Kyrie Irving Traded to Mavericks
With all due respect to Rui Hachimura and Noah Vonleh, we have our first big trade ahead of the 2023 NBA trade deadline. Roughly two days after requesting a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving is being sent to the Dallas Mavericks. Here are the particulars:
- Dallas acquires: Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris
- Brooklyn acquires: Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, 2029 Dallas first-round pick, 2027 Dallas second-round pick, 2029 Dallas second-round pick (no protections on any of the picks)
- Brooklyn creates: $5.4 million Traded Player Exception (for Kyrie Irving) and $1.8 million Traded Player Exception (for Markieff Morris)
This is a massive deal with league-wide ramifications. Let’s break it down!
In a trade involving a superstar, it’s generally the team that ends up with said superstar who wins the trade. For Dallas, because that superstar is Kyrie Irving, there is a good deal of risk attached.
Irving is supremely talented. He’s right up there with the best scoring point guards in the league. Irving is also a more willing passer than he’s generally given credit for. And at the end of close games, Dallas now has a second option when teams load to Luka Doncic, which they’ve lacked without Jalen Brunson.
However, before we get to the off-court risks, there are some on-court worries for the Mavericks. Doncic is currently captaining arguably the most heliocentric offensive ship in the NBA. If Irving comes in and plays Mr. Spock to Doncic’s Captain Kirk, Dallas will be in good shape. If Irving and Doncic can’t mesh together, it’ll be like when an Android user joins the group text with a bunch of Apple users. It still works, but it’s a little more complicated, messier than anyone really likes and no one is really happy they’re in there.
The Dallas defense has now lost their best big wing defender. Lineups featuring Doncic, Irving and Christian Wood will have to be scoring monsters, because they’ll probably hand a lot of points back to the opponent. But it’s the dominant offensive pairing of Doncic and Irving that the Mavs are betting on making up for any defensive deficiencies.
Then you get to the off-court challenges…and there are many.
Sticking to the financials, the Mavericks are limited to offering Irving a two-year, roughly $80 million extension. That’s pretty far under his market value, even with question marks about his fit, age, injury history and off-court worries. The reason Dallas is limited in what they can offer now, is that for six months following a trade, a player can’t extend beyond the parameters allowed in an extend-and-trade deal, which are two years and 5% raises.
That means Irving will be a free agent this summer. The Mavs inherit his Bird rights, so they’ll be able to pay Irving whatever they can agree to. Irving and his camp will likely start out asking for a four-year, $210 million contract, if not the full five-year, $272 million maximum deal Irving will be eligible for.
It’s here where we should pause to say the Nets could have offered Irving something approaching that four-year number in an extension. Their reluctance to do so is what reportedly sparked Irving to request a trade in the first place. Brooklyn reportedly wanted some levels of protections in the deal that Irving found insulting.
The question facing Mavericks governor Mark Cuban and general manager Nico Harrison is not only how much they are willing to pay Irving, but how long they are willing to sign on to Irving for? On talent alone, Irving is worth a deal that averages north of $50 million per season. That true even as he’s turning 31 years old at the end of March.
But Irving has missed considerable time over the last eight seasons. Only in the 2016-17 season, his last with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has Irving played as many as 70 games. In four years with the Nets, he logged game counts of 20, 54, 29 and 40.
There’s a lengthy injury history with Irving that includes knee injuries and shoulder injuries. On top of that, he missed considerable games during the pandemic seasons due to non-compliance with vaccination requirements. And this season, Irving served an eight-game suspension after sharing a link to an antisemitic film.
Whether it’s injuries or other very avoidable off-court issues, Irving is a good bet to miss considerable time. That’s unlikely to improve as he approaches his mid-30s. That makes locking into a long-term, maximum contract something the Nets were unwilling to do. Will Dallas? That’s a question we’ll answer this summer…maybe.
Because Irving is now highly likely to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, he could just up and leave town. It’s not like Irving hasn’t previously changed his mind after stating how happy he was to be with a team…twice.
The Markieff Morris portion of this trade was likely a throw-in for Brooklyn to save some tax money. The Nets don’t have an open roster spot, so doing a 2-for-1 deal would have meant eating a guaranteed salary. Morris has fallen to the bottom of the Nets rotation, and he’s unlikely to have any real impact in a crowded Mavs frontcourt either.
