The 2023 NBA Draft is now behind us, putting the most important event of every NBA offseason in the spotlight: free agency. There may not be many big names in the market this summer, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises as every team in the league tries to improve for next season. One of the top names coming on the market this summer is All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who, after being traded by the Brooklyn Nets to the Dallas Mavericks in February, is looking for another lucrative long-term deal.
Irving may be looking for a maximum contract, but the market isn’t exactly robust for the mercurial star due to years of controversial comments and decisions both on and off the field. That aside, Irving is still one of the most talented offensive players in the NBA, and as we saw with Dallas’ trade in February, there is always a team willing to take a risk with him.
As we look ahead to free agency, here are three landing spots for Irving when free agency kicks off on June 30.
1. Dallas mavericks
After trading for Irving on the February deadline, which required Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie to be sent out an unprotected 2029 first-round pick and two second-round picks, Dallas’ No. 1 priority this summer must be re-signing the All-Star Watchman. Fortunately for Dallas, there isn’t a long list of teams lining up to offer Irving a potential four-year contract worth up to $201.7 million. The Mavericks can also offer Irving a fifth year and a total of $272.9 million if the two sides agree to that number.
However, there is significant risk involved in offering Irving a maximum contract, and the documented problems in Boston and Brooklyn are proof enough that Dallas should haggle a bit before letting him sign a deal. While Irving comes with a ton of baggage that can limit his availability, there’s no denying that he’s an electric offensive presence, and he proved to be just that in the limited time he was with the Mavericks last season.
In the 20 games he played for Dallas after the trade, he averaged 27 points, six assists and five rebounds, while shooting 51% from the field and 39.2% from depth. The partnership with Doncic was short-lived due to injuries, but in the 16 games the duo played together, Dallas had an offensive rating of 121.7, which would rank first in the entire league. The Mavericks also managed to go just 5-11 in those games,the last two games of the regular season when they still had a slim chance of making the play-in round.
Irving delivered that he was the direct attack we’ve come to expect from him, and he certainly takes some of the attacking pressure off Doncic. While it remains to be seen if Doncic and Irving can successfully coexist for an extended period of time, Dallas basically painted himself into a corner the moment it traded for him. Signing him again this off-season is more of a necessity than anything. Then they will have to deal with the unpredictability Irving brings.
It’s been reported up and down that the Lakers are intent on getting their guys back and aren’t interested in a swipe at Irving. They have already extended qualifying offers to Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, giving them limited free agents and allowing them to match any deal another team can offer. Jarred Vanderbilt also received his $4.7 million team bid, which will ensure he’s on the team next season unless he’s included in a trade package for someone else. It has also been reported that the Lakers intend to re-sign D’Angelo Russell in the open market. Despite all this, as long as LeBron James is on that team, the Lakers will be tied to Irving.
In February, it was reported that the Lakers had made a trade offer to the Nets for Irving, but Dallas’ deal was more convincing. There’s also the obvious playing history between James and Irving, who at their peak won a championship together on the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. LeBron has spoken publicly about wanting to play with Irving again, and throughout the postseason could see Irving courtside at Lakers games. While there’s been no recent reporting to suggest that the Lakers are planning to go back up the Irving trail — in fact, the opposite has been there — that still doesn’t mean it definitely won’t happen. It would take some financial gymnastics for the Lakers to get Irving to LA, but if both sides are eager to work together, it can be done. Especially if Irving took a pay cut instead of seeking a maximum contract.
From a field perspective, Irving would be an instant upgrade for Russell, and there’s already history suggesting he’ll be a perfect pair alongside LeBron. He already has experience sharing ball-handling responsibilities with James, and Anthony Davis will benefit from Irving’s passes. But given all the off-court baggage Irving historically carries, and the amount of money he’s seeking, it makes sense why the Lakers wouldn’t jump at the chance to sign him this summer. But as I said before, we’ve seen teams willing to take a risk with him before, and if the Lakers ultimately decide he’s worth that risk, they might consider bringing him back in.
Call this a plan B for the missiles, because that’s what it literally reports. Houston has long been associated with James Harden, hoping to bring him back to H-Town this summer and take him away from the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Sixers present a better winning opportunity for Harden right now, and if he eventually re-signs with the Sixers, thenIt’s an odd shift considering Houston already has two heavy-duty guards on its roster in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., so if Irving gets into the mix it will almost certainly take the ball out of their hands. But Houston is one of the few teams in the league that has a significant amount of cap room, $60 million to be exact, and they have the kind of money to offer Irving that maximum contract he’s been looking for while with Brooklyn.
Irving landing with Houston may seem odd, but it’s been reported that he plans to hold multi-team meetings when free agency opens, and Houston could be one of them if they miss Harden. It could be leverage from Irving and his camp to try and get the Mavericks to raise their bid. But given the short list of teams genuinely interested in him at the price he’s seeking, things won’t go over well with Dallas. Also, the Mavericks of the two Texas teams clearly provide the better path to win now with Doncic on the roster, so if that was the most important aspect for Irving, Dallas ticks that box. But if the Mavericks try to haggle over the number of years and money for Irving’s new deal, he may become annoyed with the situation and look elsewhere for a new team.
While most signs point to Irving re-signing in Dallas, there’s always room for the unexpected and the Lakers and Rockets provide just that. We’ll have to see when free agency starts on June 30, where Irving finally decides to go, but from the sound of it, he’s trying to make the Mavericks sweat a little bit.