Let's start with this: Kyrie Irving is not the reason the Dallas Mavericks are spiraling potentially right out of the play-in and into the lottery, which is where they currently reside, one back of the No. 10 Thunder, with five games to play.
At least not directly.
Directly, Irving is averaging 26 points on 49-39-94 shooting splits with the Mavericks, who are, as hard as this is to believe for a team that is cratering, 14 points better per 100 possessions with Irving on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
Is that a product of playing with Luka Doncic? No. The Mavericks are outscoring opponents by almost nine points per 100 possessions when Irving plays without Doncic -- and 4.7 points per 100 when the two stars play together.
Irving, from all indications, has been a model teammate in Dallas and has played not only extremely well, but extremely selflessly. He has not, in any way, tried to come in and take over. He has made a concerted and consistent effort to blend in, to involve everyone, to play off Doncic rather than the other way around.
And for all the talk about how much the defense has slipped since the trade, the fact is, the Mavericks weren't all that great a defense before the trade (bottom half). Statistically, they're surrendering roughly three points more per 100 possessions than they were before the trade, but they're scoring about two more. A one-point per 100 discrepancy isn't insignificant, but it's not exactly significant, either.
In the aggregate, it was always going to be tough for Irving to represent enough of an offensive upgrade over Spencer Dinwiddie to absorb the defensive loss of Dorian Finney-Smith, who at least gave Dallas a solid option on top-flight scorers who could switch and plug a few perimeter holes.
That said, even the Finney-Smith aspect of this deal has been overrated. It's an easy thing to say now that Dallas is a doormat, and DFS is a good defender, but again, the Mavericks weren't a good defensive team before the trade. And Irving, statistically, has been awesome. But this isn't about stats.
It's never about stats with Irving, who is always box-score and eye-test awesome. It's not even that he's made the Mavericks worse. It's that he hasn't made them better.
That's the important distinction. Irving, for all his obvious and frankly mesmerizing abilities, has almost no post-Cleveland track record of making a team better. He didn't make the Celtics better. In fact, they got better without him. In three-and-a-half seasons in Brooklyn, the Nets went 6-7 in the playoffs when he played. The Mavericks are 7-10 when he's been in the lineup.
This is to say nothing of Irving's drama drain on a franchise. The Celtics felt it. The Nets really felt it. The Mavericks have not felt that part of the Irving equation ... yet. If this keeps going the way it is, Dallas will have a few months to decide, as they're watching the playoffs on television, whether they're going to go back into business long term with Irving, who is a free agent this summer.
I can't say this more emphatically. They should not. If you don't want to lose him for nothing to free agency, figure out a sign and trade. If you can't do that, let him walk. You took a short-term shot. It didn't work. But don't compound the mistake.
Again, I'm not going to make this about Irving's off-court cost and/or the risk of him blowing up your locker room and/or season every time he gets in front of a microphone. This is about pure basketball.
Even if you want to convince yourself that Irving has changed, and that he can remain as low maintenance as he's been for the past seven weeks for the next four years, you cannot, in good conscience, turn away from the ample on-court evidence that Irving is simply not a guy that is going to 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.
It's not just Irving, by the way, that hasn't had the raw win-loss impact that his talent suggests he should. The Hawks gave up more for Dejounte Murray than the Mavericks did for Irving, and they haven't gotten better. The Timberwolves haven't gotten better with Rudy Gobert. Jerami Grant had a terrific season and yet the Blazers stink.
By and large, even All-Stars have to come into a well-outfitted environment to make a real difference in the win-loss column. Look at Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento. Is he a better player than Irving? From a skill standpoint, absolutely not. But there's no doubt that Sabonis is exactly what Sacramento needed, while Irving was decidedly not what Dallas needed.
Situation is everything in the NBA. Give Irving a LeBron James in Cleveland, and he can win you a title. Give him a Kevin Durant and James Harden in Brooklyn, and sure, in theory, if they all stay healthy, and sane, he can be a big-time part of a big-time team. A lot of guys could. In theory. Which is all the Nets ever were.
There are only a few players in the world who are a virtual guarantee to make your team better on their own, independent of circumstance. Durant, for instance. The Suns, despite having to give up an incredible player in Mikal Bridges, and another good player in Cam Johnson, are a better team with him. This is irrefutable.
The Heat went up a level with Jimmy Butler. The Cavs went up a level with Donovan Mitchell. The Knicks went up a level with Jalen Brunson.
It's not always about sheer ability, which Irving has more of than just about anyone in the world. He's a true basketball enigma: An otherworldly talent who somehow doesn't make your team better. It's not a statistical thing. It's not even totally a defense thing. Brunson can't really defend, and yet it's obvious that the Knicks are an entirely different team, in the best of ways, with him on their side.
There are just certain guys who, almost immeasurably, naturally lift a basketball team, and Irving isn't one of them. Trae Young, I fear, might be headed down this same path where he needs perfect circumstances to win at any sort of significant level.
At present, whatever reputation Young has as a winner is being stitched together by one playoff run. I hate to say it, but Irving, in terms of pure winning, is on the same boat. He was in four Finals and played terrific in a lot of huge games, but he will be dining out, specifically, on that 2016 Finals and Game 7 shot for the rest of his life.
But as they say: What have you done for me lately?
As far as Dallas is concerned, not much.
Again, this isn't an attack on Irving as the problem in Dallas. He hasn't made the Mavericks worse. He just hasn't made them better. Sans LeBron, he's never made any NBA team better. It's going to be a tough pill for a Dallas team that has no real means of replacing Irving's talent to swallow, but they can't try to run this back for the next four years.
If they do, they might end up losing a lot more than basketball games. They might end up losing Doncic, who is going to lose patience at some point. Guys don't wait around until their eighth year anymore until they start getting the championship bug. They expect to win now because we expect expect to win now. For Doncic and the Mavericks, that's almost certainly not going to happen with Irving along for the ride.