SALT LAKE CITY — Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd brushed aside questions about newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving’s past controversies and future contract negotiations, preferring to focus on his belief that pairing Irving with fellow All-Star starter Luka Doncic cracks open a championship window for the franchise.
The Mavs pounced on the opportunity to acquire a legitimate co-star for Doncic, agreeing to a blockbuster deal for Irving and veteran forward Markieff Morris on Sunday, two days after Irving requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets in the wake of fizzled contract extension discussions. Dallas sent starters Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two second-round picks to Brooklyn to land Irving with no assurances that he will remain with the Mavs after his contract expires at the end of the season.
“You look at his journey at other stops, he’s won where he’s gone,” Kidd said before Monday’s road game against the Utah Jazz, just after the trade was made official. “We feel that the talent and his abilities to make us better are something that we needed. We feel that getting him is going to help put us in a position to win a championship.”
Irving, 30, is expected to join the Mavs for practice Tuesday in Los Angeles and play the next night against the LA Clippers. He’s an eight-time All-Star who has earned a reputation as one of the league’s most brilliant offensive creators during his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Nets, averaging 23.3 points and 5.7 assists per game in 12 NBA seasons.
Irving won a title with the Cavaliers in 2015-16, hitting the game-winning shot in the final minute of Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but controversy has swirled around him with each of his previous teams. He requested to be traded from Cleveland in 2017, following three consecutive Finals appearances alongside LeBron James, left Boston in free agency after two seasons and had several dramatic sagas during his 3½ seasons in Brooklyn.
Irving was suspended for eight games in November as part of the fallout for posting a link on Twitter to a film containing antisemitic tropes. 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.
And Irving twice made trade requests, one before this season that he rescinded and the second last week with the Nets in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“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,” Kidd said. “That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
Kidd, who along with Doncic pushed for the trade, has long had a relationship with Irving, as has Dallas general manager and former longtime Nike executive Nico Harrison.
Kidd, who led the New Jersey Nets to two Finals appearances before winning a title with the Mavs during his playing career, was one of Irving’s favorite players during Irving’s childhood growing up in New Jersey. They got to know each other while sharing a personal trainer, Robin Pound, and Irving made a point to attend Kidd’s Hall of Fame induction.
“He’s all about basketball,” Kidd said. “He wants to win, and he wants to be coached, and this is a great opportunity for me to have someone like this to help.”
Irving’s arrival fills the Mavs’ top personnel priority: Finding a legitimate co-star for Doncic, who is tied with Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid for the league lead in scoring at 33.4 points per game and ranks seventh in assists (8.2) despite frequently facing traps to force the ball out of his hands as he crosses half court. Dallas will dare teams to double-team Doncic when he shares the floor with Irving, who is averaging 27.1 points and 5.3 assists per game this season.
“Pick your poison,” said Mavs reserve forward Theo Pinson, a former Nets teammate of Irving’s. “It’s one of those things where I don’t know what you do. Personally, I really don’t. You can trap Luka all you want now. We swing it to another killer. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Dallas, which was 28-26 entering Thursday’s game and sixth in the West, has scored at a league-best rate with Doncic running the offense (118.7 points per 100 possessions) and league-worst rate when he isn’t on the floor (106.8). That disparity has exposed a flaw created by the departure of guard Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks in free agency following last season’s run to the Western Conference finals.
As long as Irving is available, that’s no longer a concern for the Mavs.
“When you look at Kai, nothing against [Brunson], but Kai is at a different level,” Kidd said. “This gives us another weapon. Someone is going to be free. Someone is going to have the advantage.”
It isn’t yet clear when Doncic and Irving will make their first appearance as a duo. Doncic will join the team in Los Angeles on Wednesday, but he is still recovering from a right heel contusion suffered last week and will not play against the Clippers. His status for Friday’s game in Sacramento has yet to be determined.
While Kidd anticipates an adjustment period, he’s confident that Dallas will dominate offensively with Irving and Doncic, noting that Doncic is frequently compared to James. Kidd joked about Doncic adapting to share the ball with another superstar.
“When you look at the usage, it’s at 99.9, so it has to come down,” Kidd said, slightly exaggerating Doncic’s career-high 38.5 usage rate. “It’s going to come down. And that’s a healthy thing. It’s not a bad thing. … Actually, he’ll be stronger in the fourth. The team will be better. Then the trust between the two — it’s going to take some time to get that rhythm and trust, but Kai is about winning.”
The trade wasn’t made to help a Dallas defense that has slipped from seventh last season to 24th in efficiency. Finney-Smith was considered the Mavs’ best defender, frequently drawing the assignment of guarding the opponent’s best scorer. The Mavs have prioritized adding defensive upgrades in the final days before the trade deadline, shopping shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and center/power forward Christian Wood, sources told ESPN.
Whether or not Dallas makes any more trades, Kidd believes that teams will have a hard time keeping up with the Doncic- and Irving-led Mavs.
“We’re still going to preach defense, being able to get stops, but there’s going to be nights where we’re going to try to make you feel uncomfortable on the offensive end with scoring 130 or 140,” Kidd said. “Some nights, you’re going to have to use the offense as your defense, but Kai’s going to compete on the defensive end. Luka’s going to compete on the defensive end. But when you look at the offensive end — can we put pressure on the opponent, and are they going to be comfortable to be able to score that many points?”