On February 3, Kyrie Irving shocked the basketball world. Despite arguably Irving’s best season on the Brooklyn Nets after signing with the team in July 2019, Irving was unhappy with the team’s lack of interest in signing him to a long term maximum extension. In a meeting with ownership, Irving demanded a trade, a common occurrence in today’s NBA. What made this so different was the fact that Irving, and the Nets, were in the midst of their most successful season in years. What happened in the coming days altered the fate of three different franchises for the foreseeable future.
Did the Nets Win the Mega Trades?
Kyrie Irving Gets Traded
Just 3 days after asking for a trade, Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, two second-round picks, and an unprotected 2029 first round pick. Also included in the trade package was Dallas receiving veteran journeyman wing Markieff Morris.
The trade sent waves through the league immediately. Initial reaction centered around the dynamic new duo of Irving and Dallas superstar Luka Doncic. Doncic, already a legitimate All-NBA caliber player, had just dragged a rugged and tough Dallas team to a Western Conference Finals the year prior. Adding what would easily be his best teammate to date in Irving cemented the team as legitimate contenders in the Western Conference.
The Irving Package Return
For Brooklyn, the return was less than ideal. Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith, although quality role players on a good team, were not the package fans were looking for in return. Furthermore, there was a well-documented offer of 2 unprotected first round picks in 2027 and 2029 from the Los Angeles Lakers. These were highly coveted picks around the league. By 2027 and 2029, perennial all star LeBron James would be retired, Russell Westbrook was already out the door (and would be for good shortly after), and often injured Anthony Davis was highly unlikely to stick around for a rebuild when his contract expired in 2025. What would a Lakers team even look like in 2027?
KD Requests Out Next
The biggest question about the Irving trade, though, was what would Nets superstar Kevin Durant want now? By adding Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith instead of draft pick capital, the Nets were clearly in win-now mode still. Immediately after the Irving deal, plenty of NBA insiders suggested and reported that the Nets were still after a big splash and were shopping every pick and non-Durant player on the roster, looking to appease Durant long term. Rumors included blockbuster deals with the Raptors for All-Stars Pascal Siakam or Fred Van Fleet or possibly lesser moves for OG Anunoby or Gary Trent Jr. If the Chicago Bulls decided to blow up their roster, the Nets were rumored to be interested in adding a Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan or Nikola Vucevic.
However, in a stunning midnight move, the Phoenix Suns swooped in and stole the NBA trade deadline by acquiring Durant from Brooklyn. As it would later come out, after Irving’s trade and the lack of interest from other teams to send Brooklyn talent in hopes of a Durant trade request, Durant and his agent Rich Kleiman privately asked the Nets to facilitate a deal with the Suns, Durant’s preferred destination. If a trade could not be reached, Durant would finish the season but explore trade options this summer. The Nets did the right thing by Durant, contrary to their Irving response, indicative of the respective ownership had for Durant during their time together.
The return for Durant was massive; 4 unprotected first round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029, 26-year-old Mikal Bridges and 27-year-old Cameron Johnson. Additionally, the Nets received Jae Crowder, later flipped for multiple second round picks, and a 2028 pick swap, while the Suns received rotational piece TJ Warren from the Nets.
Following the Durant trade, Nets fans were once again upset and underwhelmed. Although Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, Bridges, and Johnson were really nice role players, none of the four fits the traditional mold of a perennial All Star or young emerging talent. In fact, Bridges was the youngest of the group, and he was already 26 and into his second contract. It seemed as if the deals were made to keep the Nets just competitive enough to win games and ensure that the picks they owed the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade from the years before were not in the lottery or top 10. However, without Durant and Irving, the Nets were also clearly not title contenders, and the path back to title contention was blurry with a team full of older wings, a lack of a true backup center, and a roster without a top scorer, or even someone capable of scoring 20+ on a nightly basis.
One Month Later
We are now over a month removed from both trades, and the players involved have all had opportunities to play with their new teams for a healthy amount of games.
Just looking at the games played, it is clear that Brooklyn received the most in the mega deals. Bridges, who never misses a game, has played in 12 games with Brooklyn and is on pace to set an NBA record for 83 games played due to the weird status of the trade that allows him to play in an extra game based on when the trade occurred. Johnson has played in 11 games with Brooklyn as well and played at a high level at that. Dinwiddie and Finney-Smith have played in 12 and 13 games each, respectively.
Irving, now dealing with a personal matter and a nagging foot injury, has played in 11 games thus far but currently has no timetable for his return due to injury. More concerning, though, is that Durant, often plagued by untimely injuries in his tenure with the Nets, has only played in three games with the Suns due to his knee injury at the time of the trade and a new ankle injury.
