Mavericks Intend to Fight to Keep Kyrie Irving in Free Agency: NBA Execs

Luka Doncic (left) and Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks

Getty Luka Doncic (left) and Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks

It was written here last week that the Lakers are very likely to go after free agent Kyrie Irving this summer — as difficult as that may be based on their salary cap situation.

But league executives who’ve spoken with the Mavericks tell Heavy Sports that Mark Cuban and Dallas aren’t about to give up Irving without a fight. This, even though Kyrie, despite his apparent best behavioral efforts, and Luka Doncic may never be a great chemical combination.

The Dallas was 5-11 in games Irving and Doncic both played, and the club staggered down the stretch to finish out of the NBA playoffs — a lottery position the Mavs sought in the last week when they realized the postseason was for them a fool’s errand. When coach Jason Kidd essentially copped to this in a press conference, it earned the franchise a $750,000 fine from the league for openly tanking.

‘They Want Kyrie & They Like Kyrie’

Now the Mavericks are left to pick up the pieces and try to build on the February trade that netted them Irving and Markieff Morris from Brooklyn for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and draft capital (including a first-rounder in 2029).

“I think they want Kyrie and they like Kyrie, but what I can tell you is that Luka, who wasn’t against the trade, just like so many young players today, doesn’t want to share,” said one general manager to Heavy. “Kyrie was on great behavior — like he was doing everything to try to win over Luka and be a teammate. Every single player on that team and everyone in the organization loves Kyrie from his time there so far.

“I do think there’s some skepticism going forward for what they’re going to offer him. Like they’re not completely naïve. But Kyrie’s behavior was excellent. It was more the fact that Luka had to adjust to playing with such a great player. Everyone there has been saying Kyrie is incredible, and that’s in private, too. Luka’s said it and he means it. But I think that he just doesn’t want to share. He just doesn’t know how. He’s out there on the court and the ball has been in his hands; no matter what, it’s his ball. And now there’s actually consideration that I might need to pass the ball to somebody else and let them do the magic, instead of me just waiting for the clock to run down and shoot a step-back 3 from the hash mark.

“I get that totally, by the way. I understand it. I think it happens all the time in our league. And we forget that Luka’s 24 years old. At some point he’s going to want someone like that, and he just isn’t there yet. Making All-NBA and being in the MVP conversation, those things will be tarnished a little bit if you are playing with someone else that on one-third of the nights needs the ball and is better than you at those times.”

Defense the Big Issue in Dallas

In the previous story mentioning Irving and Doncic, a league source was quoted as saying, “You’ve got two ball-dominant guys who neither one really knows how to play without the ball, and neither one knows how to defend. It’s not a winning situation. If you want to win championships, you have to have two-way players. They don’t have two-way players. Neither one of those two guys want to sully themselves with the arduous task of playing defense on a night in-night out basis.”

But another GM shifted the defensive blame a bit.

“The challenge there is not Luka and Kyrie. The problem us they don’t have ANYBODY that plays really good defense,” he told Heavy. “None of those guys plays defense. Luka has never played defense before, but because he’s 6-8 and he’s 240 or 250, he can hold his own around the basket against bigger guys and get the rebounds for his triple-doubles. But they need to get three or four good defenders if they want to be a team that has a real chance to play for something. They lost some of their best defenders when they made the trade for Kyrie. That was the sacrifice they made.

“But that’s the way it goes. It doesn’t always work out. Trades for stars don’t always work out.”