and Russell Westbrook, a player the Lakers moved out of the starting lineup. Dallas (and for that matter, the Suns and Clippers) could always offer a better version of what the Nets wanted. (It didn’t help that Irving wanted to go to the Lakers and Nets’ owner Joe Tsai didn’t want to send Irving to his desired destination, Marc Stein reports.)

There were other players the Lakers could have added to the mix — Austin Reaves and Max Christie — but L.A. was only going to do that if Irving agreed to a two-year, $78.5 million contract extension (the max the Lakers could offer), reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic. Irving would never accept that, his trade request was always about maximizing his income with a new team.

So where does all this leave the Lakers?

They can’t trade Westbrook without attaching at least one of those highly-valued first-round picks — his $47.1 million contract this season is still an anchor on a deal — something they are unwilling to do unless it brings back a true third star. That reduces the Lakers to making a smaller trade to bring in a role player that could give them depth and help them win a few more games, pushing into the postseason. The Lakers have reached out to Utah and Toronto primarily, Buha reports, although the entire league is waiting to see what Toronto will do at the deadline.

Kyle Goon at the Los Angeles Daily News sums it nicely:

But instead of an All-Star like Irving in return, the Lakers face figuring out if a package of role players can help them push toward the playoffs. Those have less glamorous possibilities attached: Mike Conley, Jarred Vanderbilt or Malik Beasley from Utah; Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson or Doug McDermott from San Antonio; Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier or Mason Plumlee from Charlotte…

So Pelinka and the Lakers seemingly find themselves between a rock and a hard place, already committed to making another move before the deadline, but also without an obvious trade that boosts them to new competitive heights.

The Lakers are shopping around that smaller deal using the contract of Patrick Beverley and second-round picks but trying not to use one of those first-rounders, sources tell NBC Sports. Plus, if the Lakers are hesitant to put young players such as Reaves or Christy in a trade for a player the caliber of Irving, they are not about to do it for a role player.

The historic distraction of LeBron James breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record will dominate a lot of the Lakers’ storylines, very possibly just past the trade deadline. That could be a good thing for the Lakers. But when the smoke of the trade deadline clears, Lakers fans — and LeBron — are not likely to be happy with the new landscape.

Three things to Know: Now what for the Nets, Mavericks?

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets
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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Now what for the Nets, Mavericks?

So much for a quiet trade deadline. In a blockbuster trade, the Brooklyn Nets are sending Kyrie Irving and Markieff Morris to the Dallas Mavericks in return for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 unprotected first-round pick and two second-round picks (the first in 2027). Brooklyn chose the Mavericks’ offer over the Lakers (Russell Westbrook and two first-rounders), Suns (Chris Paul, Jae Crowder and picks), and the Clippers.

The thing is, it can’t be the last move for either the Mavericks or Nets if they want to contend this season. It’s not a coincidence this trade got done days before the deadline, it leaves room for both teams to make more moves to maximize what happened in this deal.

What is next for both?

With this move, Brooklyn signaled they plan to retool a contender around Kevin Durant, which is a noble idea but his roster is not good enough. Adding Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith brings versatility and depth to the Nets lineup, but it leaves them with one star capable of elite shot creation and points in KD, the Nets need more.

Brooklyn can use that depth plus what is now three first-round picks they control to try and trade for another star to go next to Durant, except there are no such stars on the market. At least yet. The Nets did check in with the Raptors to see if any of their stars — maybe Fred VanVleet or O.G. Anunoby — will be made available, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV. Brooklyn has until early this summer to build a roster Durant believes can win it all and wants to play with, or his trade demand could end up back on the table. There are many other teams — led by the Suns — waiting to see that happen.

As for Dallas…

Trading for Irving is a huge role of the dice for the Mavericks and they need it to work, partly because they reportedly did not commit to a long-term contract with Irving (he wants the max, four years, $198.5 million, he could have gotten). Irving is a free agent after this season and could walk.

To make it work, Dallas needs two ball-dominant players in Irving and Luka Dončić to mesh on the court. More importantly, Dallas has to improve its 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) despite having just traded away its best perimeter defender in Finney-Smith.

