National Basketball Association
The Kyrie Irving experiment failed. The Mavericks' best path forward is to tank.
National Basketball Association

The Kyrie Irving experiment failed. The Mavericks' best path forward is to tank.

Updated Mar. 27, 2023 6:44 p.m. ET

So, how has life been for the Dallas Mavericks since trading for Kyrie Irving

Well, since you ask, on Friday, the Mavericks allowed the Charlotte Hornets to shoot 48% from the field — yes, the same Charlotte Hornets that own the league’s fourth-worst record and least efficient offense — in an embarrassing 117-109 home loss

It was a pathetic performance for a team in the thick of the playoff hunt, and after the game, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd admonished his group. 

"It was awful — dogs---," Kidd told reporters, specifically referring to the 37 points the Mavs surrendered in the first quarter. "Just understanding the talk before the game of what we're playing for, playoffs or championship ... the interest level wasn't high, you know? It's just disappointing."


The Mavericks, however, seemed to be in luck. Next on their schedule was another bout with the Hornets — and what better way to bounce back from an embarrassing loss than with a rematch with one of the league’s cellar-dwellers? After all, any team with a semblance of self-respect would of course run the Hornets off the floor. 

So, naturally, the Mavericks came out Sunday in Charlotte and … fell behind by (*checks notes*) 18 points in the first quarter before falling once again, this time 110-104

The defeats pushed their losing streak to four games and dropped their record to a humiliating 36-39. They’ve fallen into 11th place in the Western Conference. If the season ended today, the Mavericks — the team that went all in for Irving before the trade deadline — would be done. 

The Mavericks aren’t just a disaster. They’re an organization teetering on the verge of collapse and in contention for the crown of the "Biggest Dumpster Fire in the NBA." 

It has been an incredible fall for a team that less than one year ago was playing in the West finals. But let’s be clear: What we’re seeing is not some fluky small sample size blip. It’s a result of 12 months of some of the worst roster management in recent NBA history. 

Over the past 14 months, the Mavericks — led by first-time GM and former Nike executive Nico Harrison, but also team owner Mark Cuban, who spearheads all basketball decisions — have turned Kristaps Porzingis (averaging 23 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in Washington), Jalen Brunson (23.8 PPG, 6.2 APG, 41.1 3P% in New York) and Dorian Finney-Smith (an elite wing defender and career 35.6% 3-point shooter in Brooklyn), as well as potentially three first-round picks (more on that in a bit) into what could very well be three months of Irving. 

And none of this even touches on the first-round pick the front office surrendered last offseason for Christian Wood, only for it to become clear before the regular season even tipped off that Jason Kidd had no faith in Wood’s abilities, or the decision to sign JaVale McGee, promise him a starting role and then have him spend the majority of the season on the sideline registering DNPs.  

But the Irving deal represents the tipping point. The Mavs brought him believing that he and Luka Dončić would transform their offense into an unstoppable force. To be fair, that prediction has mostly come true; lineups with both Irving and Dončić on the court have scored at rate better than that of the No.1-ranked offense of the Sacramento Kings

The problems, not exactly surprisingly, have come on the other end of the floor, where the Mavericks have surrendered points at a bottom-10 rate. 

The issue is that the talent drain has left Dallas bereft of depth, size and, well, capable defenders. They can’t contain players along the perimeter (since the Irving deal, only four teams have allowed more points per game in the paint). They can’t rebound (only three teams since the deal are allowing more second chance points per game). They don’t deter shots at the rim (opponents have finished a ridiculous 71.7% of their looks at the basket since the deal, the league’s fourth-highest rate). It should come as no surprise, then, that the Mavericks are 4-13 since Irving’s Dallas debut. 

Sure, you can point to the five games Irving has missed — four of which have been losses — but the Mavericks are still just 3-8 in games in which Kyrie and Luka both play, and injuries and missed games are part of the Irving package. 

Everything about the organization just seems disconnected. One small but telling example: If the Mavs were truly going to lean into this "Let’s just put a ridiculous offensive group on the floor and outscore opponents" model, why not up the minutes of a dynamic scorer like Wood?

Meanwhile, the vibes around the team are no longer immaculate

In the last month alone, we’ve seen Kidd respond to a loss by telling reporters, "I’m not the savior here. I’m not playing, I’m watching, just like you guys"; Irving go after Mavericks fans for booing, and Dončić hint at some sort of deeper level of sadness and stress. 

Put it all together, and this season’s Mavericks appear to be toast. Maybe they notch a few victories over their last seven games, but it’s hard to envision this squad advancing past the playoffs’ first round, let alone the play-in. 

So what then? Because not only is this season heading down the drain, but it’s safe to assume that at some point, Dončić is going to look around and say, "Yeah, no thanks."

How can the Mavericks avoid that fate? They can offer Irving to a multi-year extension, which, given how much they surrendered to get him, seems like something they have to do. But who knows if Irving is interested in returning to Dallas? Also, given his history, is betting its future on Irving something a team should want? 

Another option is to let Irving walk and try to find a replacement with the $25-or-so million they can create in cap space. But the Mavericks have never had success in free agency. Also, this year’s pickings are slim — Fred VanVleet and Draymond Green would probably be the two best options. 

Which leads us to what might just be the Mavericks’ only shot at salvaging their dream of a Dončić-led championship: Spend the season’s final two weeks tanking harder than any team has ever tanked before. 

If the Mavericks' first-round pick lands somewhere outside the top-10, it will be sent to the Knicks as the final piece of the Porzingis deal. If it lands in the top 10, though, it will convey to next season (it remains top-10 protected through 2025, then converts into a second-round pick). If the Mavericks can get below the Utah Jazz — who, like Dallas, have 39 losses — they can boost their odds of a top-four pick to 20.3%. 

They’d have a 4.5% chance at nabbing No. 1. 

No, those odds are not particularly great — which is why it’s so telling that they represent the Mavericks’ best chance. 

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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