The paths of KD and Kyrie: How one month changed three franchises and two superstar legacies

KYRIE IRVING WAS so ready to talk about the great basketball he just played, putting all the drama of his time with the Brooklyn Nets in the distance.

It was February 8, and Irving had just shone in his Dallas Mavericks debut and went into the press room to watch him score 24 points in a quality road win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

He dominated the headlines last week, starting with a trade request that the Nets quickly granted. This led to a blockbuster deal that ended his partnership with Kevin Durant and placed him alongside Luka Doncic as the NBA’s new gravity star center.

But as Irving stepped into the crowded media crowd, another size 18 boot fell off. The news comes after the Nets turned the last page of their failed superteam era by agreeing to an even bigger deal; Durant went to the Phoenix Suns to form an even bigger superteam with Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

Irving didn’t even settle into his seat when the reporter blurted out a question, asking if Irving had heard that his good friend and former teammate had been traded to a Western Conference opponent.

“I’m glad we won tonight,” Irving replied as he removed the microphone from its stand, smiling wryly and fiddling with his Panama hat. “Can we start with our team one?

No, not really, because Duran and Irving will be linked forever to some extent, including what they failed to do together and what they will do after the breakup. And what have they been doing over the last month as they prepare to cross paths again under very different circumstances on Sunday (13:00 ET, ABC), when the fourth-placed Western Suns (35-29) and Mavs (33 –31), sixth in the West) are found in Dallas.

HOW IRVING TURNED UP in reverse simple, Doncic burst out laughing. Doncic stood almost at half court during the final possession of the Mavs’ first-half victory over the San Antonio Spurs on February 23, and enjoyed watching the brilliance of his new co-star, whom Doncic considers “probably the best player since ball in history. a game.”

On this occasion, Irving danced with the ball on the right flank, dribbling the ball behind his back and between his legs, watching the Spurs’ defense. As soon as he saw the double team approaching, Irving rushed his main defender to the back line, swept past another utility defender on the lane and softly hit the ball off the glass on the other side of the basket, which made Doncic laugh as he walked to the dressing room.

“It was crazy,” Doncic said, shaking his head after their first duo win. “There were about three or four people on it and it still had an open downtime. That’s why I laughed. It was crazy.”

Doncic, along with coach Jason Kidd, was the driving force behind the Mavs’ trade for Irving. Doncic, a three-time All-NBA player who turned 24 on Feb. 28, was frustrated with the Mavs hovering around .500 despite playing better than ever. find a way to acquire the co-star the Mavs need to have a chance at the championship.

Given the lack of favorable trading assets for the Mavs, which owe the New York Knicks a protected top 10 pick this year as the final payment for the Kristaps Porzingis deal, the chances that Dallas would improve significantly were high. . this season. The situation changed when Irving asked to leave Brooklyn as his turbulent record and expiring contract limited his value in the trading market.

“I don’t see any risk in that,” Mavs general manager Nico Harrison, a former Nike executive whose relationship with the point guard dates back a decade and a half, said during Irving’s Feb. 13 introductory press conference.

“I really see the risk in No making a deal.”

The possibility that Irving, who is set to become a free agent after this season, is an expensive loan for the Mavs – through starting Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as an undefended 2029 first-round pick – was understood when they agreed for a deal. After LeBron James publicly lobbied for a reunion with Irving, his title teammate from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Los Angeles Lakers are now looming as an intriguing off-season option for the perpetual All-Star quarterback.

“We have a few months and a few playoff games to really see how it works,” Harrison said. “Then once we see how it works, we understand, well, how can we make the future really good?”

Joining the team in Los Angeles during the trip, Irving vowed that he would not be distracted by the “ruthless” business aspect of his situation, emphasizing that “I just want to be fully involved in what we have going on.”

A week later, after meeting with local media for the first time ahead of his home debut in Dallas, Irving politely requested that reporters “don’t distract us and our team unnecessarily” while continuing to question his upcoming free agency decision.

