Spencer Dinwiddie

Atlantic Notes: Dinwiddie, Nets, Niang, Celtics

Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie was a recent guest on ex-NBA star Gilbert Arenas’ podcast Gil’s Arena, and told Arenas that he was very much looking forward to his future in Brooklyn.

“I’m super excited,” Dinwiddie said (hat tip to Nets Daily for the transcript). “I’ve been with the Nets six years out of my nine, roughly. I’ve been there for many different forms of the Nets, from when we were kind of the young upstarts — [D’Angelo Russell] and stuff. Then we had the max guys — [Kevin Durant] and Kyrie [Irving]… but now kind of like a more mature, kind of a ready-to-win core that probably needs a guy but probably within that range.”

Dinwiddie is owed $18.9MM through the 2023/24 season. The vet will hit unrestricted free agency that summer if he doesn’t ink a veteran extension with Brooklyn next season.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The Nets generated an $18.1MM traded player exception from their Durant trade with the Suns. ProfessorB of Nets Daily unpacks how Brooklyn could use its TPE going forward, identifying several intriguing players whose salaries would fit into that exception.
  • Sixers forward Georges Niang wrote his final “diary entry” of the 2022/23 season, as logged by Gina Mizell of The Philadelphia Inquirer, about his impending free agency and the end of Philadelphia’s playoff run. “Obviously, you want to go to a place where you’re appreciated — and I’ve always felt appreciated in Philadelphia,” Niang wrote. “Other than that, I don’t know anything else. The teams that I played on before, where I was appreciated, those teams are totally different now. I’m thankful that the place that I have most recently played appreciates me for who I am and what I stand for and what I can bring to the table. But free agency, stuff happens so quickly. Someone said it best to me: It’s almost like musical chairs. You don’t want to be the one that doesn’t have a chair to sit in.”
  • Conversations the day before the Celtics’ Game 4 win in their ongoing Eastern Conference Finals matchup against the Heat helped galvanize Boston, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “Just coming together, talking it out,” All-Star swingman Jaylen Brown in explaining the content of the team’s pregame chats. “And like a lot of times when you get to this point down 3-0, you see locker rooms and teams start to go in the other direction… We wanted to make sure that we looked each other in the eye and came out today and put our best foot forward, and I’m proud of our group for doing that because you see teams with their back against the wall and you see they just collapse.”

Nets Notes: Offseason Needs, C. Johnson, Curry, Watanabe

The Nets may be encouraged by how they performed after trading Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but they’ll need to add rebounders and shot creators to get past the first round of the playoffs, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Brooklyn couldn’t muster a single win in its series against the Sixers, even with Joel Embiid sidelined today with a sprained right knee. Playing without its starting center, Philadelphia had a decisive 54-38 advantage on the glass.

“We’ve got to get bigger over the summer. We’ve got to get nasty over the summer,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ve got to get guys who really love hitting, and take it personal when the other team gets a rebound. That’s what we’ll be looking for.”

Rebounding was only part of the problem. The Nets shot 9-of-37 from three-point range today and just 5-of-29 after the first quarter. Mikal Bridges appeared exhausted by the end of the series, Lewis observes, and would benefit from having at least one more teammate who can run the offense and attack the basket.

“For our group going forward, the ability for multiple people to get downhill and get to the paint and create opportunities, that’s a need for us, yes,” Vaughn said.

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets will almost certainly have to go over the luxury tax line to keep restricted free agent Cameron Johnson, according to Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. He notes that Johnson would be a good fit for virtually all the teams with cap space this summer, such as the Rockets, Magic, Jazz, Thunder and Spurs. Gozlan projects a four-year offer sheet for Johnson somewhere around $80-90MM.
  • Seth Curry could be headed elsewhere in free agency, Gozlan adds. The 32-year-old guard doesn’t appear to fit the Nets’ long-term plans and may find a better opportunity with another team. Re-signing Yuta Watanabe may be a higher priority, but Gozlan notes that Brooklyn only has non-Bird rights and would have to use part of its mid-level exception to give him a salary that’s very much above the minimum.
  • The Nets have offseason decisions to make on Royce O’Neale, who only has a $2.5MM guarantee for next season on his $9.5MM salary, and Edmond Sumner, whose $2.2MM contract for 2023/24 is non-guaranteed, per Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link). Marks also points out that Spencer Dinwiddie will become eligible for a four-year extension worth up to $128MM in August.

