The Kyrie Irving trade happened quickly even by the accelerated standards of the NBA trade deadline. Irving put in a surprise trade request to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday after failing to come to an agreement on a future contract extension. By Sunday, Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, with Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and a 2029 unprotected first round pick all going back to Brooklyn.
It’s a trade that instantly reshapes the race for the NBA Finals in both conferences. Dallas suddenly has a talented co-star next to Luka Doncic — if Irving can keep the focus on basketball and stay away from controversy off the court. The Nets now have two reliable role players in place of one unreliable superstar. Brooklyn has some pieces that fit nicely around Kevin Durant now, but it does feel like their ceiling got lower after this deal.
A trade like this doesn’t just impact the Nets and Mavericks — it impacts the whole league. With that in mind, here’s our look at the winners and losers from the Irving deal.
Winner: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets got a massive haul of draft picks from the Brooklyn Nets when they traded James Harden in Jan. of 2021. At the time, the Nets thought they would be a potential dynasty with Harden-Irving-Durant all playing together. Just over two years later, Harden is in Philadelphia, Irving is in Dallas, and those draft picks suddenly look juicy.
The Nets sent Houston first round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, and pick swaps in 2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027 for Harden. Just imagine if Durant tries to force his way out of Brooklyn again. The Nets could be giving up some premium draft picks to the Rockets for years to come.
At the time of the Harden trade, the Rockets were choosing between Brooklyn’s big package of draft picks and an offer from the Philadelphia 76ers built around Ben Simmons. Simmons has since become a shell of himself on the court. Houston picked the right offer.
The Nets once made a devastating trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett by surrendering the draft picks that would become Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It feels like Brooklyn may have made the same mistake all over again with the Harden trade.
Loser: The Lakers
The Lakers were long considered the front-runner to land Irving in a trade. LeBron James desperately wanted to add his former teammate with LA currently outside of the play-in picture. Irving had interest in the Lakers, too.
In the end, the Lakers made a competitive offer, but the Nets chose to go in a different direction. According to long-time NBA insider Marc Stein, Nets owner Joe Tsai didn’t want to give Irving what he wanted — a trade to the Lakers — because of all the trouble he put the Nets through since he signed with the franchise in free agency. The Nets really may have chosen a worse offer just because they didn’t want Kyrie to be happy.
“the nets also succeeded, as one source close to the process put it, in meeting one of the presumed objectives held by team owner joe tsai by sending Irving somewhere other than the lakers—his preferred destination.”
i strongly approve this level of petty https://t.co/28vq67vq2t
— Dan Favale (@danfavale) February 6, 2023
LeBron got all emo on Twitter after Kyrie was traded to the Mavs. Clearly he wishes the Lakers would have been able to pull off the deal.
Trading for a star as unreliable as Irving was going to be extremely risky for any team, but the Lakers were a rare team so desperate for help that acquiring Kyrie made sense. The Lakers would have been able to talk themselves into being able to match up with any team in the playoffs with James, Anthony Davis, and Irving leading the way. At this point, the Lakers probably need some good luck just to make the play-in tournament.
Winner: Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic needed some help. The Mavericks’ 23-year-old superstar was putting up one of the highest usage rates in league history this year without an All-Star caliber teammate next to him on the roster. It was no secret that the Mavericks were superstar shopping after bailing on their Kristaps Porzingis experiment last year and then losing Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks in free agency. That they surrendered some of their best assets for Irving even after so many off-court controversies shows just how desperate Dallas was to appease their franchise star.
The fit between Doncic and Irving on the court is pretty seamless. Dallas needed another shot creator to lighten the load on Doncic’s shoulders. They also needed someone who could hit an open three-pointer when Luka has the ball. Irving checks both boxes in a big way, but he brings questions defensively. The Mavs have more work to do if they’re going to maximize this Doncic-Irving pairing, and that starts with somehow acquiring a defensive center.
The Mavs went all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season behind Doncic and Brunson. With the title picture wide open, Dallas can dream even bigger this year — but they don’t have much time to gel before the playoffs start in April.
