Mavericks eliminated from NBA playoffs, completing collapse after going all-in with Kyrie Irving

On Feb. 6, the Dallas Mavericks were in fifth place in the Western Conference and went all-in on this season by trading for Kyrie Irving.

Two months later, they were eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

The Mavericks saw their final shot at the playoffs slip away Friday with a 115-112 loss to the Chicago Bulls, guaranteeing they will finish in 11th place and out of the play-in tournament this season. The loss capped a 6-17 slide since Feb. 11.

The team was so defeated by the time Friday arrived that it sat Irving and major contributors Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green and Christian Wood. Luka Dončić played, but possibly only because he promised to.

Even with half the team's usual rotation out, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn't look very happy after McKinley Wright IV missed a game-tying shot at the end.

The bright side for Dallas — and the likely reason it sat so many players — is the loss moved them into sole possession of the 10th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, which is significant given the first-round pick they owe to the New York Knicks as part of another trade gone wrong, the Kristaps Porzingis deal.

Another loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, or an Oklahoma City Thunder win, would lock in that pick for the Mavericks, which would give them a 3% chance in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes and a 13.9% chance of moving into the top four.

When did it go wrong for the Dallas Mavericks?

Even the Mavericks' biggest detractors didn't foresee a full collapse after the Kyrie Irving trade. After all, they traded for Kyrie Irving, one of the best ball-handlers in NBA history and a player whose main issues were off the court. It was their latest attempt to find a long-term co-star for Dončić after Porzingis proved too fragile and Jalen Brunson too expensive.

Luka Doncic headshot
Luka Doncic
PG - DAL - #77
2022 - 2023 season

By the basic numbers, Irving held up his end of the bargain. He averaged 27.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field and 39.2% from 3-point range in a Mavericks uniform. When he was on the floor, Dallas had a 121.4 offensive rating, which would be higher than any player in the NBA who is not named Nikola Jokic or has a teammate named Nikola Jokic.

Kyrie Irving headshot
Kyrie Irving
PG - DAL - #11
2022 - 2023 season

Where the trade did not help the Mavericks, and in fact actively harmed them, was defense. Dallas acquired Irving, a player never known for his defense, and in the process sent away Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith. The latter player was a major component of the Mavericks' defense and a competent wing that already did not have a lot of competent wings.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 02:  Kyrie Irving #2 and Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks react against the Atlanta Hawks during the fourth quarter at State Farm Arena on April 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Dallas Mavericks paired Luka Dončić with Kyrie Irving. It didn't work out. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

From Irving's first game in Dallas, the Mavericks had a 118.3 defensive rating, fifth-worst in the NBA. At their best, the Mavericks have been one of the best offenses in NBA history, but the addition of Irving and subtraction of Finney-Smith put pressure on a defense that was already stretched thin with older players.

Irving and Dončić also might have had a version of the Russell Westbrook problem of the Los Angeles Lakers, in which a ball-dominant player just wasn't valuable enough off the ball to justify the resources poured into pairing him with an established superstar, though Irving was far more efficient than Westbrook.

It gets worse for the Mavericks

So Year 1 of Dončić and Irving didn't work out. What about Year 2?

Well, funny story about that. Irving, the player for whom the Mavericks gave up two rotation players, an unprotected first-rounder and two second-rounders, is a pending free agent. He could re-sign with Dallas, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has made clear the team is interested in re-signing him, but long-term hopes have never thrived with Irving as a building block.

Wood and Dwight Powell are also pending free agents.

Even after the Mavericks' collapse and with all his warts, Irving will probably be highly sought-after in free agency. He might not get the terms he wants from the teams he wants, but there will be other bidders, and there is already plenty of speculation he might slide into that Lakers point guard slot vacated by Westbrook and reunite with LeBron James.

That would leave the Mavericks to pick up the pieces, again, with some considerable cap space and hope that top 10 pick of theirs turns into something good. It will basically be the only good thing they got from this season.