Unfortunately for Mavericks fans, the latest example of the Kyrie Irving Effect is on full display in Dallas

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This, Dallas Mavericks fans, is the Kyrie Irving Experience.

His arrival is not, and was never going, to be about his seductive scoring skill. Or the no-arguments-anywhere uber talent he embodies in a league that runs on basketball greatness. Nor all the glory and greatness one might imagine when combining that scoring skill and that uber talent with the likes of Luka Doncic.

It’s the losing that for almost six years has defined Irving, his teams, and those organizations that have learned, too late, that what feels alluring and desired from a distance becomes up close a slow-moving, organizational disaster movie. 

The crazy thing at this point isn’t that this is what Irving does to teams. The crazy thing is that teams, fans, NBA media, and probably at least one GM somewhere eying Irving’s possible free agency this summer don’t see Irving for what he really is. Talent blinds, like love. And it breaks things, too, when it turns toxic.

Case in point: The Mavs’ disastrous 24 games since acquiring Irving at the trade deadline.

Dallas is 8-16 over that stretch. To put that in perspective, only four teams have worse records over that span: The Pistons, Rockets, and Spurs — the three worst teams in the league — and the Trail Blazers, who recently shut down Damian Lillard.

Dallas is a shocking 4-11 when Doncic and Irving play together. That’s atrocious, and all this losing since trading for the mercurial star has taken Dallas from sixth place in the West when Irving was with Brooklyn to 11th now that he’s with Dallas. His arrival, and what we’ve seen so far, has tanked SportsLine’s odds for the Mavs to make the playoffs from 58% to 6%.

And if Dallas does miss the playoffs, Doncic, who’s averaging 32.8 points per game, would be the fifth-highest single-season scorer in NBA history to miss the postseason.

This is the Kyrie Irving Effect. And it’s been like this for a long time.

In terms of his team’s winning percentages, over the last five seasons, Kyrie’s clubs were either just as good or better when he was not on the floor. Before this season’s trade, Brooklyn won 60% of the games in which Kyrie appeared, but it won 67% of the games he sat. I wrote about this back in November. His numbers are slightly better in Dallas — winning at 37% clip when he plays as opposed to 33% when he doesn’t — but a .368 winning percentage is not a path back to the Western Conference finals in late May. It’s beeline to tee times in mid April.

And that’s just the numbers side of the story.

A trip down Kyrie memory lane includes: Leaving the Cavaliers while not far removed from an NBA championship. The Celtics roaring success since he left Boston. James Harden forcing his way out of Brooklyn shortly after experiencing the Kyrie Irving Effect up close, and the resulting arrival of Ben Simmons for that organization. The antisemitic ugliness. The implosion of Brooklyn’s team and the fact Durant is now a Sun. And so on.

The Kyrie Irving Effect can be measured in the math. But it can also be seen from 10,000 feet, where a clear picture of destruction and dysfunction has come into full view.  

Kyrie Irving is a mess for teams, and a walking avatar of just how incredibly difficult it is to build an NBA winner. Because he should win. He just doesn’t.

We do a great job praising players who are clutch or wonderful leaders, players who have those intangible and real attributes that help teams be better versions of themselves. But we act as if the opposite is not true, as if talented human beings can’t also be troublesome teammates with a net effect that is not good.

Kyrie Iriving is talented. He’s mesmerizing. He has a rare gift at the highest level of the game to get buckets. He’s an NBA champion, properly winning a three-point showdown with Steph Curry at the pinnacle of an NBA Finals in 2016. He’s a statistical marvel, even this year flirting with the rare 50/40/90 season — and that would be his second.

And yet he loses.

He makes his team worse.

And that’s the dilemma. There is massive pressure in the NBA to win, and I’ve sat with front office executives who have made compelling cases that Irving is not good for a team … only in the next breath, after the stories and anecdotes and grimaces, to say they’d take him in a heartbeat if given the chance.

Maybe this season has finally shown that Irving’s gifts is not the whole equation. 

But in a league where rare and great talent has its own siren song, and the pressure to find a way to push through can cloud the judgment of the front-office decision makers who should by now know better, odds are the Mavericks debacle is more likely to encourage another team to make a similar mistake. 

Winners win. And Irving, time and again, has shown he’s not one of those. Not anymore.

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Publish Date:2023-04-05 19:00:12

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