This request was honored even after Irving and James smiled and hugged center court immediately after the Mavs’ loss on February 26, when the Lakers pulled off what was, at the time, the biggest comeback of the NBA season by rallying after a deficit in 27 points. win in Dallas.

Kidd’s surprising post-game press conference after losing to the Lakers, when he chided the Mavs for being “distracted by the whistle” in comments that were clearly intended for Doncic, diverted attention from Dallas’ wrestling trend. in a clutch with his star duet.

When Doncic and Irving play together, the Mavs are 2–4, with all four losses in games decided in the last seconds. There was some awkwardness when they practiced playing together in clutch situations, exemplified by a last-second pass Irving made in a loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 13 after Doncic passed the ball back and forth several times, possibly one once. a case of too much mutual respect when both superstars give in to each other.

So far there has been no friction or clash of ego. When Irving missed step back 3 due to Tuesday’s loss signal to the Indiana Pacers, Doncic approached Irving on the floor, hugged him and stressed that it was a good look.

“We trust him,” Doncic said.

“A lot of people like to put emphasis on how many games we’ve lost, but right now we’re just focused on putting one foot in front of the other,” Irving said that evening. “When we play together, it won’t always look perfect. But when we are aggressive, moving fast and determined, our offense thrives.”

The Mavs did put on an impressive attack, as expected when Doncic and Irving shared the ball. Dallas recorded 129.2 points per 100 possessions in 162 All-Star minutes, the best of any pair in the league with at least 150 minutes this season.

“It’s a lot easier for me,” Doncic said after Thursday’s 133-126 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, when he and Irving became the first duo in franchise history to each score at least 40 points in a game. “Some of the things he does on the court are incredible. Some movements I have never seen in my life. [had] pay to look at someone, it will definitely be him, because these movements and shots are incredible.

Kidd is half joking that the new Mavs are “here to outdo the humans”, but jokingly he’s telling a lot of the truth. Dallas is in the bottom five in defensive ratings (115.5) and was forced to forfeit his top defenseman Finney-Smith in a deal with Irving. As such, the Mavs’ offensive standard, which gives real playoff hopes, is historically high.

“He fits in on the day of the deal. It corresponds exactly to what we are trying to achieve, which is to win the championship. He has a resume to help us with that.”

Mavericks coach Jason Kidd on Kyrie Irving

Doncic and Irving are such talented shooters that Dallas can be dangerous on offense even if they are essentially taking turns. According to Synergy tracking data, Doncic leads the NBA in scoring with 451 points, averaging 1.14 per possession, which ranks sixth among 41 players with at least 100 possessions. Irving was the league’s top scorer (1.28 points per possession) and is ninth in points total (247).

They’re starting to get a feel for how to create synergy and improve each other’s sufficient skill set, a process Irving says usually happens during preseason rather than during playoff seeding in March. And Irving admitted that he feels the pressure created by these circumstances.

“I mean, it’s natural. It comes with that,” Irving said after losing to the Pacers. “And also, as a human being, I just naturally want to fit in with everyone and not step on anyone’s toes. But the magnitude of moments sometimes requires special people to do their best and do extra things.

“I’m in that state right now, but I think I just need to zoom out and let the game come to me and flow into it, because when we’re playing with that kind of tension, I feel the intensity all around me.”

Two days later, in a victory over the Sixers, Doncic and Irving looked like one of the deadliest tandems the league has ever seen, posting 82 points and 18 assists. Eight of Doncic’s 12 passes were given to Irving, including his first six, thanks to a combination of Irving’s hitting sets and random plays as the game progressed. And Doncic didn’t sacrifice his aggressiveness to bring in Irving, scoring 17 of his 42 points in the first quarter.

Doncic readily accepted the challenge, adapting to playing with another superstar, especially playing off the ball more often than in his entire career. The Mavs just want Irving, used to being part of an all-star pair, to play the way he plays and earn eight All-Star games.

“He fit in on the day of the deal,” Kidd said. “It fits perfectly with what we are trying to achieve…


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