The same thing happened to Irving when he played for the Celtics and the Nets.
Let’s start by saying that Kyrie Irving is not the reason the Dallas Mavericks are currently in the lottery with five games remaining, potentially straight out of the play-in round, one back of the No. 10 Thunder.
Certainly not directly.
As for the Mavericks, who are 14 points better per 100 possessions with Irving on the floor, Cleaning the Glass reports that Irving is averaging 26 points on 49-39-94 shooting splits with the club.
Does playing alongside Luka Doncic have any effect on that? No. When Irving plays without Doncic, the Mavericks outscore their opponents by nearly nine points per 100 possessions, but only 4.7 points per 100 when the two superstars combine.
Irving has, by all accounts, been a perfect teammate in Dallas, playing not only very brilliantly but also very selflessly. He has not attempted to intervene or seize control in any way. He has worked hard to fit in, get everyone involved, and play off Doncic rather than the other way around.
Yet despite all the discussion about how much the defense has declined after the deal, the Mavericks’ defense wasn’t very strong prior to the transaction (bottom half). According to statistics, they are scoring about two more per 100 possessions than they were before the move while giving up about three more points per 100 possessions. While not negligible, a variance of one point per 100 is also not particularly noteworthy.
Overall, it was never going to be easy for Irving to replace Spencer Dinwiddie with an offensive boost sufficient to offset the defensive loss of Dorian Finney-Smith, who at least gave Dallas a reliable alternative for elite scorers who could switch and fill a few perimeter voids.
Yet even the Finney-Smith component of this agreement has been exaggerated, in my opinion. Dallas is a doormat, and DFS is a terrific defender, it’s easy to say now, but the Mavericks weren’t a solid defensive club prior to the deal. And Irving has been fantastic statistically. Stats aren’t the topic here, though.
With Irving, who consistently gets a perfect box score and eye test, it’s never about the statistics. Not even that the Mavericks are worse because of him. The problem is that he hasn’t improved them.
The crucial distinction is that. Despite his apparent and downright captivating skills, Irving has barely any evidence of improving teams since leaving Cleveland. He didn’t improve the Celtics. In actuality, everything improved without him. The Brooklyn Nets finished 6-7 in the playoffs during his three-and-a-half seasons there. While he is starting, the Mavericks are 7-10.
Not to mention the drama drain Irving caused on a franchise. It affected the Celts. The Nets felt it keenly. That aspect of the Irving equation hasn’t been felt by the Mavericks yet. If things continue as they are, Dallas will have a few months to decide whether they want to continue doing business with Irving, who will become a free agency this summer, while they watch the playoffs on television.
I can’t emphasize this enough. They ought not to. Plan a sign-and-trade if you don’t want to lose him to free agency for nothing. Let him walk if you are unable to accomplish that. You made a quick decision. It was a failure. But avoid making the error worse.
Again, I’m not going to make this about the money that Kyrie Irving spends off the court or the possibility that every time he speaks in front of a camera, he could ruin your locker room, your season, or both. It’s all about basketball here.
You cannot, in good conscience, ignore the ample on-court evidence that Irving is simply not a player who will make you a better team unless you stack the deck around him, from stars to support, which Dallas can’t do given what it would cost to keep Irving. Even if you want to believe that Irving has changed and that he can remain as low maintenance as he has been for the past seven weeks for the next four years.
By the way, Irving isn’t the only player who hasn’t had the pure win-loss impact that his talent would indicate he should have. Dejounte Murray cost the Hawks more than Kyrie Irving cost the Mavericks, and they haven’t improved. Rudy Gobert hasn’t made the Timberwolves any better. Even though Jerami Grant had a fantastic season, the Blazers are terrible.
In most cases, even All-Stars need to enter a well-equipped setting to significantly alter the win-loss record. Take a look at Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis. Is he a superior athlete to Irving? In terms of skill, without a doubt. Yet, it is undeniable that Sabonis is exactly what Sacramento needs, whereas Irving clearly was not what Dallas required.
In the NBA, the situation is everything. Irving can bring Cleveland a LeBron James, and he can win you a championship. If you put James Harden and Kevin Durant together in Brooklyn, he could theoretically be a major contributor to a major team as long as everyone stays happy and healthy. Quite a few guys could. in concept. The Nets were only ever that.
Few players in the world can practically promise that they will improve your squad on their own, regardless of the situation. Take Durant as an example. The Suns are a better club with him, despite having to part with an exceptional talent in Mikal Bridges and another solid player in Cam Johnson. This cannot be disputed.
With Jimmy Butler, the Heat advanced. Donovan Mitchell elevated the Cavaliers to a higher level. The Knicks improved after acquiring Jalen Brunson.
It’s not always about raw talent, which Irving possesses in greater quantities than almost anyone else on earth. He is a classic basketball enigma: a player of extraordinary potential who somehow fails to improve your team. That isn’t a statistical phenomenon. It’s not even entirely a matter of defense. Even though Brunson can’t truly defend, it’s clear that the Knicks are a completely different team with him on their side.
There are just some individuals who naturally inspire a basketball team in an almost immeasurable way, and Irving isn’t one of them. I worry that Trae Young will follow a similar path and require ideal conditions in order to succeed at any sort of significant level.
Any winning reputation Young currently has is currently being held together by a single playoff run. I hate to say it, but Irving is comparable to them both in terms of pure winning. He participated in four Finals and performed admirably in many important matches, but he will forever be remembered for that Game 7 shot in the 2016 Finals.
However, what have you done for me lately, as they say?
Not much, as far as Dallas is concerned.
Once more, this does not portray Irving as the source of Dallas’ issues. The Mavericks are not worse because of him. Simply put, he hasn’t improved them. He has never improved an NBA team without James. Dallas won’t be able to run this back for the next four years, which will be a difficult pill for them to chew given their lack of viable replacement options for Irving’s talent.
They might lose much more than basketball games if they do that. Doncic, who eventually loses patience, could become lost for them. No longer do guys wait until their seventh year before getting the championship bug. They anticipate winning right now because we anticipate doing so. That’s almost likely not going to happen for Doncic and the Mavericks with Irving along for the ride.