New York Notes: Randle, Hart, Simmons, Dinwiddie

Knicks forward Julius Randle, playing in his second game back from an ankle sprain, took a hard fall with 2:22 left in Tuesday’s contest and New York down by 23 points. Randle, who went up for a dunk attempt, was hit by Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen, who was assessed with a flagrant foul 1 (NBA.com video link).

Although Randle said after the game that he was “fine,” he wasn’t thrilled with what he viewed as excessive contact from Allen on the play, as Peter Botte of The New York Post writes.

“At this point, it’s irrelevant. But I thought it was a little unnecessary,” Randle said. “I understand playoff basketball. You don’t give up on plays and I respect that. I’m somebody who doesn’t give up on plays. … Typically when you make those type of plays you go across their body, not through them. But it’s fine. It’s irrelevant. We’ll go back to the Garden, and see him there.”

Although Randle appeared to avoid any sort of real injury on the play, Mike Vaccaro of The New York Post called into question Tom Thibodeau‘s decision to still have the star forward in the game that late in the fourth quarter, given the size of the Cavaliers’ lead. Thibodeau told reporters after the loss that he initially planned to take Randle out a few minutes earlier, but the 28-year-old talked him into staying in longer to work on his “rhythm.”

Here’s more on the NBA’s New York-based teams:

  • Originally listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s game due to a sprained left ankle, Knicks forward Josh Hart was available and played 27 minutes. However, after a big Game 1, Hart was a non-factor in Game 2, posting a team-worst minus-29 mark, writes Zach Braziller of The New York Post. Nonetheless, he insisted the ankle wasn’t the issue. “If I’m out there, I’m good,” Hart said. “I’m feeling good.”
  • The idea of undergoing a second back surgery hasn’t been completely ruled out for Nets guard Ben Simmons, but it’s considered unlikely, according to Brian Lewis of The New York Post, who hears from a source that Simmons has made showed “really good improvement” in his rehab work in recent weeks.
  • If the Nets hope to make their series with Philadelphia competitive, they’ll need more from recently acquired guard Spencer Dinwiddie, Lewis says in another New York Post story. Dinwiddie, who averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.1 APG for the Nets after the trade deadline, recorded just 13.0 PPG and 6.5 APG on 38.5% shooting in the series’ first two games. “He’s huge for us, and he knows it. We love him, we depend on him,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “He’s going to have the basketball back in his hands when we get back home, and he’ll continue to play and lead us.”

Eastern Notes: Dinwiddie, Kuzma, Giannis, J. Brown, Hawks

Former Wizards teammates Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyle Kuzma traded a couple barbs back in January after Washington defeated Dinwiddie’s Mavericks, with each casting doubt on the other’s commitment to playing “winning basketball.” Now a member of the Nets, Dinwiddie was asked during an appearance on FanDuel TV (Twitter video link) about that exchange and didn’t hesitate to reignite his beef with Kuzma, questioning whether the Wizards forward has his priorities straight.

“There’s a lot of guys in the NBA that really pour their heart and soul into basketball, are willing to do whatever it takes to win,” Dinwiddie said. “There are a lot of guys that have different things that drive or motivate them. I think if we look at him and the way he approaches life, fame, all that stuff, we can see that his priorities tend to vary. That’s why he dresses the way he does, he approaches basketball the way he does, the comments he makes.

