We just heard about the Kyrie trade demands on Friday, but the Nets moved swiftly to unload the problematic shooting guard. The Mavericks called and offered Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, a first-rounder (unprotected in 2029…two years after Doncic’s contract with Dallas expires), and two seconds for a half-season of Kyrie Irving and the shambling corpse of Markieff Morris. Who won?
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas might never get a defensive stop again. Finney-Smith was Dallas’ best perimeter and wing defender and a favorite teammate of Luka’s. Unless Josh Green is ready to step into a bigger role, the Mavericks don’t have anyone to replace Finney-Smith’s skillset on either end. Green is also several inches shorter than DFS, which could be an issue if Maxi Kleber’s latest injury (a torn hamstring suffered in December) finally saps his athleticism for good.
Even with DFS, the Mavericks have been a terrible defensive team. It’s hard to imagine swapping Kyrie in will improve things.
The contract issue also looms: Kyrie has been vocal and consistent about wanting a four-year maximum contract (as he should!), which the Nets refused to offer (as they should!). It wouldn’t shock me to see a report about Kyrie coming to an extension agreement with Dallas in the next day or two. If Dallas doesn’t offer an extension to Kyrie’s liking, it could impact his mindset and create a flight risk in the summer.
And let’s not forget that Kyrie is already on the wrong side of 30. Even when he’s not peddling conspiracy theories or abandoning the team to go to birthday parties, he’s hardly been a bastion of health. Additionally, despite his incalculable skill, he doesn’t have the physical tools to be a dominant presence as he ages. We’ll likely see a significant decline in the next few years, even if he remains a good player.
This trade is about winning, and winning now. But this current team, even at peak output, will still not be the favorite in the West. Denver, for one, is not likely to be worried about the new-look Mavericks. The trade deadline is still days away, and Dallas has more they need to do. This move almost guarantees they’ll have to use up more of their capital to get better surrounding parts.
The Mavericks took a high-risk, high-reward swing at getting the best talent they could ever obtain. It’s difficult to blame them; players of Kyrie’s caliber are never this cheap. But you get what you pay for, and it’s easy to envision any number of ways this trade fails.
Winner: Dallas Mavericks
Any time you have an opportunity to add Markieff Morris, you have to take it. He’s a flexible, sweet-shooting power forward… alright, I’m done. Sorry. (Although…it won’t shock me if he cracks the Dallas rotation.)
The Mavericks saw a high-risk, high-reward opportunity and pounced. By securing the trade quickly, they didn’t have to pay too steep a price and avoided an escalating bidding war (depending on how the rest of the trade-verse turned out).
Kyrie’s talent level is indisputably worth more than that price, but risk is built into the equation. Dallas, though, had no choice. The Mavericks had some trade assets available, including a handful of first-rounders, but at least five or six other teams can put together much more attractive packages without much effort. If a different, more reliable star became available in the next year, the Mavericks would have lost the bidding.
Statistically, Irving has been having one of the best seasons of his career; a player with averages of 27/5/5 on 49/37/88 shooting percentages isn’t often on the trading block. And as much as I like DFS and Dinwiddie, those two plus one first-rounder and some change is a significantly lower price than we’ve seen other stars command in the past.
Fit issues between Kyrie and Doncic are likely overrated. He’ll be a fantastic weapon when Luka has the ball, as Kyrie is a lights-out shooter from anywhere and an underrated cutter. Doncic, Irving, and Christian Wood (if he survives the trade deadline, a huge if) might be the best offensive triumvirate in the league, and they will rain points on opponents.
There might be a little your-turn, my-turn in the beginning, as Luka and Kyrie feel each other out, but Kyrie has long experience playing next to better, more ball-dominant players, and it shouldn’t be a huge problem. This will be an opportunity for Luka to lessen his on-ball burden and prove that he can be productive off the ball, as well, something he’s never had a chance to explore in his young career. The Mavs have already experimented with sets where Dinwiddie brought the ball up and entered the ball to Luka at the elbow or in the post; having Kyrie be the primary ballhandler will weaponize those in an entirely different way. (That said, I’ll be closely monitoring Doncic’s engagement level the first time Kyrie looks him off for a pull-up 20-footer.)
Luka had demanded help, and the Mavericks are winners because they managed to find the best possible player for the assets they sent out. It’s that simple.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
I’m tempted to put them as a winner; trading Kyrie must be an Alka-Seltzer for management and teammates alike. It’s also worth pointing out that the Nets have a surprising amount of draft capital left, much from the James Harden trade to Philadelphia; it seems possible, and perhaps even probable, that they’ll use some of those picks to bolster this year’s roster further.
