Kyrie Irving goes to Dallas within 48 hours of asking out.
I had this whole idea to run with about pain, how we live with it and how we revise it in order to live with it, but I would like to scrap it in favour of being wholly reactionary. Plus, who’s to say this doesn’t end up including some of that initial idea.
Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks. To that rootin’ tootin’ group of gun-shy grifters. The Calculus Bunch. The Let’s Make A Vitriolic Deal For a New York City Franchisee Ejectee Posse.
When Irving announced he wanted out of Brooklyn on Friday it felt, truly, like the NBA Trade Deadline got rolling. Up until then — conjecture ranging from polite to unhinged on the probable to unlikely landing spots for the handful of teams in the mix, and all of it guesswork. However real it seemed then, that Irving would go anywhere, it still felt like, Here we go.
And here we go, albeit a lot faster than anyone guessed. When I first read the notification with the news Dylan and I were driving south down the Allen coming home from my parents, where we’d gone for coffee. I read it out loud as our car, with a weird computer glitch that makes the touchscreen reset at random and whatever’s playing stop, kept quitting and coming back to ‘(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher’ by Jackie Wilson. I’d spent the earlier half of the day at a studio in the west end being interviewed about basketball, growing up in Toronto, writing, and the Raptors for a collaborative project I won’t say anything else about, only that I fell hopelessly short of the 11-year-old who went before me and said things like, “Grade five has treated me well” and that Pascal Siakam was “on the rise”.
It was an entirely sweet, small kind of morning that makes you feel part of something bigger in the city you live in. Grounds you and simultaneously spreads you out.
We were both surprised. On the drive out we’d talked about the news of the Clippers looking to land Irving, who on the team they’d been reportedly ready to trade for him, and feeling preemptively bad for John Wall if he got sent out of the California sunshine after only just arriving. We theorized that Kawhi Leonard’s perfect imperturbability might be the great equalizer for Irving’s chaos. Dallas felt like — well, neither of us had even considered it. But the more we talked through it, the more I fired up the group chats while stretching my legs like Inspector Gadget over snowbanks to pick up prescriptions and tulips in the hour that followed, the more it made sense.
If the biggest question since Irving requested a trade has been which franchise would have the wherewithal to want him, the Mavericks should have been the lone contender out of the gate. The Lakers have already had too many sitcom level gaffes this season, the Clippers are sound as-is (sound doesn’t mean instant contenders, but a lot of teams would kill for sound), and the Suns — post-Sarver — too stoic to touch a toe back into this sort of turbulence again.
That left the Mavs.
It left a front office run sometimes by algorithm, sometimes by the whims of a billionaire, with a history of sexual misconduct, domestic violence and retaliation as a baseline, who’ve picked up players involved in awful things before with ample knowledge of the situation. I don’t know if or how the Mavs have moved on from those things, because I don’t know whether they think they need to or whether they’ve tried. The two not being mutually exclusive. No team in the modern NBA is free of moral waffling to outright moral rejection, but Dallas does have Jason Kidd at the sideline, and they have just cleared the books for someone who still hasn’t, not really, apologized in the most traditional sense of the effort. That is, taken unequivocal responsibility for his actions.
So it begins to go, pretty quickly, from why the Mavs to why not, or: Of course, the Mavs.
Irving likes to draw lines in the sand. Lines he can tap an emphatic toe to when doubling-down or lightly scuff a foot across if he’s passed on his conviction in whatever his last argument was. I don’t think it’s realistic to believe people can’t change their minds, and I don’t dislike Irving as a person — I don’t know him — but when your last most public response to behaving, saying, or shrugging off something so reprehensible is the same eye-rolling embarrassment as when you come back to your laundry to find someone’s dumped it on top of the machine because you took too long, I just think there’s a sincere, persistent disconnect from reality there.
Who Dallas gave up, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, plus picks, are hard not to take as symbolic. I don’t mean their presence within the team and in the way the group plays isn’t going to be missed, but Dinwiddie has become something of a ballast and Finney-Smith, a Maverick since 2016 and never anything else, goes as a rare Dallas proof of concept. A player who improved year-over-year in all the ways that mattered despite the tumult of losing a coach and losing the conference again and again. These terms, this trade, in Dallas’ own suppressed way, scorched earth.
Irving plays basketball with the kind of grace and unhurried precision that you have the sense he could make “making it work” with anyone on the floor look easy. Still, this is a team that only ever plays favourites one person at a time. It doesn’t juggle. There was Dirk and now there’s Luka. Irving will have to be the one who acquiesces, at least on the court, if this is the place he pictures himself playing and winning in which, beyond money, still seems like a driver for him, even through the semblance and scree of saying he’d sit out for the rest of the season if the Nets didn’t send him on.
Maybe it will work. Maybe Luka Doncic and Irving will find each other’s games so complimentary that it’ll look like alchemy. Maybe they’ll breeze out of the mud of the West’s current middle standings to race to the top. Overtake the two teams right now sitting just ahead that didn’t have the nerve to gamble on volatility — in the guy and his coming due contract. Maybe North Texas’ hard-packed plains and air so open, with so much of it to spare that it hoists tornados up an accelerating chute to chew through Oklahoma and Kansas, March through July, will bring some clarity, or shred away the warring game of optics Irving so routinely gambles in. Like those tornados — engulfing, hypnotic — you hope for the best, brace for the worst.
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