Kyrie Irving Trade I Fantasy Basketball I Razzball
It took a while, but we’re finally here. With the NBA trade deadline just days away, the swapping season is officially off and running and from the look of it, we could be in for a doozy. Way back in November, I floated the idea of buying Nets explosion insurance and now, thirteen weeks later, the bomb has finally gone off. On Friday, star guard Kyrie Irving requested a trade after failing to land a palatable extension offer from Brooklyn. By Sunday, his wishes had been fulfilled, as the Nets agreed to swap Irving and Markieff Morris for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, an unprotected 2029 first-round pick, and second-round picks in the 2027 and 2029.
It’s a big move for two franchises and a massive opening salvo to the upcoming trade deadline, but the fantasy fallout is murky and there aren’t a ton of clear pickups or moves to make in its wake. Let’s dig in.
Once again, There’s Not Much D in Dallas
Make no mistake, it was fear that pushed the Mavs all-in on one of the NBA’s least reliable stars. Fear that without a legitimate running mate that pushes them into the upper echelons of the Western Conference, Luka Doncic would split for greener pastures sooner or later. Surrounding the generational phenom with a competitive, championship-caliber team was the only way to keep Doncic down on the farm, and despite Irving’s considerable talent, it’s hard to feel like that Sword of Damocles has actually been removed from its perch above the franchise. Irving is no doubt a star when he’s on the floor – he’s just not a star at showing up all the time. The West is wide open and Doncic dragged Dallas to conference finals just last year, so an all-in move makes some sense here even if it doesn’t do all that much to soothe the existential burden of keeping a franchise cornerstone happy enough not to force his way out. It’s a big gamble on a player who has repeatedly proven himself not to be a sure thing. Good luck.
As for this season, losing Finney-Smith is a big blow defensively. Following his departure, Luka, Josh Green, Dwight Powell, and the newly acquired Irving are the only rotation players left with a positive defensive rating per Dunks and Threes. Moreover, pairing Kyrie’s 30% usage rate alongside Doncic’s 38% seems prone to clashing, as neither is at their best without the ball in their hands. Irving could theoretically cause some damage as an off-ball, catch-and-shoot kind of weapon, though it’s certainly not the most efficient way to maximize his considerable offensive talents. I’d expect Coach Jason Kidd to stagger the two as much as he can and for Kyrie to take a small hit when the two are sharing a backcourt. Because of Doncic’s recent heel injury, we’ll have to wait until both are fully healthy to see what the split looks like with more clarity, but I’m not sure much changes for either star fantasy-wise.
Indeed, injuries in Dallas make figuring out the playing time picture a bit muddy. Christian Wood has a broken thumb, opening the door to a frontcourt rotation that includes Powell, Reggie Bullock, a very dusty JaVale McGee, and the newly acquired Morris. Maxi Kleber (hamstring tear) will probably begin to factor in as well on the other side of the all-star break, but cobbling together a viable rotation of forwards and centers will be messy for a bit – especially without DFS. Tim Hardaway Jr. should see plenty of burn on the wing, a frightening proposition defensively, but the pickins are getting pretty slim. Depth is something of a challenge.
Perhaps the player who stands to gain the most in Dallas is the 22-year-old Green, who has been creeping up toward the top 150 over the last two weeks. Averaging 29.4 minutes per game in the new year, Green has provided modest scoring (10.9 per game) on strong shooting (51% FG) and could see a bit more time in the backcourt now that Spencer and Doe-Doe have left the building. The fact that advanced defensive numbers greatly prefer Green to Hardaway and Bullock bolsters his case for more time. His proficiency on corner threes (40.7%) and at the rim (92nd percentile in eFG%) also helps his cause. The rotation could look very different when Dallas gets back to full health, and how minutes and roles are divvied up will be something to monitor.
Can We Get a Wellness Check on KD?