Dallas took on about $28.7 million in additional taxes and penalties in this deal. If they re-sign Irving to anything approaching a max deal this summer, they’ll likely be a long-term taxpayer.
On last thing to note for the Mavericks side: If Irving were to leave, Dallas could create in the range of $30 million in cap space this summer. If nothing else, they cleared up some multi-year salary obligations in the form of Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith. But we won’t pretend like those were exactly bad contracts worth giving up even a single first-round pick to shed. The Mavs could have worked around them easily enough.
For the Nets, they are now free of the headache that can come from being Kyrie Irving’s employer. It’s kind of like eating a ton of chicken wings. It’s awesome for part of the time, but then you have saucy and sticky fingers, maybe the dogs try to get into the bones, and you question if the awesome part was even worth it while fighting off some heartburn later.
Brooklyn had precious little leverage here. Irving made it clear on Friday afternoon that he was leaving this summer without an extension. He then made it clear by Sunday morning that he was prepared to never play another game for the Nets. Given his upcoming free agent status, and all the issues we laid out in the Mavericks portion of this analysis, Irving wasn’t exactly a sterling trade commodity.
Yet, the Nets did OK here. Dinwiddie gives them a veteran point guard with whom the organization has a ton of familiarity. Finney-Smith is another big wing defender and a pretty good off-ball shooter and cutter. And he’s on a terrific value contract.
Jacque Vaughn can now deploy defensive lineups that feature four of Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Nic Claxton, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons, and maybe even all five for stretches of games. Good luck finding much scoring space against those groups.
On the court, Brooklyn should be ok. The ceiling is lower for sure. The Nets probably aren’t title contenders anymore, even if everything goes great. The offensive production just won’t be there against the best teams. But it’s questionable if the floor even dropped an inch, given Irving’s general unreliability.
The big question for the Nets: What does Kevin Durant want to do now? Does he reissue his trade request from the summertime? Is he content to play things out and see what Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks does next? There are already reports that the Phoenix Suns are prepared to make another run at Durant, should become available via trade. And it’s a good bet Phoenix isn’t the only team having the “What’s our best offer for KD?” conversation in NBA front offices today.
Brooklyn saved a considerable chunk of change in this trade. They’ll see their tax-plus-penalties bill drop by about $26.5 million. That’s nothing to sneeze at for a team that has carried a considerable salary and tax outlay the last few seasons.
On top of that, the Nets did really well to get such a late pick from the Mavericks. In 2029, Dallas could be in Year 2 or 3 of a post-Luka Doncic rebuild. Who knows what the Mavs will look like then? And the two seconds are kind of sprinkles on top of a good-but-not-great sundae.
The Rest of the NBA
This trade has a pretty wide fallout radius. The Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers and Phoenix Suns were all reportedly interested in trading for Kyrie Irving. The Lakers were even getting some fairly strong public pressure put on them from LeBron James to get a deal done. And reports early on Sunday were that the Clippers had sent the Nets a “strong offer”.
Now, those teams have to pivot. The Lakers need to upgrade their depth and, as they have since the summer, are shopping Russell Westbrook and one or both of their tradable first-round picks. They’ll do something beyond just the Rui Hachimura deal.
The Clippers remain on the hunt for a point guard. Fred VanVleet? Kyle Lowry? Mike Conley? LA seems like a good bet to come away with someone. They just won’t have the star upside of Irving.
The Suns are already known to be ready to talk Kevin Durant trades again. Failing that, they’ll move Jae Crowder and who know what else to retool their roster.
As for the 25 NBA teams we didn’t mention yet, the market is now semi-set. Because the Nets were in a tough spot with Irving, don’t expect the Toronto Raptors to come off the big asking price they’ve set for OG Anunoby, for example. Masai Ujiri will sit back and calmly explain he’s still got the leverage, whereas Sean Marks had little.
But things should start to get moving now. One major domino, if an unexpected one, has fallen. There are some others that are wobbling and ready to start a chain reaction around the league. There’s no overwhelming favorite to win the title. That means Dallas and Brooklyn may have done a deal that kicks off an arms race that won’t culminate until 3:00 PM Eastern on Thursday, February 9 when the NBA trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and rosters are set for the stretch run. Well…until buyout season wraps up a few weeks later!