Winner: The Nets’ defense
The Nets’ offensive upside certainly takes a hit without Irving around. He was voted as an All-Star starter this year because he’s still one of the league’s best shot creators and shot makers. Brooklyn will be hoping Dinwiddie can pick up some of the offensive slack left behind, while betting that this trade makes their defense a lot more formidable.
Dorian Finney-Smith was Dallas’ best wing stopper on the way to the conference finals last season. At 6’7, 220 pounds, Finney-Smith has the length, quickness, and defensive discipline to make star scorers work for everything they get. The Nets now have a pretty impressive defensive core around Durant, with Finney-Smith joining Nic Claxton, Ben Simmons, and Royce O’Neale as players all considered plus defenders.
Brooklyn owned the NBA’s No. 8 in offense and No. 13 in defense at the time of the trade. This should now be a top-10 defense while still having enough shooting to score on offense around Durant.
Loser: The Mavericks’ “culture”
In 2018, Sports Illustrated dropped a detailed look at the toxic culture inside the Mavs organization that had been bubbling for two decades. Here’s a link to the full story, and here’s an excerpt from what we wrote at the time:
The article says that former Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery frequently requested sex and made sexually explicit advances to employees over the 18 years that he worked there. In 2015, Ussery left to join Under Armour. Less than two months after beginning, Ussery resigned in an “organizational reshuffle.” Sports Illustrated reports that Ussery’s resignation was likely related to sexually inappropriate behavior towards a female employee while the two were alone in an elevator.
The NBA launched an investigation, and you can read the full report of their findings here. Mavs owner Mark Cuban eventually agreed to donate $10 million to organizations supporting women’s leadership and development in sports and combating domestic violence.
Trading for Irving isn’t going to make Mavs fans feel any better about the state of the locker room. Irving had been at the center of many controversies over the last few years, famously sitting out most of last season because he refused to get the Covid vaccine, and then being suspended by the Nets for sharing antisemitic propaganda on social media this year.
Watching your team trade for a star player should be such a thrill, but Mavs fans feel very disappointed by the move for Irving for reasons that have nothing to do with what’s happening on the court.
Looked down at my phone to see three missed calls and a bunch of messages asking “Are you okay?” Thought World War III had broken out. Was disheartened to learn it was much worse: my team traded for Kyrie Irving.
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) February 5, 2023
I can’t believe DAL sacrificed Brunson, DFS and Dinwiddie for a guy who hasn’t played a normal season of basketball in almost half a decade.
— Jason Gallagher (@jga41agher) February 5, 2023
Loser: The Nets’ championship potential
I think the Nets made the best deal they could have for Irving. While Brooklyn had other offers, I believe this was the best package because Dinwiddie can replace some of the shot creation, Finney-Smith gives Dallas another 3-and-D wing around Durant, and the 2029 unprotected first rounder could be gold …. if Luka Doncic one day forces his way to a new team.
At the same time, the Nets’ slim championship odds feel like they’re lower today than they were before the deal. It’s just so hard to win a championship with only one All-Star caliber player on the roster. Durant is going to have to carry a huge load in crunch-time now, and the defense is going to have to be perfect to give him a chance to play the hero. I think the Nets had to make this trade, but it’s still a bit hard to stomach when you consider how well Durant is playing, and the future picks owed to Houston.
Undecided: Kevin Durant
It’s easy to call Durant a loser in this deal — and maybe he is. He obviously felt very strong loyalty to Irving since the two arrived as a packaged deal in 2019 free agency. Irving is an electric offensive talent who could power the offense for a night and let KD take it easy. Durant’s own future now becomes a huge point of speculation after this season … but maybe that’s for the best.
Durant tying himself to Irving was the worst decision of his career. Now it’s over, and that has to be a relief on some level to KD. He still has a pretty good team around him, full of defenders and shooters, and he’ll have a chance to add to his historic legacy during the playoffs if he can carry this Nets team on a deep run. When this season is over, KD can reassess when he wants out of the last great years of his career before he turns 35 years old before the start of next season. Maybe he likes the team Brooklyn built around him. Maybe he wants to request a trade somewhere else and play with a different superstar.
Either way, Irving was a massive headache for Durant since the two decided to join forces. On some level, it has to feel nice that it’s over.