The Dallas Mavericks have hitched their wagon to Kyrie Irving — a gamble with enormous boom-bust potential.
The same weekend a mysterious spy balloon hovered over the North American continent, resurrecting Sputnik-era paranoia and harkening the herald angels to aim AR-15s heavenward, Kyrie Irving trade rumors circulated throughout the broad NBA landscape.
The lightning rod of a point guard would be swapped for Chris Paul. He would be paired once more with LeBron James. No, he would be placed alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. When President Joe Biden finally ordered the balloon shot down and debris settled on the ocean blue, Kyrie Irving found himself bound for Dallas to play alongside Luka Dončić.
The Dallas Mavericks gave up Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a first-round pick, and two second-rounders. Markieff Morris will also be tagging along from Brooklyn to Dallas — all moved as much by ownership’s schemes as by the whims of a single point guard.
If all goes well, Dallas will conquer the Western Conference with two wizards and the Lollipop Guild. But this is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about and Kyrie Irving is known for burning Emerald Cities in his wake.
Matt Moore was quick to write about all this in long form and on Twitter the day of the trade:
“Irving wreaked havoc on the Cavaliers, who were competing for a championship in 2017. He wrecked the Celtics by saying he was staying, then effectively bailing on the team when everyone knew he was leaving in 2018. And then he wrecked the Nets.
But the Mavericks, as the meme goes, believe it just might work for them.”
And the skepticism and fear are legitimate even from a strict basketball standpoint.
Kyrie Irving brings as many basketball questions as personality ones
When paired with LeBron, Kyrie contributed to one title team and a couple of runner-ups. When left to his own devices or paired with anyone else, the results have been underwhelming from a team standpoint early in his career to wildly unpredictable for a half-decade now.
But perhaps that’s not a totally fair assessment.
In the 2021 playoffs, Brooklyn looked like world beaters. They were up two games against the Milwaukee Bucks. Then injuries unraveled what everyone at the time speculated was a sure thing.
No one will want to play a Dallas team helmed by Luka and Kyrie in the Playoffs. Luka was scary enough, and the pairing has every bit of the potential once held by the idea of putting Kyrie Irving next to James Harden. If anything, minutes can be staggered so the offense remains un-guardable.
But winning the Kyrie sweepstakes is also a needle moved by desperation. No one wants to play against Kyrie, sure, but no one wants to count on him either. Sometimes not blinking is about watching the competition fail, not to mention that for every charitable donation made in Irving’s name, there is a conspiracy theory waiting in the wings. For a league that depends both on a global talent base and a global audience for its revenue, is it even possible to hold a conversation that is strictly about basketball without burying one’s head in the sand?
When Kyrie first addressed his sharing of antisemitic materials on social media in an abysmal fashion, I wrote that “He wants everything in the world but to be taken seriously.” Perhaps what I meant to say is that Irving wants his accolades and his anonymity, to push the envelope without having to share a return address. He wants to play it his way, but he doesn’t want to be questioned and he doesn’t want to be booed.
Under other circumstances, Kyrie could be romanticized as if he were a basketball avatar of J.D. Salinger. However, those circumstances would require him walking away — like Stephon Marbury into a Chinese sunset. And a second requirement would be removing the poison from that initial tweet. The former isn’t happening. The latter didn’t happen. So into the Western Conference he goes.
Having won the Kyrie sweepstakes, the Dallas Mavericks have raised their ceiling. He is a talented marvel, to say the least, but they have also struck a deal that if not Faustian is still a bit like holding a tarantula inside a glass jar while riding a dirt bike.
And, if you’ve seen Breaking Bad, then you know the feeling that results from trying to ride that whirlwind. The episode aired on August 12, 2012, in the summer before No. 11 first became an All-Star. If you watched Breaking Bad, you know hiding a mess is nearly impossible.
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