Dallas is still active on the trade market to round out the roster— Christian Wood is a very common name bandied about as available — but the focus now has to be on bringing in enough defense. Their offense could be electric with Dončić, Irving and plenty of shooting, but they are not going to score their way out of the West, Dallas needs stops. Which means Dallas needs defenders.

Expect both the Nets and Mavericks to try and make more moves before Thursday.

2) Stephen Curry out “weeks” with shin injury, could be a month

For a Warriors team that is just a game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, they got terrible news on Sunday.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline, he will miss time.

Shams Charania reported it would be “weeks” and the Warriors are hoping that means about three and Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

However, Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes said that, while this is a rare injury for the NBA, he likely is out for around a month.

The Warriors are not the same without Curry, who is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game. The Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. Can they hold on to even a play-in spot without him?

Also of interest, Curry will miss the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter.

Here’s the interesting question: Fans voted Irving a starter in the East, except now he plays for a Western Conference team. Does Irving now slide into Curry’s starting spot in the West, and then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver name a replacement player in the East? Or, does Silver make the changes in the West (likely bumping Ja Morant to starter and naming a reserve from Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards).

3) Knicks rally from 21 points down to pick up quality win over 76ers

The 76ers had been hot and won 9-of-10, and Joel Embiid had another monster night scoring 31 points (18 of 19 from the free-throw line) and grabbing 14 rebounds.

It was not enough, the Knicks came back from 21 down to get the win behind 24 points from Julius Randle, while Jalen Brunson scored 21 points and Evan Fournier came off the bench to add 17.

“I thought our second unit came in and struggled,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said, via the Associated Press. “This is the second time that has happened. The same thing happened in Orlando (the other recent Philly loss). Both times, we were scoring too easy. The second group comes in and thinks this is an offensive game and they didn’t see why the first group got the lead because of defense.”

Morant says friend banned from arena over incident with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Memphis Grizzlies
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant tweeted Sunday that a friend of his has been banned from games at FedExForum for a year as a result of a confrontation between his supporters and members of the Indiana Pacers organization after the game between the teams a week earlier.

The NBA confirmed that unnamed individuals have been banned from the arena, while adding that its investigation found no evidence that anyone was threatened with a weapon during the incident, which happened after the Grizzlies beat the Pacers on Jan. 29.

Citing unnamed sources, The Indianapolis Star and USA Today reported that multiple members of the Pacers saw a red dot pointed at them, and The Athletic reported that a Pacers security guard believed the laser was attached to a gun.

“NBA Security and league investigators conducted an investigation interviewing numerous eyewitnesses and reviewing video surveillance following allegations made by the Indiana Pacers organization regarding a postgame incident on Jan. 29. While we substantiated that a postgame situation arose that was confrontational, based on interviews and other evidence gathered, we could not corroborate that any individual threatened others with a weapon,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in an emailed statement.

“Certain individuals involved in the postgame situation and a related matter during the game that night have been subsequently banned from attending games in the arena. If additional information becomes available related to the postgame situation, the league office will conduct a further review,” Bass’ statement continued.

Morant didn’t play in the Grizzlies’ 106-103 loss to Toronto on Sunday because of right wrist soreness and was not available for comment after the game.

Before the game, Morant tweeted that reports about the incident “paint this negative image on me and my fam. & banned my brother from home games for a year. unbelievable.”

During the Jan. 29 game, there was barking between Pacers players and friends of Morant seated along the sideline. A close friend of Morant’s, Davonte Pack, was escorted from the arena as Pacers bench players shouted in Pack’s direction.

The talking reportedly continued into the players’ parking area after the game.

Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said the team addressed the matter internally.

“Aware of the investigation of the NBA. Did a full investigation,” Jenkins said. “We were fully compliant with it, and I think they came out with a statement saying nothing was corroborated or found.

“That’s what I know, and that’s all I’m going to comment on it.”

Winners, Losers in Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas Mavericks

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets
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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.

LOSER: LeBron James and the Lakers

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.