DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison said he didn’t expect the trade for Kyrie Irving to spark a playoff run the way his first blockbuster move did a year earlier.
Missing the postseason completely started the clock early for the Mavs in their attempt to re-sign Irving in free agency and see how the pairing with fellow All-Star Luka Doncic looks long-term.
The exit interview with Irving was Monday, the day after the season ended under the cloud of an NBA investigation. The league announced the probe after Irving didn’t play and Doncic was limited to the first quarter when Dallas still had a chance to make the play-in tournament with two games remaining.
Irving and Doncic both sat for a meaningless season finale after a loss to Chicago in the game in question eliminated the Mavs a season after they went to the Western Conference finals.
Harrison said Tuesday he didn’t know much about the NBA’s investigation and wouldn’t comment further. The 0-2 finish by Dallas put the club in the best position possible to keep a first-round pick that otherwise will go to the New York Knicks from Dallas’ 2019 trade for Kristaps Porzingis.
The second-year GM wasn’t much more enlightening on the topics of Irving’s future and the mindset of Doncic, who openly expressed his frustration with a losing season and said off-court issues were taking away his joy for the game.
“Had a great conversation,” Harrison said of his postseason meeting with Irving, an enigmatic eight-time All-Star acquired in February after telling Brooklyn he wanted to be traded. The move ended a drama-filled stint with the Nets.
“I think the things that he said along the way about how he feels here, how he feels appreciated, how he feels accepted and allowed to be himself,” Harrison said. “I think those are the things that he’s said kind of consistently, and that’s what gives me the optimism that he wants to be here.”
Doncic said he didn’t agree with, but understood, the decision to sit Irving and four other regulars on the night he played before coming out a few seconds into the second quarter of a 115-112 loss to the Bulls, when a rag-tag bunch of reserves couldn’t hold an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The 24-year-old said in his season-ending interview he was happy in Dallas, and Harrison said he didn’t go to sleep at night worried about Doncic’s future because the four-time All-Star has three years left before a player option kicks in on the $215 million rookie supermax contract he signed two years ago.
Still, there’s the question of keeping Doncic happy in Dallas with plenty of recent scenarios around the league of unhappy superstars forcing their way out.
“I don’t know what keeping Luka happy here means,” Harrison said. “If you win, then I’m assuming he’s going to be happy. If we win and he’s not happy, then I wouldn’t know how to keep him happy. So I think the goal is to win. I’m assuming that works. It will work for me.”
Before the 2022 trade deadline, Harrison sent Porzingis to Washington in a deal that brought Spencer Dinwiddie to Dallas. Dinwiddie was an important piece of the run to the West finals, but he went to the Nets along with defensive ace Dorian Finney-Smith in the deal for Irving.
Harrison said the difference between the outcomes in the two trades was the Mavs were already on a roll when they made the move last year. This year, a team that couldn’t find the same defensive formula got even worse on that end without Finney-Smith, and never found traction.
Doncic and Irving were 5-11 together, with each missing multiple games because of injuries. After winning their first two games with Irving, the Mavs went 7-18 the rest of the way.
“I didn’t know if this would be like a magic pill. I don’t think I had any visions of that,” Harrison said. “But I figured it couldn’t be worse than what it was. I also looked at it as a long-term play, not a short-term play.”
That part is next for Harrison and owner Mark Cuban.