“Like I said with the Draymond (Green) quote, ‘Insecurity is loud.’ You know that you’re there shooting shots to try to get a contract. You’re probably not even a third star really on a good team, because if you were, the Lakers would’ve kept you.”

Several hours later, Kuzma fired back in a Twitter thread, writing that he and the Wizards have “so much real estate on Dinsh–tie island.” Kuzma criticized Dinwiddie for being traded just months after he signed a three-year, $54MM contract in D.C. and suggested that his Nets are only in the postseason because of the pre-Dinwiddie success the team had with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Dinwiddie and Kuzma won’t face each other until sometime next season, but the latest grenades lobbed in their back-and-forth war of words should make things all the more interesting when that happens.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo tells Lori Nickel of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he legitimately considered the possibility of walking away from the NBA due to the mental health toll he was dealing with in 2020. “I had that conversation – yes – with the front office,” Antetokounmpo said. “And, you know, very normally, everybody is looking at me like I was crazy. ‘You just signed the largest contract in NBA history and you want to walk away from the game and all that money?’ … But I don’t care about that. I care about joy. I’m a joyful person.”
  • Jaylen Brown would become eligible for a super-max extension if he makes an All-NBA team this spring, and Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens is hoping that happens, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “I think both Jayson (Tatum) and Jaylen should be on the All-NBA team,” Stevens said. “I think what they’ve done throughout the course of this year — and you asked about Jaylen so I’ll talk about Jaylen in particular — he’s also really played his best basketball, I think, in the last couple of months, and he was an obvious All-Star right out of the gate.”
  • Former Octagon agent Chris Emens has joined the Hawks‘ front office in an advisory role, reports Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). Emens represented Hawks general manager Landry Fields during Fields’ playing days, Vorkunov notes.

Nets Notes: Simmons, Dinwiddie, Bridges, Chemistry

Ben Simmons has been sidelined since the All-Star break and Nets coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t sure if he’ll play again this season, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Simmons missed his 10th straight game and his 26th of the season on Sunday, and the team doesn’t have a prognosis for when he might return.

“He’s still managing his back and knee soreness,” Vaughn told reporters before the game in Denver. “He’s back home in Brooklyn. We’ll get a chance to kind of see where he’s at when we get back home after this trip.” 

During the break, Simmons had fluid in his left knee drained and took a platelet-rich plasma injection. However, when the team put his knee on a strengthening program, Simmons’ back pain started to flare up. He missed all of last season with a herniated disc in his back and had a microdiscectomy in May.

Lewis notes that Simmons is averaging career lows this season at 6.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game, along with a 43.9% success rate on free throws. He’s owed more than $78MM over the next two seasons.

There’s more on the Nets:

  • Spencer Dinwiddie set a career high in assists with 16 in Sunday’s win over the Nuggets, which is the most by a Brooklyn player this season, Lewis adds. Dinwiddie has excelled since taking over the lead guard role after being acquired from Dallas in the Kyrie Irving trade. “Every night he’s producing for us, he’s learning how to play with this group,” Vaughn said. “He’s learning when to be aggressive, when to get to the rim, how to manage this group.”
  • Beating the Nuggets was a significant achievement for a team that rebuilt itself by trading Irving and Kevin Durant last month, Lewis notes in another Post story. Mikal Bridges said he and the other players who arrived in those deals quickly formed a bond. “We were all confident when we all came here and we were put together and just kind of had that mentality, ‘OK, a lot of us got traded so you feel some type of way, and you just want to go out there and hoop,’” Bridges said.
  • The Nets no longer appear in danger of falling into the play-in tournament after winning five of their last six games, per Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. Brooklyn has moved on from the drama that defined the Irving-Durant era and has now boasts chemistry as one of its strengths, Schiffer observes.

Nets Notes: Noel, Simmons, Duke, Smith, Ayton

With Spencer Dinwiddie (rest), Nic Claxton (right thumb sprain, left Achilles tendinopathy), Cameron Johnson (right knee soreness), and Royce O’Neale (left knee soreness) all unavailable in Milwaukee on Thursday, the Nets ran out a new-look starting lineup that scored just 15 total points, the lowest mark for any starting five since 2008, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link).

