The Dallas Mavericks may not have had much of a choice once they knew Sunday they could acquire Kyrie Irving in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets. But that doesn't mean they're immune from the same disastrous ending other teams have experienced after putting their faith in him.
Irving is a player who, on paper, certainly surrounds Luka Doncic with the level of talent he needs to have a realistic shot at postseason glory. But in reality, Irving has often been a star whose skill and promise have led instead to drama, disappointment and ultimately failure.
The guy can ball. This could work. But it's been a long time since he's won anything of note.
That was the sense around the NBA Sunday as news spread, and CBS Sports confirmed, that the mercurial Nets point guard was heading to the Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a first-round pick and several second-round picks.
It's a very good return for a Nets team acting under serious pressure and with little leverage. And for Dallas it's a prize acquired, to be sure — but one that could be more poisoned chalice than championship spark.
In numerous conversations across the league, there was a had-to-do-it pragmatism meets good-luck-with-that sarcasm as sources discussed the trade and what it likely means for Dallas. As is always the case with Irving — that balancing act, that Catch-22, that murky portrait of possibilities made up of the utter excellence and confounding other stuff that has defined Irving since he forced his way out of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017.
Since Cleveland, Irving has been a Rorschach test for NBA GMs and executives. They saw in the talented, difficult, compelling and at times infuriatingly frustrating point guard whatever they wanted to see: A mistake. A championship. A stunning scorer. A cancer. Hope. Disaster. A difference maker, one way or another, depending on their own views of him and the game.
So it is now with Dallas, who have invested much in a player who, in his pattern of unreliability, may or may not even stick around when this season ends and his free agency kicks in — or, if he does extend with the Mavs, once he does or doesn't decide, as he has in Cleveland, Boston and now Brooklyn, that he wants to be somewhere else.
This is a huge risk for a Mavericks team that felt it had little choice once Irving became available. Even before news leaked that he was demanding a trade, sources across the NBA pointed to Dallas as a team eager to add a big weapon alongside Doncic. They were, sources said, hoping more teams with difference makers would shift into sell mode and give them a shot at a real star.
Plus, this year's Western Conference seems to get more open by the day, a fact reinforced Sunday when, as the Irving trade news was breaking, so was the fact that Stephen Curry will miss an extended amount of time with the Warriors with a leg injury suffered Saturday night.
The Lakers and Clippers, sources say, were heavily interested and active in trying to land Irving. LeBron James in particular craved a reunion with his former teammate. But neither team had what it took to sway Brooklyn — and in the end, another factor pushed Dallas and its price beyond the reaches of L.A.'s two teams: "Desperation," as one rival GM told CBS Sports.
The desperation to see Doncic equipped with enough talent. The desperation to take advantage of that wide-open conference. The desperation to believe, as the Celtics and Nets have before them, that Irving will be the great thing you want to see when glancing under deadline pressure at his Rorschach test.
Not long ago, another NBA GM summed up the paradox. Asked about Irving, the GM went on a minutes-long, unprompted soliloquy about all the things that come with Irving behind the scenes — a rapid-fire gossip fest of warning signs and diva behavior. "He's a mess," the GM told me. "He's a disaster in a locker room."
So you'd avoid bringing him into your team if the chance arrived?
"No," he sighed. "No. I'd bring him in. He's too talented not to."
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Now Dallas has fallen into the same thinking, for better or worse. History tells us it's unlikely to work, that Irving's penchant for missing games, for disrupting teams, for wanting coaches fired and then wanting a trade away, for the distraction bomb of an anti-Semitic rant, for flat earth musings — for all of it, or for whatever pops up next — will inevitably swamp and overwhelm the talent he brings to the floor.
There's also the fact Irving has played just about half his games while in Brooklyn. Or the fact, clear as day if you're willing to look at the data, that his teams, including this one, have often been statistically and literally better when he's been gone than when he's played.
But he is so talented. He can make a real difference. And he has helped a team win an NBA championship.
This is what Dallas sees. That, and a roster devoid of enough talent, a player in Doncic they must keep happy, and a chance 2023 could be their year.
Many around the NBA think this will fail, even if the trade prompted Las Vegas to bump Dallas' championship odds from 33-1 to 10-1.
But almost no one blames the Mavericks for the risk that others have made, and failed with, in the past.
"Hard to blame them," one of the executives who doubts this story ends well for Dallas told CBS Sports. "I'd probably have done the same thing."