With Kevin Durant still sidelined with a knee injury and Irving moving to Texas, there will be plenty of usage to go around in Brooklyn in the short term. This is good news for the former and now returning Net Spencer Dinwiddie, who will retake the reigns as the lead ballhandler from the departing Irving. At least in the beginning, it could be a happy homecoming for Dinwiddie, who not only steps into Kyrie’s starting role unencumbered but also benefits from a dearth of playmaking left behind in Brooklyn. This second bit of good news extends beyond Durant’s return too, as there just aren’t a whole lot of appealing point guard options other than Spencer, whose game has improved since the last time he’s been around.
Between 2017 and 2021, Dinwiddie racked up 132 starts during a four-year run with the then-rebuilding Nets, reviving his career so effectively that it eventually made him expendable when the Nets went star shopping. During those years, Dinwiddie averaged 14.3 points and 5.3 assists on pretty poor shooting splits (41.7% FG, 32.6% 3s, 79% FT) in Brooklyn. After a brief pit stop in Washington, Dinwiddie landed alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas and went to work on tailoring his game to accommodate the heliocentric Mavs. Usage dipped below 22% during his two years in Texas, but the overall offensive output ticked up as the minutes (31.6) increased to career highs. This year has been especially successful. Operating as the moon to Planet Luka, Dinwiddie’s secondary playmaking nudged his scoring up to 15.5 points, powered primarily by a big step forward from three. Despite a career number that says otherwise (33%), Dinwiddie has been a deadeye from deep this year (40.5%) on the highest volume he’s ever attempted (6.4 3PA.) Considering some of the spacing challenges with the rest of the Nets roster, that three-point shooting will be the key for Dinwiddie maintaining (or improving on) his top-75 value back in his old neighborhood. Durant’s return shouldn’t be too far off now, but in the meantime, there’s an opportunity for Dinwiddie to hit the ground running – which is about as far as I can see into this crystal ball.
Like in Dallas, what happens with Jacque Vaughn’s rotation beyond Dinwiddie, Durant, and breakthrough big Nicolas Claxton is going to take some time to suss out. There are options aplenty both at the forward spot – Royce O’Neale, Finney-Smith, and Ben Simmons (once he’s fit to return to the floor) – and among the guards – Joe Harris, Seth Curry, Edmund Sumner (who posted a career-high 29 points on Saturday), and Cam Thomas (who, like Sumner, also posted a career-high 44 points off the bench) – as potential starters.
I suspect the second forward spot will come down to O’Neale (117th best player in 9-cat) or Finney-Smith (138th) and fear that each will cannibalize value from the other irrespective of who starts. It’s possible, I guess, that the two share the court, but neither is actually a two-guard and the more likely path would be toggling one for the other depending on the situation. Finney-Smith is in the 94th percentile defensively per Dunks and Threes but has been unable to replicate the run of above-average three-point shooting this season (35%) that he was able to coax out over the last three years in Dallas (39, 39, and 38 percent.) Conversely, O’Neale has been a steady source of triples (40% on 5.6 attempts) but is not on Finney-Smith’s level as a stopper.
And what about Ben Simmons and his three-year, $112M contract? He’s presently dealing with knee soreness that has kept him off the floor since late January, but he has been very much on the fringes of fantasy viability all year long. The dimes and steals – 6.4 and 1.4 per game, respectively – probably won’t be negatively impacted by the shakeup, but between spotty health and a grotesque usage rate (15.9!), there’s been little reason to believe the counting stats juggernaut will ever arrive in Brooklyn. Harris and Curry will likely continue to spell each other and provide spacing, while the popping off of Thomas and Sumner will probably be limited to mop-up duty while Durant, Simmons, Curry, and TJ Warren get healthy.
The larger question is how this move impacts KD ahead of the trade deadline. There’s blood in the water now, and rival front offices haven’t forgotten that Durant asked out at the beginning of this year. The return for Irving is genuinely more than I would have expected, but it’s hard to seriously consider this Brooklyn group a sincere challenger to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, or Boston come playoff time. Now that the star cycles have run their course – remember when it was a big three with Durant, Irving, and Harden? – all eyes will remain on the Nets. With one huge domino down, there could be another one tumbling over the next few days.