One of Brooklyn’s new starter was Nerlens Noel, who was playing in just his second game as a Net. Despite not scoring a single point, Noel was the only starter who had a plus/minus rating better than minus-14 (he was a plus-2) and made a positive impression on head coach Jacque Vaughn, as Brian Lewis of The New York Post relays.

“He continues to get himself in shape,” Vaughn said. “The charge that he took was great, putting his body on the line, so that was great. A (blocked shot) was great. So those things we want to continue to see from him.”

Noel’s contract with the Nets only covers 10 days, but so far he hasn’t been used like a player the team plans to soon part ways with, logging 18 minutes in consecutive games. Vaughn’s postgame comments also hinted that he expects the big man to be in Brooklyn for more than just 10 days.

“He’ll continue to learn conceptually what we want to do on the defensive end, and we’re switching back and forth between defenses, you know, so you got to turn your brain on and off and back on again,” Vaughn said of Noel. “So that challenge is what’s ahead of him.”

Here’s more on the Nets:

  • Ben Simmons, still dealing with knee and back issues, missed his eighth game in a row on Thursday, and Vaughn said Simmons’ back inflammation remains “in the process of settling down,” per Lewis. “A big piece of it is still the strengthening, to make sure that there’s no reoccurrence,” Vaughn said. “And then for a while we had to kind of press pause a little bit in order for the inflammation in the back to kind of settle down a little bit. So last few days, that’s what that’s look like.”
  • Although Brooklyn’s starting five was ineffective on Thursday, the team showed off its depth, scoring 98 bench points. That total was the highest in a regular season game since at least 1982, according to Reynolds, who notes (via Twitter) that Toronto scored 100 bench points vs. Brooklyn in a playoff game in 2020.
  • Nets two-way players David Duke and Dru Smith got a rare chance to play rotation minutes at the NBA level on Thursday and combined for 30 points. Duke and Smith have spent much of the season playing key roles for a Long Island Nets team that won its 16th straight game on Thursday, led by veteran point guard Chris Chiozza, according to NetsDaily. Brooklyn’s NBAGL affiliate now holds a league-best 22-3 record.
  • Sign-and-trade rules would have made it tricky for the Nets to acquire center Deandre Ayton from Phoenix in a package for Kevin Durant last summer, but Ayton would’ve been much easier to move at last month’s deadline. However, Ayton wasn’t part of the Suns‘ package for Durant and league sources tell Zach Lowe of ESPN (Insider link) that Brooklyn was “never much interested” in trading for the former No. 1 pick.

Atlantic Notes: Barton, Simmons, Dinwiddie, Tatum

What was the deciding factor for Will Barton as he considered his next NBA home? After getting bought out by the Wizards, Barton chose the Raptors for the opportunity to play and re-establish his value, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. Concurrently, the Raptors had been searching for another rotation-caliber guard to help them in their playoff push. Barton officially signed on Tuesday afternoon.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Ben Simmons hasn’t played since Feb. 15 due to a sore knee but there has been “zero” discussion about shutting him down for the season, Nets coach Jacque Vaughn told Brian Lewis of the New York Post (Twitter link) and other media members. However, Vaughn wouldn’t elaborate on how Simmons is doing or what his next step is.
  • One of the offshoots of trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is that the Nets no longer get “superstar calls” from the officials, Spencer Dinwiddie claims. “I have a lot of last-second shots or game-winners, but it’s the lead up that’s the tough part without superstars. That’s what people miss,” Dinwiddie said, according to Lewis. “If [someone] tries to climb KD’s back, they’re going to call it. If KD says and-one, they’re not giving him a tech. All these things change the flow of the game. [Stars] can cuss them out, they can do whatever, and they’ll let all that (stuff) slide.”
  • Celtics star forward Jayson Tatum got his first career ejection in a loss to the Knicks on Monday but he playfully put a positive spin on it, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps writes. “All the great players get thrown out a few times in their career,” he said. “So, it’s good for my rep.”

