Misunderstood or not, Kyrie Irving poses a risk to the Mavericks

There was plenty of criticism across the NBA ecosphere when the Dallas Mavericks traded for Kyrie Irving, and again this offseason when they signed him to a three-year deal worth $126 million (the final year is a player option). But Mark Cuban recently dispelled all those concerns.

During an interview on SiriusXM NBA radio with Frank Isola and Justin Termine on the 2023 NBA Summer League, Cuban had this to say: “And I think Kyrie just misunderstood. Everyone sees all the noise and everything around him, but when you actually talk to him, I like him.”

Cuban may be right, but that doesn’t change the fact that for the past six years, Irving has been a magnet for controversy and division. His time with the Cavaliers, Celtics and Nets all ended badly. Even after the NBA relaxed, it’s not hard to see the risks of investing in Irving. But it was a risk the Mavericks felt they had to take.

The Mavericks took a chance on Irving at the trade deadline last season in part because they had to. Their trade assets decimated by first acquiring Luka Doncic and then trading for Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas found itself in a bit of a crisis. Despite a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2022, it was clear the team needed a talent upgrade, another player at least close to Doncic’s level. But with so few draft picks and young players available, their options were limited.

So it seemed like a gift when Irving became available for little more than a first-round pick and a pair of aging veterans in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. The Mavericks were able to acquire an All-Star guard whose skills perfectly complemented Doncic’s at a price they could afford.

The reason they could afford him, however, is why it’s troubling that they’ve tied the franchise to such a mercurial player. The price to acquire Irving was so low because no other team was seriously considering adding him to their roster. The Mavericks didn’t bid against anyone because the rest of the NBA decided that despite his talent, Irving isn’t worth everything that comes with it, on and off the court.

“If you know Kyrie, Kyrie is just on his own time,” Austin Rivers said recently Ryen Russillo podcast. “He’s just a different guy. He’s not a bad guy. He’s just different. But Kyrie is definitely on his own time. And that sometimes doesn’t coexist with the GM, or the president, or the team’s time. And it can, like you said, be a liability. So that’s where his problems have been. That’s why people have given up, a lot, on Kyrie Irving.”

Moving on your own time is great for artists, maybe even for players in solo sports like tennis and golf. But in a team sport, you are responsible to so many people – coaches, front office staff and teammates. And that lack of accountability, that’s why Irving is such a risk and why the rest of the NBA wasn’t clamoring to bring him into their building.

For the past six years, Irving has spoken out the earth is flatand doubted the moon landing in 1969. He shared conspiracy theory videos from Alex Jones. He refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, which ruled him out of home games with Brooklyn Nets until March 2022. He shared a link to an anti-Semitic moviewhich led to a five-game suspension with the Nets and termination of his relationship with Nike.

Some of these controversies are silly, like the flat earth denialism, and others are downright dangerous. But regardless of how you personally feel about each example, they all caused distractions for his team and took the focus away from basketball.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Irving’s teams have failed time and time again over the past six years. Since parting ways with LeBron James, Irving has failed to make it past the second round NBA playoffs. This despite the fact that they have played with a cavalcade of stars such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kevin Durant and James Harden.

If your first reaction is to point out how often Irving was hurt during several of these playoff runs, well, that’s also the point. That’s probably part of the reason why there was so little demand for Irving’s services. A small guard on the wrong side of thirty with a history of coming up with injuries in the postseason (2015, 2018, 2021) does not bode well going forward.

There are already some signs that Irving is taking a step back offensively if you look closely at the numbers. He doesn’t get to the rim at the same rate he did early in his career. Irving’s shooting percentage at the rim (within three feet of the basket) has not been above 20 percent since his last season with Boston Celtics. That dropped to a disastrously low nine percent in his final full year with the Nets before returning last season.

It’s no surprise, then, that Irving’s free throw rate has dipped slightly to a low of .197 in 2018-19. He bounced back last season, no doubt because of Doncic’s gravitas, and the Mavericks certainly hope that continues as they play more together. Irving is also an elite 3-point shooter, which would help offset him losing the ability to get to the rim at will. But there comes a tipping point where defenses realize Irving is more of a shooter than a dynamic guard. Dallas is betting it won’t come within the next two years. In fairness to the Mavericks, when Irving and Doncic shared the floor last season, the Mavericks as a team scored just over 120 points per 100 possessions, according to stat site Cleaning the Glass. It’s an outrageous number that shows why the Mavericks made the deal and that, despite some aging in his game, Irving is still just as potent a talent.

Historically, James has been the only one capable of channeling Irving’s on-court brilliance into playoff success. Without James’ gravity, Irving has been unleashed, a comet streaking through the NBA universe, beautiful to behold but unpredictable and destructive.

The Mavericks are betting that playing with Doncic will harness all of Irving’s basketball creativity while shedding all the distractions that have defined the last half-decade of his career. There is definitely a possibility for that.

But Irving has spent the last few years showing us who he is — the type of player who can put up tons of points but is often injured and causes major distractions for his teams. Coupled with his declining defense and sometimes ineffective shooting, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of how successful the Mavericks can be with Irving on the roster.

Read more

Leave a Comment