Kyrie Irving trade winners and losers: Kevin Durant left alone; Luka Doncic gets co-star, but at what cost?
The NBA filled the void left by the absence of NFL football on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, as the Brooklyn Nets traded Kyrie Irving just days after he requested that the organization find him a new home. He’s on his way to the Dallas Mavericks, where he’ll join forces with one of the league’s leading MVP candidates, Luka Doncic. In exchange, the Nets will receive solid role players in Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie, along with draft compensation.
The trade raises questions as to the future of both franchises, since both have the ability to continue making moves to potentially bolster (or in the Nets case, possibly rebuild) their rosters. Here’s a look at the specifics of the trade, along with some winners and losers.
- Spencer Dinwiddie
- Dorian Finney-Smith
- 2029 first-round pick
- 2027 second-round pick
- 2029 second-round pick
Winner: Kyrie Irving
Say what you will about Kyrie Irving (and there’s plenty to say), but the man tends to get what he wants. Asked out of Cleveland, went to an Eastern Conference contender. Wanted to play with his friend KD, signed with Brooklyn. Didn’t want to get the vaccine despite local mandates, team let him play in road games.
Now, just days after requesting a trade from the Nets due to what he viewed as an untenable contract situation, he’s off to Dallas to play with one of the game’s transcendent superstars in Luka Doncic. And while there’s no guarantee that the Mavericks will offer Irving a long-term contract, it’s hard to believe they would have traded away those assets for a two-month rental. He’s likely going to receive the financial assurance he failed to get from Brooklyn.
It’s no wonder that Irving continues to act the way he does. It just keeps working.
Durant signed with a Brooklyn Nets franchise expected to contend for titles as soon as he recovered from Achilles surgery. When James Harden joined Durant and Irving early in the 2020-21 season, they were projected to be the best offense in league history and became Eastern Conference favorites. Instead they’ve offered nothing but disappointment due to injury, dissatisfaction and internal dynamics. The KD-Kyrie era in Brooklyn is over, with the duo suiting up for only 74 games together and winning just one playoff series.
What was meant to become the superteam of all superteams was an abject failure, and leaves us wondering what could have been. Now Durant has a crucial decision about whether he wants to stick with the Nets or renew his trade request from last offseason.
Winner: Luka Doncic
Doncic reportedly told the Mavericks front office earlier this season that he needed more help. His usage rate is approaching astronomical levels, and despite a massive jump in scoring and efficiency, the Mavs are still floundering around .500. He wanted another star, and reportedly signed off on Irving to fill that void.
The two complement each other well on the court, with Irving’s ability to shoot from the perimeter as well as being one of the greatest shot-creators the game has seen. Irving will also command the second unit, in theory, without significant drop-off. It remains to be seen whether Irving can buck the trend of giving up on each team he’s been a part of in recent years, but — as of now — Doncic must be happy.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
If the Mavericks were essentially forced to go get another star by Doncic, so be it. They did what they had to do. But this isn’t a move that makes them title contenders right now. They should gain a lot of offense with Irving, but their defense, currently 24th in the league, will take a substantial hit with the departure of Finney-Smith, one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders. For all of Irving’s talents, defense has never been his strong suit, and he is significantly smaller than Dinwiddie, who was able to guard multiple positions for Dallas.
Not to mention that Dallas had a relative facsimile of Irving last season in Jalen Brunson, whom they lost for nothing to Knicks last summer. You can’t help but wonder what the Mavs’ season would look like if they were able to retain Brunson, who is playing at an All-Star level with numbers nearly on par with Irving.
On top of that, Irving just doesn’t stay on the court. Whether it’s injuries or personal issues, Irving’s availability has been unreliable.
That being said, the Mavs likely aren’t done making moves. Whether it’s before Thursday’s trade deadline or this offseason, Dallas has plenty of ammunition to add pieces around Doncic and Irving. Right now, however, it looks like a rough deal for the Mavericks.
Perhaps most importantly, history dictates that Irving will, at some point, create headaches for the franchise and potentially alienate teammates. Even if the on-court product improves, the Mavericks franchise — from players to front office to public relations — must prepare itself for what Irving will potentially bring.
Winner: Brooklyn Nets
Given that the entire league probably had an inkling that Irving wouldn’t play another game with the Nets, Sean Marks and the front office ended up with a solid haul. Finney-Smith is one of the best two-way wings in the league. Dinwiddie is familiar with the Nets franchise and can serve a similar role to Irving as a secondary offensive creator and leader of the bench unit — plus he has greater size as a defender. That keeps the Nets, with a healthy Durant, at least relevant in the Eastern Conference hierarchy, while the draft assets allow them to build toward the future and/or flip them for another star.
The Nets were against a wall with Irving, and they managed to turn him into exactly what they wanted, giving themselves options for a future with or without Durant. Well done.
You have to love the NBA. Due to all of the draft picks that constantly being swapped, every trade has ripple effects that sometimes aren’t immediately apparent. I’ll let my colleague Sam Quinn take over from here, as he explained in his trade grades why the Rockets should be celebrating.
The Rockets currently have control of every Nets first-round pick between now and 2027 thanks to the James Harden trade. The Nets just traded their second-best player, who happens to be close friends with their best player, for a package of largely win-now assets. In all likelihood, that means they are either about to trade their best player, Kevin Durant, or they are going to mortgage even more of their future assets to try to win around the 35-year-old Durant. Either way, those deep future picks headed to Houston are looking pretty valuable right now.
But that’s not the only victory for Houston here. The Rockets share a division with the Mavericks. Winning in that division with a 23-year-old Luka Doncic hanging around was always going to be difficult. Well, now the Mavericks have used a good chunk of their trade assets on a 30-year-old, volatile and injury-prone point guard. The deal certainly makes the Mavericks more dangerous right now, but it raises a lot of questions about their future. For all we know, Irving will be gone by the time the Rockets are ready to contend two or three years from now. If he is, Doncic’s future in Dallas is even less secure.
Rockets fans, rejoice! The 2030 NBA title is well within grasp.
Simmons can never get out of any Nets discussion without catching some strays. It’s been telling, however, that conversations around Brooklyn’s future after this trade have scarcely mentioned Simmons in anything but a negative light. In theory, Durant, Simmons and the roster of role players they’ve assembled should be more than enough to be competitive, but what we have seen from Simmons this season makes it hard to view him as anything but an albatross contract. Hopefully eventually he’s able to get back to All-Star form, but as of now he’s an afterthought in the Nets’ future, and Sunday’s trade was just another example.
Winner: Spencer Dinwiddie
Dinwiddie’s best years came in Brooklyn, and now he gets to return. He clearly did not enjoy his time with the Washington Wizards and was asked to fill some big shoes with Brunson’s departure from Dallas. Dinwiddie and his family appear excited to get back to Brooklyn, as well.
Dinwiddie averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 assists in five seasons with the Nets from 2016-2021, and should play a key role in whatever version of the Nets evolves from here … unless he’s traded again!