Trade Breakdown: Kyrie Irving To The Mavericks

This is the second entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a blockbuster deal between the Mavericks and Nets

On February 6, the Nets sent Kyrie Irving and Markieff Morris to the Mavericks in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dallas’ 2029 first-round pick (unprotected), and second-round picks in 2027 and 2029.

The Nets’ perspective:

Irving’s trade request derailed what had been a promising season for Brooklyn. The Nets had a poor start to 2022/23, going 2-5 before parting ways with former coach Steve Nash, but found success with his replacement, Jacque Vaughn, who was formerly the team’s top assistant.

After Irving returned from his suspension following his promotion of an antisemitic film, things were looking up. At one point the Nets won 18 of 20 games, with Kyrie playing a big role in their success.

Unfortunately, Kevin Durant went down with another knee sprain, and the Nets started to lose, though not as much as they did in ’21/22 without the star forward. Irving put up big numbers in a few of their victories and was evidently displeased that the Nets didn’t offer him a full maximum-salary extension — he decided he’d had enough.

It’s hard to say that Irving’s tenure with the Nets was anything but a failure, even if he was highly productive when he was on the court. The team only won one playoff series during his stint despite having Durant healthy for two of those runs, not to mention former MVP James Harden for one. Injuries certainly played a role in that, but so did Irving’s decision making.

Over Irving’s three-and-a-half seasons with the Nets, he appeared in just 143 of a possible 278 regular season games, or 51.4%. He played in 13 of 20 playoff games (65%).

Whether it was injuries, leaving the team unexpectedly for personal reasons, refusing to get vaccinated, or a team-imposed suspension, Irving wasn’t available nearly enough and caused chaos throughout the organization. Harden asking out last year was more complicated than just Irving’s lack of availability, but it certainly played a role.

The simple fact is Irving was unreliable for Brooklyn. All you have to do is look at his games played to realize that.

From a purely basketball perspective, getting equal value in return for a player as talented as Irving was never going to be realistic. Considering he’s on an expiring contract, and given all of the issues and controversy over the past handful of years, I’m honestly surprised the Nets got as much back as they did.

Finney-Smith and Dinwiddie were arguably the Mavs’ second- and third-best players this season (in whatever order). Sure, they aren’t stars, but they helped the team win games and played big roles in Dallas reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2022, ranking second and fifth on the team, respectively, in minutes per game during the postseason (both players also shot over 40% from three-point range).

Finney-Smith doesn’t get much media attention since his playing style is selfless, but he has had a pretty remarkable career arc. After going undrafted in 2016, he caught on with the Mavs due to his defense and hustle. However, the combo forward only shot 51.7% on twos and 30.3% from deep over his first three seasons, so he was a liability offensively.

That has changed over the past three-plus seasons, with Finney-Smith improving both his two- and three-point percentages to 59.2% and 38.2%, respectively. He was a full-time starter and often had the impossible task of guarding the opposing team’s best player, credibly defending positions one through four.

While Finney-Smith may not be a lock-down one-on-one defender like OG Anunoby or an elite shooter, he is a quality 3-and-D player who has positive value. Brian Lewis of The New York Post reported after the trade that multiple teams offered two first-rounders for the veteran forward – the Nets could easily deal him in the offseason if they’re so inclined.

Dinwiddie thrived alongside Luka Doncic as a secondary play-maker over the past two seasons (he was really only on the team for about one full season, as he was acquired in February 2022). In 76 games (32.3 MPG) with the Mavs, he averaged 17.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG and 4.9 APG on a rock-solid .466/.404/.788 shooting slash line, good for a .605 true shooting percentage (the league average for guards in ‘22/23 is about 56%).

