The trade was a surprise in its own right, just because it seems like everything Kyrie Irving does is so unpredictable that no one can ever really expect to know what’s coming or when.
We’re used to it, even if we don’t know exactly what chaos Irving is going to inspire next.
But the timing of the first big trade of what could end up being a very busy trade deadline was surprising too: most deals do – and likely still will – happen closer to the 3 p.m. ET cut-off on Thursday.
So why Irving and why now?
Well, if you’re the Brooklyn Nets and you’ve been juggling chainsaws ever since Kevin Durant – the other superstar who was supposed to form the foundation of a championship team when they joined forces in the summer of 2019 – issued his trade request last summer, would you really want to leave everything to the last minute?
Umm, no. That would be a terrible idea.
For background: Irving, who is in the last year of his contract, wanted a four-year contract extension worth in the neighbourhood of $200 million, which is a fair wage for a player of his ability in the weirdo economy of the NBA.
Now, why did the Nets not want to give Irving, who is averaging 27.1 points and 5.3 assists a game this season, an extension? Well, it could be because Irving can’t exactly be counted on. He went on an unannounced hiatus in the winter of 2021 and missed seven games. The Nets sensed then that Irving might not be bedrock material so went all in to trade for James Harden as a form of superstar insurance. Good idea, because during the 2021-22 season, Irving refused to be vaccinated and thus made himself unavailable for home games and some road venues due to vaccine requirements in New York, Toronto, and California. The tumult in turn encouraged Harden to force a trade to Philadelphia – not the first time Irving has caused teammates to give up in exasperation.
In the summer, Irving seemed to give up on the Nets as he tried to find a team that would take him in a trade but had no luck and ended up opting into the final year of his contract, which is when Durant made his trade request, which the Nets decided not to honour, hoping that winning might soothe any upset feelings. But first they had to get through the controversy that stemmed from Irving posting a link to a movie that included multiple antisemitic tropes and then refusing to apologize, eventually leading to an eight-game suspension.
Things seemed to settle down after that, but then Irving started making noises about his extension, didn’t like what he was hearing and formally made his trade request Friday.
Oh, and he’s also on the wrong side of 30 (he turns 31 next month) and he gets hurt a lot.
So, ya, you can see why the Nets were hesitant to sign on for four more years of Irving, regardless of how talented he is.
And the consensus is that given everything that was going on, the Nets actually did pretty well when they reached an agreement to trade Irving along with veteran forward Markieff Morris to the Dallas Mavericks for Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and second-round picks in 2027 and 2029. They get a good secondary scorer in Dinwiddie (who played with the Nets for five seasons), a good wing defender in Dorian Finney-Smith and some draft capital.
Will Irving move the needle enough to help the Mavericks and superstar Luka Doncic be anything more than first-round fodder in the West? Will he find a home in Dallas after burning bridges in Cleveland and Boston, and burning down the house in Brooklyn?
I mean, anything is possible.
But on purely basketball terms, and given the circumstances, you can see how the deal works for both sides:
“I mean, my first reaction was it seemed like a really good move,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “[The Nets] got a lot of assets back for a guy who wasn’t going to be back, it seemed. And for Dallas, they probably wanted another big-time star to along with the one they got [Doncic], so it seemed like a pretty good deal for both teams.”
Which brings us to the timing of the whole thing, again.
By getting the deal done on Sunday, the Nets have given themselves a little bit of flexibility to manage a couple of different scenarios: the first is they now have a little bit of draft capital (having dealt away a good chunk of their own to acquire Harden way back when) to use between now and Thursday to add one more player to what remains a pretty good lineup that also includes Durant, the most dominant player in the sport, arguably.
So for a team like the Toronto Raptors – looked upon as potential sellers this week – there is one more buyer in the marketplace to drive up prices, never a bad thing.
As far as the Raptors are concerned: it also helps that Irving went to Dallas and not either of the backcourt-starved Los Angeles teams, which means that there should still be some strong demand out there if Toronto does want to move Fred VanVleet to the Lakers or Clippers.
But the timing is also telling because if the Nets aren’t able to make another move, or if the move they make isn’t enough to convince Durant that he can win a title in Brooklyn at age 34 and beyond, well the Nets could pivot to being sellers in a hurry too, offering up the perennial MVP candidate as they pivot to rebuilding on the fly.
And if that happens? Well, the next few days could prove to be as unpredictable as any kind of chaos Irving has ever unleashed before, which is saying something.