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Can The Kyrie Irving And Luka Dončić Experiment Bring Success Back To Dallas?

A year after their Western Conference Finals run, the season ended in disappointment for Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs had to find a replacement for Jalen Brunson, who left for New York after being an important piece in their playoff success. After trying different strategies during the season, the Mavs made one of the riskiest moves in their history. They acquired Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets for Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, and three future draft picks. Unfortunately Dallas finished 38-44, missing the postseason. While the Mavs are 8-12 when both Irving and Dončić play, a full season together should help the duo return to the playoffs.

The biggest hole left by Brunson's departure was a secondary ball-handler next to Dončić. After acquiring Irving, he established himself as the second ball-handler averaging 26.9 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds with the Mavs. When Irving entered free agency, he decided to re-sign with Dallas on a team friendly 3-year $126 million contract. When both are on the court, they compliment each other with Dončić being the primary ball-handler and Irving being an off-ball guard. Both these players can star in their roles, but Irving helps fill a role vital to bringing success back to Dallas.

The Mavericks tried to use Dinwiddie as the primary ball-handler when Dončić was off the floor, but that ended up not working out as they'd hoped. As a result, Dončić finished with the second-highest usage rate at 37.5, which burned him out. Dinwiddie didn't bring the shot-making consistency left by Brunson and he was better served coming off the bench. The Mavs couldn't find a third ball-handler to come off the bench last season, even after trading for Irving. Assuming both stay relatively healthy, Irving will serve better as a primary ball-handler with Dončić off the floor. While this duo could be very successful, Irving's track record in the league makes this move risky for the Mavs.

After winning a championship in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving had issues with his teammates in Boston and Brooklyn, always creating controversy on and off the floor. He missed many games over his post-Cleveland career because of "personal reasons", and has gained a negative reputation with the media that put a damper on his character. Last season he tweeted a link to an anti-semetic movie which the league and the media criticized him for. Even though his behavior off the court is suspect, his play on the court is unquestionable. On a podcast, Mavs Governor, Mark Cuban, cleared the air around the league. "When you talk to people, people love Kai," Cuban said. "And you watch after a game, yeah guys will trade jerseys this and that, people will just walk up and hug Kyrie...and will spend time and talk."

Irving is entering his 13th season and his first full season with Dončić hoping to make the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference. Dončić has established himself as a top star in the league, but there is speculation he may not be in a position to win in Dallas. As he enters his sixth season, he is coming off a season averaging 32.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8 assists per game. Dončić is undoubtedly elite when it comes to individual success, but the Mavs need to build a team around him and Irving to get them to the postseason again.

The Mavericks begin their quest, for the Larry O'Brien Trophy, tonight, October 25th, against the San Antonio Spurs who will debut, highly touted international prospect and #1 overall 2023 Draft pick, Victor Wembanyama.


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