The combo guard is a below-average defensive player, but he’s big for his position (6’5″, 215 pounds), so he at least offers some versatility. He’s under contract through next season and will carry a reasonable $20.36MM cap hit in ‘23/24.

Both players will turn 30 years old later this season, so they’re in the midst of their primes. Finney-Smith is on a long-term contract that will pay him $13.93MM in ‘23/24, $14.93MM in ‘24/25, and he has a $15.38MM player option in ‘25/26.

In addition to receiving two quality rotation players, the Nets also received the Mavs’ unprotected 2029 first-round pick and a couple of second-rounders. Obviously, the unprotected first-rounder was the key to this deal being made, as there were other teams desperate to improve their chances this season, including the Lakers.

If things go south in Dallas or Irving simply walks as a free agent, how will Doncic respond? That’s what everyone in the NBA will be monitoring in the coming months (and possibly years).

If Doncic is no longer on the team six years from now, all bets are off as far as that pick goes (he can become a free agent as early as 2026). Even if he stays, it’s not like the Mavs are a world-beater or stacked with young talent. Losing Jalen Brunson in free agency and now trading away two of their best remaining players and an unprotected future pick makes it more difficult to make subsequent win-now moves.

It’s worth noting that Brooklyn saved a significant amount of money toward the luxury tax with this deal and added a couple small ($4.5MM and $1.8MM) traded player exceptions as well.

The Nets did the best they could under the circumstances. I certainly don’t blame them for not giving Irving the extension he wanted after all that’s happened over the past handful of years. Obviously there was a major downside in that it caused Durant to ask out as well, which we’ll cover in another article.

The Mavs’ perspective:

Irving’s value might be the most difficult to gauge of any player in the league, because when he’s active and on the court, there’s no question that he’s a star player worthy of a max-salary commitment. He is one of the most skilled ball-handlers in NBA history and an elite shot-maker.

An ambidextrous finisher at the rim whose creativity is unparalleled, Irving averaged 27.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.8 APG and 1.3 SPG on a terrific .490/.397/.912 shooting line (.604 TS%) in his 147 games (35.8 MPG) with the Nets.

In addition to making one of the biggest shots in NBA history in Game 7 of Cleveland’s championship victory over Golden State in 2016, Irving holds career Finals averages of 27.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.2 APG and 1.8 SPG on .468/.395/.926 shooting in 13 games (39.8 MPG). He has produced at an extremely high level on the highest stage, against elite competition.

When he gets hot, there’s no one in the league that can guard him. In just his fourth game as a Maverick, Irving scored 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the fourth quarter against Minnesota, coming close to a franchise record (only Doncic with 28 and Dirk Nowitzki with 29 have scored more in a quarter). The Mavs wound up losing the game, but Kyrie nearly single-handedly gave them a chance to tie it after being down 18 to start the fourth.

Dirk was 40 years old when Doncic was a rookie and realistically should have been retired already – he could barely move. Trading for Kristaps Porzingis didn’t work out. Irving is far and away the most talented teammate Doncic has ever played with.

Offensively, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. Irving has shown he can be an excellent 1B option next to elite players, and Doncic certainly fits that bill. There’s enough shooting left on the roster to think the Mavs will be improved on that end, and they’re already eighth in the league in offense.

Adding top-end talent is more difficult than acquiring role players. The Mavs obviously believe acquiring Irving raises the team’s ceiling — otherwise they would not have made the trade.

The Mavs could not have signed Irving – or any other top player – in free agency because they’re well over the salary cap. In fact, they added about $29MM to their luxury tax bill with this trade, per Kurt Badenhausen of Sportico.

What they gave up is about the least you could possibly expect to give up for an eight-time All-Star in the middle of his prime. Irving is averaging more points per game (27.2) this season than Dinwiddie (17.7) and Finney-Smith (8.9) combined.

That said, availability has always been an issue for Irving. He missed an average of about 17 games per year due to injuries over his first eight seasons with the Cavs and Celtics. He has missed fewer than 10 games only once in 12 seasons, back in ‘14/15 with Cleveland (he missed seven).

