Trade deadline week kicked off with a bang Sunday as the Brooklyn Nets dealt recently (yet perpetually) disgruntled guard Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks.
How should Celtics fans feel about Irving forcing his way out of the Eastern Conference? That probably depends on what happens next in Brooklyn.
If Kevin Durant is content to watch his buddy depart and the Nets use some recently acquired capital -- like a Mavericks’ 2029 first-round draft pick -- to hunt other pieces in advance of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, then Brooklyn would linger as a potentially pesky playoff foe.
Here’s the thing: No matter how many headaches Irving caused with his various antics, you always worried about the Nets’ overall potential if he ever behaved. Irving was excellent for much of this season and emerged as an All-Star starter after finishing first in player and fan voting.
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His departure leaves the Nets thinner on top-end talent. A healthy Durant is still one of the NBA’s elite but Ben Simmons hasn’t consistently tapped into his full abilities. His issues run deeper than Irving’s presence.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith are solid players who shouldn't rock the boat. But even while playing alongside a star talent like Luka Doncic, the Mavericks struggled to stay above the play-in line in the weaker West. The Celtics shouldn’t be concerned about Brooklyn unless there’s a further influx of talent and a sustained period of success.
What should concern the Celtics more is looking up to find the surging Milwaukee Bucks, winners of seven straight, have shuffled within one game of the East leaders. The 76ers sit 2.5 games back and visit TD Garden on Wednesday night.
The Celtics have lost four of their last six. All the good vibes generated by smashing the Nets -- and eliciting Irving’s trade request last week -- were extinguished with Friday’s loss to the shorthanded Suns.
Boston is certainly feeling the absence of Marcus Smart. The Celtics’ bench turned in a dud against the Suns, offering a small reminder that the team might benefit from adding an impact player before Thursday’s deadline.
The Celtics haven’t been bashful in admitting they are canvassing the league for potential upgrades. Owner Wyc Grousbeck last week encouraged Brad Stevens and his front office staff to "muscle up," putting the onus on the roster builders to seek more talent for the stretch run.
Boston absolutely could settle for a minor buyout addition and still be in the mix in the East. But there’s a championship-sized opportunity here and adding another player with potential to play in a postseason rotation could go a long way towards helping Boston achieve its loftiest goals.
The hard part will be finding a deal that acquires an impact player given the team’s somewhat limited resources to work with. The Celtics have a $5.9 million traded player exception that could help deliver talent without necessarily having to fully match salaries. Boston’s best trade chip remains point guard Payton Pritchard, whose role has been limited after the Celtics utilized first-round picks to bring in Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon over the past 12 months.
It’s fair to wonder if the Celtics could make a bigger splash, potentially working the contracts of rehabbing Danilo Gallinari or maybe even Grant Williams into the mix. Moving either of those players seems less likely than sending out Pritchard as part of any deal.
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The Celtics have to be aggressive examining potential moves. Boston already owns the best record in basketball but recent stumbles have exposed small flaws that could be shored up in advance of the deadline.
Now back to Kyrie and the Mavericks. Despite all of Doncic’s potential, Dallas has ridden a bit of a roller coaster this season. There’s a lot of parity in the West, which likely encouraged the Mavs to take a big swing this season.
Can Luka and Kyrie coexist? That will be fascinating, as both are ball-dominant guards who are not exactly known for playoff-caliber defense. The Mavericks will have no problem scoring the basketball but there will be only one basketball.
What happens the first time Irving dribbles down a late-game clock and throws up a brick without looking in Doncic’s direction? What happens when Doncic doesn’t have the ball in his hands as much throughout games?
Maybe the Mavericks had no other choice. They put themselves in a tough spot by letting Jalen Brunson walk away last summer. Dallas needed more talent but is really rolling the dice by welcoming Irving.
Maybe two star-level guards will thrive. Or maybe it blows up and leaves Doncic pondering his own future. Considering Irving’s recent history, the Mavericks are putting on some blinders in hopes that the talent outweighs the disaster potential.