In the games listed above, the Nets’ new faces have risen to the occasion and then some. The only below average player the Nets got back has been Finney-Smith. He is currently averaging only 6.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on horrendous 32/24/86 shooting. Although the defense has been there for Finney-Smith, the offense has been downright terrible nightly. Dinwiddie is averaging 18.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 3.8 rebounds on 43/33/81 shooting. Cam Johnson, a 3 and D specialist, is averaging 17 points flat, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on a 43/34/81 shooting slash. Most importantly, though, Mikal Bridges has blossomed with the Nets. His averages of 26 points, five rebounds, and three assists on a 51/49/90 shooting split are All Star numbers. He has topped 30 points six times with the Nets already, including a career-high 45 against the Miami Heat on February 15.
For the Mavericks, Kyrie has played solid basketball. Averaging 27.5 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.6 rebounds on 51/41/93 shooting has been highly impressive. Durant, in the three games he played for the Suns before the injury, has also been his All-NBA self. Scoring 26.7 points with 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 69/54/91 shooting is impressive.
Short Term for Suns and Mavs
The trade will ultimately be graded years down the road, like every trade. For the Suns, it is now or bust. Chris Paul is already 37 and only getting older. Durant is 35. This is his fifth significant injury in the last six years. Paul will be retired by 2027. Durant will be 39 and retired or somewhere else by then. Ayton, who asked for a trade this past offseason, is likely to be elsewhere in 4 years. Those 2027 and 2029 unprotected picks could be MASSIVE picks going back to Brooklyn.
Likewise, Dallas’ grade will be determined in the next 1-2 years as well. Irving’s deal is done after this year. He becomes an unrestricted free agent after this league year ends. With Irving’s documented irrational behavior and known desire to be in LA with LeBron, the likelihood he returns to Dallas seems very slim at the moment. Barring a championship run, does he return? If not, giving up valuable role players on team friendly deals is a lot for a 25 game rental player who doesn’t bring a championship. By 2029, is Luka still in Dallas? How are they contenders again by then? Again, that pick could be MASSIVE for Brooklyn.
For both Dallas and Phoenix, it seems as if a championship is needed this year or next to justify the price that was paid for the star talent. The West is loaded this year. Denver is legit. Sacramento is on a tear. Memphis is tough. Who wants to play Morant and Co. over a seven game series? The Clippers, with PG and Kawhi, are GOOD. The Lakers, without LeBron, are surging up the standings. Never count out the Warriors and their shooting, either. A championship for either team is far from guaranteed.
Long Term for the Nets
The Nets, for what it is worth, have some flexibility with their return. Although the 2023 and 2o25 picks from Phoenix project to be in the late first round, the 2027, 2028, and 2029 picks, as well as the 2029 Dallas pick, are valuable. All four could be used to rebuild a franchise or, if contending, add valuable role players or stars if packaged together.
It is worth noting that the Nets also got some REALLY good players back. You can never receive fair value for a generational talent. Never mind dealing two of them in four days. The fact Brooklyn got back four legit starters, plus the picks is a good return. Outside of Finney-Smith, the four players have played good basketball. Johnson can score from anywhere against anyone and plays scrappy defense. Dinwiddie is a legit starting PG in the NBA. He can manage late game situations.
But the most important thing is that Mikal Bridges has looked like a legit star. He is right on the trajectory of Kawhi, Paul George, and James Harden as decent comps. Once given the opportunity to be “the guy,” all three rose to the occasion. Bridges has done the same. 26 points, five rebounds, and three assists on a 51/49/90 are legitimate All Star numbers. He plays All-NBA defense nightly and is a foundational franchise piece. Will the Nets compete this year for a championship? No. Can they in the future? Absolutely yes. Plus, they have a much longer window to win.
Making trades for superstar players is a risky business. Ask the Nets themselves. A small window, championship expectations, and roster filling are tough to manage. Injuries do not care about expectations or what ifs. They always happen at the worst time. If Kyrie opts not to resign with Dallas, they lose that trade. Plain and simple. If Durant and the Suns do not get a championship in the next two years, they also lose the trade. With Paul and Durant aging and issues with Deandre Ayton, this could blow up in their faces. They need a championship this year against a loaded field.
For Brooklyn, they get a fresh start. Away from the chaos of Irving, they can reshape their culture and franchise. Without Durant, they lose the franchise name and player but have a talented young core to build with. The older veterans provide trade flexibility and options. Plus, they have a treasure trove of future picks. They get the privilege of waiting to be judged.
Only time will tell who really wins these mega deals. All three teams hope it will be them.