When the Mavericks acquired Kyrie Irving in early February, they put the NBA world on notice. The 31-year-old shook off suspension and scandal before appearing on the trade block. Dallas saw a star and went all-in, forking over two starters and a handful of picks.
The decision backfired immensely. Nothing clicked. Luka Doncic, an MVP candidate before Irving’s arrival from Brooklyn, has been visibly frustrated on the court. When Irving and Doncic play together, the Mavericks are 4-11 SU. I can’t help but chuckle at the thought of Dallas owner Mark Cuban spiraling into tantrums night after night. The latest rumors have the Mavs considering shutting down the superstar duo for the season. Oh boy.
Here’s what went wrong and where the Mavericks go from here.
The Mavericks’ Nuclear Defensive Meltdown
The Mavericks knew their gamble was to jack up the offense at the sacrifice of defense. I doubt the front office saw the bite-back being this fierce, especially as Dallas’ championship odds leaped from 33-1 to 14-1 in the immediate aftermath of the trade.
But then the nightmare unfolded. Before the Irving trade, the Mavs allowed 112 points per game, eighth-best in the NBA. Since that fateful trade, Dallas is giving up 117.9 points per contest, good for 21st in the league during that span. Yes, the club started scoring more, but any progress made on offense was negated by Swiss cheese defense – maddening for everyone involved.
Jason Kidd openly admitted in mid-February the Mavs were here to “outscore people.” That’s nearly impossible to do when your defense is among the leakiest in the league. It’s like bailing the Titanic with a spoon — a very futile effort.
With Kyrie and Luka exhausting themselves on offense, their hustle on the other end of the floor naturally dwindled. Both guys are having career-worst defensive seasons, too, with Irving worth a 116 defensive rating (DRtg) and Doncic worth a 113.2 DRtg. The stars were burned out, but it’s not necessarily all their fault. Lineup construction is also to blame.
|SU (All Games)||8-16 (33.33%)||-$849.94|
|ATS (All Games)||11-13 (45.8%)||-$299.99|
|Home SU||3-7 (30%)||-$608.33|
|Home ATS||3-7 (30%)||-$427.27|
|Road SU||5-9 (35.7%)||-$241.61|
|Road ATS||8-6 (57.1%)||+$127.28|
Small Ball Gone Wrong
The Mavericks dealt away Dorian Finney-Smith, their rangy defender, and replaced point guard Spencer Dinwiddie with the shorter Irving. Since February 6, Dallas has most frequently employed a lineup of Irving, Josh Green, Doncic, Reggie Bullock and Dwight Powell, and it hasn’t worked out. During that span, the Mavs have averaged 38.9 rebounds per game, the third-lowest mark in basketball.
Again, the scoring advantages the team picked up by creating a dynamic Irving-Doncic backcourt are nullified when the Mavericks get bullied in the paint on the defensive end. The aforementioned starting lineup has produced just 0.4 net points in 10 games together.
Mavericks’ Playoff Chances: Is It All Over?
With three regular-season games remaining, Basketball Reference estimates the Mavericks have just a 6.2 percent chance to make the playoffs. Currently 11th in the Western Conference and one game back of the Thunder for a play-in spot, I’d say that checks out. Even if Dallas squeaks into the postseason, it’s hard to see the Mavs being worth a futures bet, even at +15000 odds to win the NBA championship.
A play-in berth would only drag out the inevitable. This team isn’t good enough. As a bettor, don’t waste your cash. As a Mavericks fan, don’t raise your hopes. Let go, I beg of you. There’s always next season.
The Aftermath: Kyrie Will Walk
There’s no reason for the Mavericks to re-sign Kyrie Irving this summer. He’s an unrestricted free agent and will command a max deal, but it makes no sense for Dallas to run back this abominable experiment again. The NBA is a superstar-driven league, and Luka and Kyrie didn’t mesh. Why lock up all that cash in a guy who’s played well individually but has been a net negative for team success?
And maybe there’s not even mutual interest. Kyrie likes his pit stops all over the league, so both parties should start fresh.
A Mavericks Tank Job?
If the Mavericks finished the season in their current spot, they’d be awarded a three percent chance of receiving the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Instead, if I were Dallas’ front office, I’d have my eyes on the 2024 NBA Draft and the 82 games of tanking in between.
15 points (5/8 3P) for projected top-10 pick Bronny James showing why he's so highly regarded by some with an outstanding McDonald's All-American game showing. Also played strong defense and showed off his advanced feel for the game. pic.twitter.com/clsCGAyngd— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) March 29, 2023
Now there’s no guarantee the Mavs reverse course. In fact, it’s more likely the team would use the Kyrie money to sign another free agent. All I’m saying is if Dallas wanted to pivot, it could. Dwight Powell and Christian Wood are both unrestricted free agents at the end of 2023, and Doncic is the only hefty commitment on the books beyond that.
What about the thought of Bronny James, a projected top pick in 2024, donning a Mavericks uniform? Now that’s a payoff that just might make all this year’s drama worth it.