Kyrie Irving and Luka Donic after a game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets before Kyrie was traded to the Mavericks.
In January 2021, the Brooklyn Nets built an offensive powerhouse by acquiring James Harden for a handful of first round picks and young assets. This trade resulted in a team that consisted of three of the most prolific scorers and highlight machines in the league. As a trio, they were uber successful. They were 13-3 in total, 8-2 in the regular season and 5-1 in the playoffs, destroying teams through offensive firepower and dominating the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals together. However, this team did have a downfall; they were constantly injured. On average, the three of them played 55% of the available games in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. When the Nets gave up on their trio, they got Ben Simmons in return, who was mentally and physically shattered, never living up to the expectations in Brooklyn. Among both on-court unavailability and off-court problems, the Nets then decided to move on from their core, sending Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns.
Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks reached the conference finals in last year's playoffs, putting up a valiant effort against the future champion Golden State Warriors in a thrilling seven game series against the Suns. Recently, the 2022-23 season has seen the Mavericks sustain a slightly above .500 record with Luka Doncic. With these records, Doncic put himself back into MVP conversations once again, averaging 33 points 8 rebounds and 8 assists. However, it has been historically evident that a heliocentric offense does not win championships; take for example, the James Harden Houston Rockets, the 2018 Cleveland Cavaliers, and the 2016 Oklahoma City Thunder. With history strongly against their favor, the Mavericks were forced to make a move for a second star to both appease Luka Doncic and fully open up their title window.
The second star: Kyrie Irving. Irving is an efficient and dynamic 3-level scoring point guard. He has averaged 28 points per game on great efficiency this year. Though many are concerned with the idea of two ball dominant players being on the same team, and the possibility of them detracting from each other's success, that will not be the case for this duo. First, watching Luka Doncic play clearly shows that he has too much offensive burden. He frequently tires out in the second half of games, which visibly impacts his defensive motor and impact. Second, Kyrie Irving has proven multiple times his capability to excel in a secondary ball handler situation, both with James Harden and Lebron James. With Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic surrounded by Christian Wood, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Reggie Bullock, the Dallas Mavericks are sure to be an elite shooting offense. However, the question of defense still remains. The Mavericks only redeemable defensive attribute is their head coach Jason Kidd, who may be able to keep them at best slightly below average defensively. Regardless, the Mavericks will be an amazing watch for any NBA fan, and their path to lifting the Larry O’brien trophy is outgunning every other team offensively.
In terms of the Phoenix Suns, the team was coming off a finals appearance two years ago and a relatively successful playoff run last year. Despite their recent success, point guard Chris Paul is aging and it was imperative to take advantage of their closing championship window as soon as possible. They did so by making a blockbuster trade for NBA superstar Kevin Durant. In return, they let go of Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges, both extremely impactful players, and a load of first round picks. They now have a stacked core of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Kevin Durant. On paper, there doesn’t seem to be many questions regarding the potential success of the team. They have arguably the smartest point guard of all time at the helm, Chris Paul, who will surely lead a structured and efficient offense. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are also both world class 3-level scorers who can operate on and off the ball. Furthermore, Deandre Ayton will be a constant lob threat and brick wall setting screens on offense, and is essentially the prototype play finisher.
Defensively, Chris Paul is far from what he once was, but both Kevin Durant and Devin Booker are above average man defenders. Nonetheless, with Deandre Aytons staggering presence in the middle, providing some of the best rim protection in the league, all of their weaknesses are covered. The main problem with the Suns is the evident lack of ability past their four star players. But it wouldn’t be something to worry about very much, given their elite coaching staff, Monty Williams will be able to make the best out of average players, especially when being helped out by Chris “Point God” Paul.
Basketball is a stars game, especially come playoff time, so it is safe to say the Suns and the Mavericks have cemented themselves as contenders for the Western Conference and maybe even the NBA finals.