Since last year’s trade that shipped former All-Star Kristaps Porziņģis to the Washington Wizards, the Mavericks have been looking for the mythical “second star” to pair with Luka Dončić.
This player, ideally, can make up for Dončić’s weaknesses – primarily on-ball defense – and can act as a secondary scorer and creator that can get his own shot.
Kyrie Irving has been one of these supposed “second stars” who has been routinely connected with Dallas for the past two seasons, and recent reports have Dallas as a top destination for the All-NBA guard should the Brooklyn Nets trade him at the deadline.
Yet, as Ben Kenobi said in one of the most iconic lines in Star Wars history, “Kyrie Irving is not the second star you are looking for.”
Or something like that.
On the surface, Irving seems like a hand-in-glove fit in Dallas. He is an all-time great ballhandler who is a true three-level scorer that can blow by almost any defender and has a silky smooth jump shot to boot, traits that are needed in Dallas’ Dončić-centric offense.
Irving’s statistical output reflects his offensive brilliance, as he is averaging 27.1 points and 5.3 assists on 48.6% shooting from the floor and 37.4% shooting from three-point range this season.
It is easy to envision how much better Irving can become in Dallas. He is second on his team in usage rate (behind Kevin Durant) and ranks just 18th in the league in that category, meaning that he is already accustomed to playing off-ball and in the role of a secondary scorer, as his history playing second-fiddle to LeBron James and Kevin Durant has shown. Dončić’s floor gravity would certainly create easy driving lanes and open shots for Irving, and Irving’s isolation brilliance (95th percentile isolation scorer) can give Dallas another offensive option.
One of the few bright spots of Dallas’ non-Dončić offense is their assist-to-turnover ratio, where Dallas ranks 10th, and is an area where Irving struggles. Before Irving’s suspension at the beginning of the season, the Nets were 17th in assist-to-turnover ratio. By the time he returned, Brooklyn had risen to third in that category. Furthermore, his isolation-dominant playstyle might take the ball out of Dončić’s hands, which is the exact scenario that this front office should be avoiding.
Yet, we have already seen how much better players like Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith have become playing with Dončić. With Irving in his athletic prime, he seems like the gettable co-star that Dallas has long sought.
Recently, Dallas has been playing more like Allas, and Irving won’t bring the D.
Irving has a defensive rating of 114.1. Individual defensive rating isn’t an ironclad statistic as it can often be influenced by the scheme and team support, but team defensive rating is.
Before Irving’s suspension, Brooklyn had the worst defensive rating in the NBA. When Irving returned to the lineup, the Nets had catapulted to the second-best defensive rating. Brooklyn is a team with a litany of elite defenders – Ben Simmons, Royce O’Neal, and Nic Claxton just to name a few. With Irving in the lineup, the Nets were abysmal. Without him, they were one of the best defensive units in the league.
Putting another offense-oriented, poor point-of-attack defender in Jason Kidd’s switch-heavy defensive system only spells disaster for a middling defense. Pairing him next to Dončić, who has his defensive struggles, might create one of the worst defensive backcourts in the league.
Injury and Off-Court History
No NBA player is perfect, and in most instances, a player with Irving’s offensive talent is worth trading for despite defensive shortcomings. Too often, fans will nitpick good trades because the acquired player is not the perfect fit. This criticism of Kyrie Irving is not that. The biggest concern in bringing Irving to Dallas is not his defense or his fit.
It is his injury and off-court history.
Over the last eight seasons, Irving has only played in 64% of possible games, missing 220 games due to injury or off-court issues. He has only played 65 games or more twice in that stretch and has tallied four seasons of 55 games played or less.
Irving has incurred many bumps and bruises that have cost him short stretches throughout his career, but his major injuries are particularly concerning. Back in 2015, he fractured his kneecap, costing him the 2015 NBA Finals and much of the 2016 season. In 2018, he missed 20 games and the playoff due to injuries, leading up to knee surgery that offseason. In 2020, he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him most of the regular season and inevitably the playoffs.
None of that includes the time he missed due to vaccine hesitancy, antisemitic tweets, and other issues.
Even if Irving were to fit better than imagined offensively, and even if Dallas could mask his defensive deficiencies, none of it would matter if Irving is unable to play.
Dallas, certainly, has injury-related trauma with supposed co-stars. The failure of the Porziņģis trade was less about his talent and fit and more about his injuries. During his tenure in Dallas, Porziņģis was available for just 61% of all possible games, missing 86 games due to injury. Porziņģis, too, was billed as an elite offensive complementary piece to Dončić who was a three-level scorer and a shot creator.
The best ability is availability, and Irving has too often not been available.
The Big Swing
Reasonably, Dallas can take one more big swing before the end of Dončić’s five-year, $207 million contract extension. Should Irving be acquired, he would be eligible for a four-year, $198.5 million extension. If Dallas were to offer extension, combined with the cost to acquire him (a possible combination of role players and draft picks), would take the Mavericks out of both the trade and free agency markets for the foreseeable future.
Dallas, frankly, cannot afford another Porziņģis-esque trade. In the era of player empowerment, many teams are lucky to keep their superstar for the full duration of the contract. From Paul George to Anthony Davis, many stars and superstars have demanded trades when their teams have failed to build a competitive supporting cast. While nobody knows what Dončić is thinking, there have been grumblings about his dissatisfaction with the team construction. Messing up again could spell the end of Dončić’s time in Dallas.
Irving’s long injury history, troubling off-court issues and unideal defensive fit should raise enough red flags for Dallas to not make the same mistake twice. Irving was the golden apple for Cleveland, Boston, and Brooklyn, yet those franchises combined only have one title during his time. For a Mavericks team that, during Kidd’s tenure, has prided itself on team chemistry, Irving is a toxic player that can destroy the franchise, as he has with others in the past.
The front office should have a sense of urgency to improve the roster, but there is a fine line between acting urgently and acting desperately. Secondary or tertiary moves can and should be made to improve the roster or to clear cap space and acquire draft picks. There is no immediate need to potentially overpay for a talented, yet injury-prone and toxic, co-star. Plus, more trade options and draft picks become available to Dallas if they wait until the summer.
Should Dallas take this swing for Irving and miss, Dončić might be out.
Categories: 2022-23 Season, Mavs Fans For Life
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