Dorian Finney-Smith will be a nice fit for the Nets, who needed another wing-stopper in case Ben Simmons is unplayable in the playoffs. Dinwiddie, making his return to Brooklyn, is a solid player averaging 18 points and five assists per game. He shot 40% from three, by far his career-high, during his Dallas tenure; Brooklyn is desperately hoping that’s due more to internal improvement than from feasting on Doncic-driven open looks. Kevin Durant is also not nearly as ball-dominant as Luka Doncic, which could give the dribble-happy Dinwiddie a little more freedom.
The Nets found this trade to have the most compelling return for victories right now. Only contending teams would have wanted Kyrie, and axiomatically, those teams would not want to send back pieces useful for winning. DFS and Dinwiddie aren’t stars, but they are high-end role players. They should be excellent complements to KD.
But the Nets are unquestionably a worse team, despite all of that. What looked like the best team in basketball in ripping off 18 wins out of 20 games just a short while ago has taken a step back. Any team with Durant always has a chance in the playoffs, but the Nets don’t scare anyone now. They’ll have to mortgage even more of their future to boost this roster if they genuinely want to contend in the East. If Durant’s current injury lingers, or he becomes re-injured, they’ll struggle to stay out of the play-in. Kyrie’s offensive creation would be sorely missed.
And, of course, all this is meaningless if Kevin Durant isn’t still on the team. The package the Nets elected to receive indicates that they plan on keeping Durant, who famously asked out of Brooklyn to start the season before rescinding his trade demand. It’s hard to know what KD is thinking right now (he’s always been far, far more forgiving of his BFF Kyrie than any normal person would be; just ask James Harden). It wouldn’t be a shock if Durant reiterates his trade demands in the offseason. If the playoffs go poorly, perhaps there’s even a chance the Nets grant him his wish this time.
Winner: Houston Rockets
That sound you hear? It’s the whoops and hollers of Rockets fans. Houston owns pretty much every major Nets draft pick for the next half-decade, thanks to the James Harden trade. Not only did the Nets get worse today, but they also are presumably at risk of Durant demanding a trade yet again sometime in the future. Some of those draft picks in the next few years could end up tastier than a 3 a.m. New York slice.
Winner: The Eastern Conference
Nobody wanted to play the Nets in the playoffs. Miami and Cleveland, the two teams most likely to have played Brooklyn in the first round, must be especially elated. Although the Celtics swept a (worse) Nets team in the playoffs last year, it was the closest sweep in NBA history, and a couple of bounces the other way could have changed the series. These Nets looked healthier and better, even if Boston would have been the favorite.
Now, the East playoff pecking order is much clearer at the top, and the #1 seed looms large. As of this writing, the Celtics are one game up on the Bucks, who are one game up on the 76ers. Whichever team emerges from that scrum will face a significantly easier second-round matchup while the remaining two will be locked in a bare-knuckle fight. So expect a heated push down the stretch to claim that top seed.
Loser: Christian Wood
This is wild speculation on my part, but I believe the Kyrie acquisition means the Mavericks are more likely to trade away Christian Wood in the next few days. Although Wood has had some pleasant moments on defense this season, particularly blocking shots, he remains a one-sided offensive player overall. Kyrie and Luka both fit that bill already, and it’s very difficult to imagine a contender whose three best players are all defensive liabilities.
The Mavs had already been heavily rumored to be shopping Wood, whom they acquired this offseason after failing to retain Jalen Brunson. His fit with Luka has been perfect on offense, but he’s now a third wheel who is best with the ball in his hands. There won’t be much room for that player archetype with Irving around.
Winner: Ja Morant
Around the same time as the Kyrie trade broke, yet another troubling Ja Morant story emerged.
Following a game between the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 29 in Memphis, acquaintances of Grizzlies star Ja Morant aggressively confronted members of the Pacers traveling party near the team’s bus in the loading area of FedExForum, and later someone in a slow-moving SUV — which Morant was riding in — trained a red laser on them.
The two members of the traveling party who spoke to The Athletic said that they did not see who shined the laser from the SUV. They also don’t know if the laser was attached to a gun, but they believed it was. A Pacers security guard in the loading area at the time remarked: “That’s 100 percent a gun.”
This is at least the third not-good story about Morant to emerge since May of last year. Ja is one of the most electrifying players in the league, a charismatic comet. But at the very minimum, there are concerns about the people around Morant. He should be very grateful that the Kyrie Irving trade has completely dominated all of the NBA’s discourse on an otherwise-sleepy Sunday.