In the end, the Nets decided peace of mind is worth more than a championship.
The Nets traded All-Star starter Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks just two days after Irving requested a trade out of Brooklyn for failure to reach an agreement on a fully-guaranteed max contract extension.
The Nets will receive former Brooklyn point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, three-and-D forward Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for the All-Star guard and veteran forward Markieff Morris.
The two teams also exchanged legitimate championship aspirations. The Nets no longer boast the star power necessary to compete with the East’s elite and questions now hover regarding the franchise’s path forward.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The Nets opted against giving Irving a long-term contract extension due to his patterns of off-court controversy and unavailability.
Irving has played in just 143 of a possible 288 regular-season games since signing in Brooklyn in 2019. Injuries aside, he has missed games for failure to get vaccinated against COVID-19, for personal reasons during a two-week absence following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C., and most recently, an eight-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team after posting an antisemitic film on his social media channels.
The Nets essentially made Irving play on a one-year deal by forcing him to either opt into the final year of his contract — worth $37.9M — opt out of his deal and test free agency, or find a trade partner over the summer.
He opted into the final year of his deal and became the only All-Star starter without contract guarantees beyond this season.
Irving averaged 27 points, five assists and five rebounds per game this season in Brooklyn. In the 10 games he played while Durant has been sidelined with an MCL sprain, he upped those averages to 30.3 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game.
That stretch included a 48-point outburst against the Utah Jazz, a 40-point performance in a loss to the Detroit Pistons, and the first three-game stretch with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists in his career.
Irving also became the NBA’s premier fourth-quarter scorer this season, boasting three games with at least 20 points in the final period. He led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring up until he sat the final period of Brooklyn’s blowout loss to the Boston Celtics.
ASSESSING THE RETURN
The Nets traded Irving’s star power for what they hope brings stability: a blast from the past in Dinwiddie, who the franchise fought in negotiations before agreeing to a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to the Washington Wizards for no players in return.
Star power, however, wins championships. After the deal, the Nets have firmly fallen out of contention.
Dinwiddie is averaging 17.7 points and 5.3 assists on 40.5% shooting from three-point range. It’s the second-most productive season in his career, behind the breakout 2020 season in Brooklyn when he averaged 20.6 points and 6.8 assists per game.
Dinwiddie’s three-point shooting has also improved 10 percentage points since the breakout year on the same number of attempts per game (6.3), and he is shooting 45.5% from the field overall, the second-most efficient clip in his career.
The Nets also receive Finney-Smith, who has been a trade target of theirs since Durant and Irving first arrived in Brooklyn.
Finney-Smith has a reputation as a rugged and hard-nosed defender at the four who doubles as a capable perimeter shooter, though he is only shooting 35.5% from downtown this season, his worst in any of the past four years including this one.
Finney-Smith stands 6-7 at 220 pounds, and Dinwiddie is a 6-6 point guard. The Nets immediately address one of their biggest weaknesses in the deal — size — though they surrender Irving’s star power, which ultimately translated to ticket sales during his time in Brooklyn.
The Nets receive Dallas’ 2029 first-round pick as part of the deal. For reference, superstar Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is currently in the first season of a five-year, $215M contract extension. Doncic can become an unrestricted free agent as soon as the summer of 2026. If he leaves Dallas for a bigger market because of the franchise’s inability to put a championship-caliber roster around him, the value of that 2029 first-round pick skyrockets.
Dinwiddie is in the second season of a three-year, $54M contract. Finney-Smith has three more years after this season remaining on his contract at a team-friendly average of $14.4M.
Potentially a Kevin Durant trade. After all, he requested a trade from the Nets over the summer in an attempt to avoid this very outcome — another wasted season in Brooklyn for player with a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume.
Irving did not attend Saturday’s matchup against the Washington Wizards, but neither did Durant, who had been a fixed presence on the bench during home games while recovering from his MCL sprain.
Teams have been far more interested in trading for Durant than they have had interest in Irving. The phone lines are hot in Brooklyn, where every team will make its best offer to poach the NBA’s 14th leading scorer in all-time history.
Yet whether or not Durant wants to remain in Brooklyn with Irving — the only other star on the roster — out of town is unclear. Ben Simmons has missed the last four games with left knee soreness, but sources familiar with Durant’s thinking tell the Daily News the star forward has been less than enthralled with Simmons, who is averaging just 7.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and six assists per game on a max contract in Brooklyn.
With Brooklyn’s championship window all but shut in a top-heavy conference with multiple star to superstar caliber players on each of the best teams, Durant could be the domino that sends the Nets back to the Play-In Tournament — or worse: back to the lottery after trading their own first-round picks and the swap rights to their own picks in the blockbuster deal to acquire James Harden from the Houston Rockets.
The Nets have nothing to show for the Durant and Irving era — except an exorbitant luxury tax bill, a second-round playoff exit, a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics, and fans who have paid premium pricing for season tickets only to watch another year riddled with championship expectations come crashing down before the All-Star break.
Many of those fans lined up to see Irving’s offensive talents, though a number of them booed Irving as he was introduced on the Jumbotron ahead of tipoff against the Wizards on Saturday.
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