Gossipy as the item is, we should discuss the implications of The Athletic’s Shams Charania reporting that Kyrie Irving has reached out to LeBron James, his old teammate and the present-day greatest to ever play basketball, about a possible reunion in Dallas.
But first, the caveats. For starters, there’s no indication LeBron has reciprocated this interest, which is especially pertinent heading into a season when his son, Bronny, will play college basketball at USC, which is 2.5 miles from where James’ Lakers play, in downtown Los Angeles. Even if James is intrigued, his interest in Dallas is very unlikely to amount to anything, because a) rumors this seismic rarely do, and b) the salary and trade machinations would be very complicated, and, of course, c) more than a decade of boondoggles involving the Mavericks chasing and missing out on star players. Given that Irving is prominently involved, there’s also no ruling out an ulterior motive, like, say, this.
One last caveat, which doubles as the takeway: this story is only tangentially about LeBron James. Until further notice, this is all about Kyrie Irving—his commitment, his myopia, and his skill at reading the room, in that order.
Short of winning an NBA championship, Luka Doncic’s future in Dallas is the alpha and omega of the Mavericks’ story for the next four years, because there will be no NBA championship if Doncic skips town in 2027, after his contract expires. The path to either outcome involves beefing up Doncic’s supporting cast, hence Dallas’ fairly desperate swing to acquire Irving at this year’s trade deadline despite the 31-year-old heading into free agency as the league’s greatest enigma. In a predictable development, Irving was excellent upon arrival, the only silver lining amid a post-deadline collapse for the ages as he hunted the last great payday of his career. Now he’s on the precipice of landing it, and while your mileage may vary on whether the Mavericks need to retain Irving outright versus just not losing him for nothing a la Jalen Brunson—I’m in the latter camp, for what it’s worth—there’s no disputing a thin Mavericks roster can ill afford further talent drain.
So if you’re taking Charania’s report at face value, it matters in a very large way that Irving is recruiting James to Dallas instead of flirting with Los Angeles in a bid to force a sign-and-trade to reunite out west. (Or, for that matter, trying to mastermind a similar scenario to get back together with Kevin Durant in Phoenix.) At worst, it signifies Irving’s priority is to remain in Dallas; at best, it confirms the swirling rumor that he cut a handshake deal to remain a Maverick before his trade out of Brooklyn was finalized. There is an adjoining conversation to be had about the risks that come with Irving sticking around for a long time on very large, guaranteed money, thereby removing his largest incentive to stay out of the bad headlines that have followed him throughout his career. But from a talent standpoint, keeping Irving around is far and away Dallas’ best move.
Further hollowing out the roster to acquire a 38-year-old who, like Doncic and Irving, works best with the ball in his hands? Probably less so if the goal is to win a championship, even if said 38-year-old is James. The modern NBA is trending away from star trios and toward two tentpoles plus a robust supporting cast, both due to the intensity of the modern game and upcoming changes to the league’s collective bargaining agreement that will make it far trickier to accommodate three mondo salaries on the same roster. Irving either doesn’t realize this or doesn’t especially care, which wouldn’t make him different from plenty of other power brokers in the NBA. And it would be fun as hell for the Mavericks to employ LeBron James and for all of us to watch three offensive maestros run the floor together. It would also be the latest in a troubling line of moves that place Dallas behind the curve in an evolving league.
Of course, who’s to say this is Irving’s idea in the first place? Shortly after Charania’s report dropped, Turner Sports’ Chris Haynes tacked on the bombshell that Dallas has toyed with making a run at James since at least as far back as this year’s trade deadline, which tracks given the franchise’s long-held philosophy that superstars are the panacea for a dozen years of post-2011 title woes. So whether this is Irving’s play or a clandestine joint effort with team brass, at minimum, the 31-year-old knows how to pursue the sort of agenda his new/current/future? bosses tend to smile upon.
All of which tells us a lot, even if this rumor is unlikely to bear fruit. It just doesn’t say too much about its main subject.