Even putting aside Irving’s injury history and volatility (and both of those are significant concerns), there are basketball reasons why the trade might not work out. At 6’2″, Irving doesn’t have the size to regularly guard bigger players, and he doesn’t always put forth much effort on the defensive end.

He is better than his reputation suggests when he tries, but his lack of size hurts in switching schemes. The Mavs can’t hide him on weaker offensive players because that’s what they do with Doncic.

Part of the reason why Irving made sense when paired with LeBron James and Durant is that both of those former teammates were capable of playing top-tier defense when locked in. Doncic can make plays, but a stopper he is not.

Trading away two quality rotation players for one great-when-available player hurt the team’s size, defensive versatility and depth. Morris was included because he was unhappy with his playing time – he has yet to play a game for Dallas.

Josh Green is having a breakout third season for the Mavs. Instead of being a quality reserve, he’s now a heavy-minutes starter. How he responds will be critical to the team’s chances for the rest of the season and beyond.

Rookie Jaden Hardy, another guard, has also had a real role post-trade after excelling in the G League. He looks overmatched defensively, but he’s fun to watch when he gets going on offense.

The Mavs reached the Western Conference Finals last season primarily because they had the league’s seventh-best defense. The main reason they have already nearly equaled last season’s loss total (52-30 vs. 31-29) is because they have fallen all the way to 24th in defense.

Green, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber (once he returns from a torn hamstring) will be absolutely vital in trying to hold together some semblance of a competent defensive unit. It will be a tall order, especially in the playoffs, assuming Dallas makes it in.

It seems odd to make such a bold trade for perhaps the NBA’s most mercurial and unpredictable star when the team is already in a precarious position in the standings – the Mavs are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, but only two games away from completely missing the play-in tournament. Perhaps they believed they needed to shake things up because the previous roster wasn’t going anywhere.

Obviously, Doncic signed off and approved of the deal. The fact that Irving has longstanding relationships with president of basketball operations Nico Harrison and head coach Jason Kidd theoretically helps.

Even in the most optimistic scenarios, Dallas will have difficult choices to make in the offseason. Let’s say Irving and Doncic’s partnership is fruitful, Christian Wood plays well, Green thrives in a bigger role and the Mavs have another long playoff run. Green will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, Wood is a free agent and they’ll almost be forced to give Irving a massive new contract, assuming he wants to stay. That didn’t turn out very well for the Nets.

If things go south – say they miss the playoffs outright or lose in the play-in tournament – Irving could walk in free agency. In that scenario, the Mavs would have given up two quality players on reasonable contracts, an unprotected first-rounder and two second-rounders for at most 26 regular season games of Irving (he has already missed one game with lower back tightness). Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith were reportedly positive voices in the locker room on top of being solid players.

Irving threatened to undergo season-ending knee surgery if Cleveland didn’t trade him in the 2017 offseason. Two years later, he left Boston in free agency after publicly saying he was going to re-sign with the Celtics. Now he requested and was traded out of Brooklyn after feeling disrespected by not getting a maximum-salary extension.

How long will he last in Dallas if things don’t go the way he wants? Will that have a ripple effect on Doncic like it did with Durant? The Mavericks may have bolstered their championship upside if they can build out the roster around Doncic and Irving, but the risk of everything going up in flames is also exponentially higher than it was before making the deal.

