The Mavericks made a splash ahead of the NBA trade deadline when they acquired Kyrie Irving to pair with Luka Dončić. But will it work out in Dallas?
On his way out of Brooklyn and into Dallas, Kyrie Irving touted Luka Dončić as a “Bad European” who is “constantly in an MVP conversation.” There’s little doubt about how good this backcourt tandem can be — two basketball savants who can control the pace of the game but also get a bucket at any given moment.
Irving, 30, is playing on a $36.5 million deal and is eligible for a two-year, $78.6 million extension with Dallas (or elsewhere) after the season. But in making a move like this, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is quite literally going for it all. He traded for one of the most controversial players in the NBA and in doing so, he traded two core pieces in Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Consider it a high-risk, high-reward move for Dallas.
They immediately become the most lethal backcourt in all of the Association. Draymond Green said, “I don’t love it.” Why? “That’s very hard to stop.”
“We feel that the talent and his abilities to make us better are something that we needed. We feel that getting him is going to help put us in a position to win a championship,” said coach Jason Kidd. “Kai is at a different level. This gives us another weapon. Someone is going to be free. Someone is going to have the advantage.”
They’re taking in a potential rental player to go for it all this year… and they still aren’t clear-cut favorites. Dinwiddie was clearly expendable since he was replaced by another guard, but Finney-Smith is the type of lanky 3-and-D player that every team needs. This all goes without mentioning the distractions Irving presented in Boston and Brooklyn (“distractions” is putting it nicely).
The Mavs are playing with fire. They can either be really great and reap the benefits of Kyrie’s on-court wizardry or lose in the postseason and ruin a young team that was specifically built around Luka. Finney-Smith went undrafted and carved out a career with Dallas, ultimately signing a four-year, $55.6 million extension in February 2022. By bringing in Kyrie, you risk continuity and culture for someone who very well might ditch Dallas for his good friend who wants him in Los Angeles — LeBron James.
“It’s easy to look at all the talk of the negative, but let’s look at the positive of what he’s done on and off the court,” Kidd said. “That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
Dallas has the seventh-highest total cap in the NBA at $181 million in 2022-23, but if Irving decides to go elsewhere in the offseason, then it’ll have the ninth-lowest payroll in the league ($108.7M), giving the team plenty of financial flexibility in free agency.
The makeup isn’t bad. They have plenty of size and several players capable of knocking down a 3, with six players shooting above the league average (36%) from deep. But the Luka-Kyrie combo is certainly intriguing. It’ll be difficult for defenses to truly double one or the other because they’ll work off one another, but both are ball-dominant guards.
Luka needs the ball in his hands to control the pace. Kyrie often dribbles out the ball — for better or worse — in order for him to create.
In turn, get ready for more iso ball in the Big D. The Mavs already lead the league in isolation points and now they have two of the top-five isolation scorers in the NBA this season with Dončić and Irving. This year, Irving is shooting 38% from 3-point range on catch-and-shoot opportunities. He can drive, kick, create — or simply become Luka’s safety net amid double teams.
Looking back on the Brooklyn days, Irving played off the ball with James Harden running point; the team went 26-9 in games they played together. The problem wasn’t their fit on the court together — we’ll let you interpret what the problem was between those two.
“Pick your poison,” said Mavs forward Theo Pinson. “It’s one of those things where I don’t know what you do. Personally, I really don’t. You can trap Luka all you want now. We swing it to another killer. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
In any event, the Mavericks are 29-26 and fifth in the West as of this writing. They’ve scored at a league-best rate (118.7 points per 100 possessions) with Doncic running the offense and a league-worst rate when he isn’t on the floor (106.8). Their defense will probably be more of an atrocity than it already was — a team with the seventh-worst defensive rating in the NBA (114.9) while allowing teams to shoot 48% from the field (eighth-worst).
Going All Out
Mark Cuban’s going for it all. There’s zero doubt about it. There’s obviously an urgency to surround Luka Dončić with a championship-caliber team, and it hasn’t quite shown it despite the heavy spending both to the team and to Dončić (five years, $215 million).
Why else? Cuban told the Dallas Morning News that the vision for the middle of Dallas is to become a Vegas-like setting, which would mean a brand new arena for the Mavericks and several casinos inside and outside of said new arena.
“My goal, and we’d partner with Las Vegas Sands, is when we build a new arena, it’ll be in the middle of a resort and casino,” Cuban said.
Build a winning team and the rest will follow. Cuban just better hope Irving doesn’t destroy by the time this all could be ready.
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