DALLAS – Luka Doncic has his co-star, and the Dallas Mavericks are set for their season essentially to start over after trading for Kyrie Irving.
The blockbuster deal with Brooklyn sending the mercurial Irving to the Mavericks became official Monday, two days before what figures to be his Dallas debut at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Dallas also gets Markieff Morris in a trade that sent Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick and two second-round choices to the Nets.
It's unknown if Doncic will be available against the Clippers. He wasn't with the Mavs at the start of a five-game trip out West after bruising his right heel in the final home game before the trip. He was ruled out of the second game on the trip at Utah on Monday night.
Whenever the All-Stars do get on the court together, Doncic and Irving instantly become one of the NBA's top duos in a tightly packed Western Conference. Mavs coach Jason Kidd said that made the opportunity too good to pass up, despite the distractions Irving has caused off the court.
“To have the ability to have two starters that are going to start in the All-Star Game, for the Mavs, is probably a first,” Kidd said. “We have to be excited about this opportunity. It’s easy to look at all the talk of the negative, but let’s look at the positive of what he’s done on and off the court. That’s the way we approach it.”
The Nets hardly even said goodbye, perhaps fed up from all the drama Irving caused in just 3½ seasons.
Brooklyn's news release on the trade barely mentioned Irving, whereas the announcement last year that they had dealt James Harden to Philadelphia included a quote from general manager Sean Marks thanking the star guard for his contributions and wishing him well in the future.
Irving’s departure was a far cry from the fanfare that followed his arrival along with Kevin Durant in 2019, when the player who was a Nets fan in New Jersey came home in hopes of leading the franchise to its first title.
But they never got close, and when Irving asked to be traded, just like he once did in Cleveland, the Nets quickly accommodated him.
Irving is set to become a free agent after the season. But negotiations will involve Dallas general manager Nico Harrison, who was a Nike executive before taking over the Mavericks in 2021.
Irving had a relationship with Nike for the entirety of his NBA career until earlier this season, when the sneaker giant dropped him and canceled the planned release of his next signature shoe just before it dropped. It was part of the massive fallout from Irving posting a link to an antisemitic film on his Twitter account.
That was one of many drama-filled sagas that marked Irving’s time with the Nets. He wouldn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 and, because of New York City workplace rules, had to miss most of Brooklyn’s home games last season. He also took two leaves of absence during the 2020-21 season.
He has expressed no shortage of controversial opinions during his career — including repeated questioning whether the Earth was round before eventually apologizing to science teachers.
Doncic is in a dead heat for the scoring lead with fellow MVP candidate Joel Embiid of Philadelphia, and is the only one of the seven current 30-point scorers also averaging at least eight rebounds and eight assists per game. Irving is averaging 27.1 points, 5.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds.
The West has several title-contending teams beyond defending champion Golden State, which eliminated the Mavs in the conference finals last season.
Jalen Brunson was crucial to Dallas’ playoff run alongside Doncic last season, but decided he wanted his own starting role as a point guard and left for the New York Knicks in free agency.
While the Mavericks traded for a solid No. 2 scorer in Christian Wood in the offseason, they haven’t been able to win without Doncic this season.
Dallas was 0-7 without Doncic going into the game against the Jazz, when Wood was expected to return after missing eight games with a fractured left thumb.
A year ago, the Mavericks were right around .500 when their surge started just as the calendar turned to 2022. The arrival of 2023 hasn’t had the same effect — the high point so far is six games over .500 — but the Mavs hope the arrival of Irving will.
Dallas beat Utah twice in the first three games of a first-round series last season when Doncic was out with a calf injury, and Brunson was the biggest reason. Now Doncic has higher-profile help.
“Just being able to give Luka an opportunity to come down the court without having to dribble or run every play,” Kidd said. “We look back when we had (Brunson) and being able to have a playmaker like that. When you look at Ky, nothing against (Brunson), but Ky is at a different level.”
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