Atlantic Notes: Tatum, Udoka, Mazzulla, Brunson, Hart, Dinwiddie, Bridges

Head coach Joe Mazzulla had the interim tag removed by the Celtics, but star forward Jayson Tatum hopes Ime Udoka lands on his feet and revives his coaching career. He even called the suspended Udoka his favorite coach he’s played under, he told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

“It’s been a tough situation for everyone involved,” Tatum said. “Whatever happened, happened. That didn’t have anything to do with me. I can’t take away the relationship that me and him had. And the impact that he had on us last season. I love Coach K, I love Brad (Stevens), I love (Mazzulla), I love all those guys. It’s just a different kind of relationship I had with Ime. He’s probably the most favorite coach I’ve had.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Stevens, now the Celtics‘ top exec, wanted to remove the cloud of uncertainty surrounding Mazzulla, leading to his promotion, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter links). Stevens has also been impressed how Mazzulla has navigated a difficult situation. “He’s an outstanding leader,” Stevens said. “I think he’s done a great job right from the get-go of galvanizing our locker room around a mission.” Mazzulla’s promotion was announced on Thursday.
  • Villanova’s largest fan base is situated in New York City, according to former coach Jay Wright, and that’s why there’s plenty of excitement that the Knicks have former Wildcats Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, he told Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “Villanova people are just going crazy over it because they’re all Knicks fans,” he said. “It’s really thrilling for all of us. To see the joy it’s bringing all the Villanova people, and I should say the people who aren’t Knicks fans, they are now, Villanovans. You’re like a proud father, you’re watching your kids out there. It’s like they’re starting a business or something.”
  • Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie have already emerged as the Nets’ new leaders after being acquired at the trade deadline, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post (subscription required). “Right now, I think it’s been Spencer and Mikal, just naturally their IQ and want and feel for the game,” coach Jacque Vaughn said.

Kevin Durant Trade Notes

The Suns were at the top of Kevin Durant‘s list of preferred destinations because of his close relationship with head coach Monty Williams, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Williams spent a year as associate head coach in Oklahoma City during Durant’s time there, and they worked together on Team USA as well.

Amick adds that credit for the early-morning mega-deal should also go to Phoenix president of basketball operations James Jones, whose image of team building was influenced by his time as a player in Miami when the Heat brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team with Dwayne Wade. In 2019, Jones made the decision to hire Williams, whose connections to Chris Paul and now Durant have turned the Suns into an updated version of that Heat super-team.

Amick hears from sources that Durant spent the past few days seeking advice from confidants about the best path for his future in the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade to Dallas. Most league insiders believed he would wait for the offseason to seek an exit from Brooklyn, but the deal with Phoenix came together quickly late Wednesday night.

There’s more on the Durant trade:

  • Even before Durant made his request last summer, league insiders understood that he had a desire to go to Phoenix, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. The chance to play with a Hall of Fame point guard in Paul and another All-NBA player in Devin Booker was appealing, and Durant knew the Suns had enough draft assets and young talent to make a trade realistic. Sources tell Fischer that Durant didn’t give the Nets a list of preferred locations when he made his trade request last June, but there was an understanding that Phoenix was among the leaders.
  • Brooklyn issued several public denials through the media this week that Durant was being made available, but teams began to believe on Wednesday that the Nets might reconsider that stance, says Ian Begley of SNY (Video link). He states that several clubs had similar offers ready, including the Grizzlies and Pelicans, but Durant’s desire to be in Phoenix influenced Brooklyn’s decision.
  • The Nets had no intention of trading Durant when they agreed to send Irving to the Mavericks on Sunday, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN (video link). When Brooklyn obtained Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith from Dallas, they were intended to be pieces that could team with Durant and remain competitive in the Eastern Conference. The Nets’ front office spent Monday trying to move Finney-Smith and draft picks to improve the team even more, but things had changed by Tuesday. Windhorst said there was essentially a “one-team negotiation” with the Suns, and new owner Mat Ishbia was willing to offer a lot more than Robert Sarver did last summer.
  • The Durant news broke shortly before Irving addressed the media following his first game with the Mavericks, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Irving indicated there was a dysfunctional situation in Brooklyn and responded, “I’m just glad that he got out of there,” when he was asked about Durant. “I think this was in the works after year one,” Irving said. “I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to be in Brooklyn because of things that were happening behind the scenes. I just did my best to put my head down and work as hard as I could.”