Even for Kyrie Irving, this ending could be spectacular in its scope.
Everywhere the spectacle that is Irving has gone has been left reeling when he has abruptly exited. He has quit super-teams (Cavaliers and now Nets), alienated former teammates (Celtics) and created messes that he never had to clean up (all three). This time, though, it might not just be one team that is left in a lurch.
Sure, the Nets could implode. But the Mavericks, who convinced themselves they could pacify a superstar whom three other teams could not, have taken a monumental risk in putting Irving next to Luka Doncic. And the first signs out of Lakers camp signal LeBron James is not taking rejection well after the team could not figure out how to make a James-Irving reunion work.
There are scenarios — not even far-fetched ones! — in which Irving’s past few days could lead to the destruction of three separate NBA organizations. In demanding a trade away from an Eastern Conference contender and forcing each team to measure how much it craves glory and how much pain it can stomach, Irving has knocked down a fascinating domino.
In the wake of the Nets acquiescing to Irving one last time and fulfilling his trade request Sunday, let’s imagine what could go wrong — because when Irving is involved with your favorite NBA team, things tend to go wrong.
Nets: What if Kevin Durant, absent the buddy he signed up to play alongside, requests a trade (for the second time) tomorrow? What if, learning from Irving, Durant plays dirty and threatens to sit out the rest of the season if GM Sean Marks does not accede to the demand? Sure, the Nets could get a treasure trove of young players and picks in return, but no comparable stars will be heading to Brooklyn.
Tanking, by the way, is not an option, and not solely for moral reasons. The Nets cannot draft with their own first-round pick — either sending it out altogether or subject to trade swaps with the Rockets — in 2024, ’25 and ’26 after their first trade involving James Harden.
Perhaps Durant, who always has seemed to prioritize the game in a way Irving does not, stays on the court, stays on the Nets and allows Marks a chance to piece together a contender at this trade deadline. The odds of the Nets, who essentially have lost two superstars in Irving and the maybe-lost, currently injured Ben Simmons, winning a title this year have shrunk considerably.
Durant will turn 35 in September. As he gazes into his NBA future, does he think the Nets can quickly bring in another star to assemble a team that has a real shot in an upcoming Finals? Or during this offseason, would he decide he is better off playing next to, say, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, and asks for a trade again?
Without Irving keeping him in Brooklyn, Durant’s future — and thus, the Nets’ — is wide open.
Mavericks: The temptation of linking Doncic with Irving is obvious, but so is the potential downfall.
There are immediate fit issues to consider: Doncic and Irving each need the ball in their hands to be at their best, and neither plays much defense. The Mavericks, who already were not a strong defensive team, lost their best perimeter defender in Dorian Finney-Smith and lost three inches in subtracting 6-foot-5 Spencer Dinwiddie for the 6-foot-2 (if that) Irving.
With Finney-Smith and Dinwiddie, the Mavericks were the seventh-worst defensive team in the NBA, allowing 114.9 points per 100 possessions. Without them, the Mavericks will have to outgun every opponent.
And then there are the long-term issues. Irving is a free agent at season’s end, and could be blown in several other directions. If Mark Cuban does sign Irving long-term, the Mavericks would receive a marvelous talent and prodigious headache who is as reliable as the “Office Space” printer.
Even if the Mavericks re-sign Irving and even if Irving — for the first time in his NBA life — focuses solely on basketball, there are no guarantees this talented but flawed star pairing will work. What if Doncic, still looking for his first title, leaves as a free agent in summer 2026, when he can opt out of his current deal? What if he tires of Irving sooner than that?
That unprotected 2029 first-round pick the Mavericks just handed the Nets would loom large.
Lakers: Irving destroyed the 2021-22 Nets while barely playing. Can he now help dismantle a team without even being on the roster?
The Lakers — in 13th place in the 15-team Western Conference — likely saw Irving as the only available superstar whom they could pair with James for a possible late-season playoff run. They reportedly dangled both their available first-round picks, in 2027 and 2029, in talks with Marks, but the Nets opted for the Mavericks’ offer. It is possible the Nets did not want to send Irving, who has made amends with James after their divorce in Cleveland and was a close friend of Kobe Bryant’s, to the destination he most desired.
Regardless of the reasoning, the Lakers failed. James, probably listening to Blink-182 and channeling his high-school self, got lost in his feelings.
“Maybe It’s Me,” he tweeted Sunday after he missed out on yet another star teammate.
James is signed through 2023-24, but what if the 38-year-old decides he does not want to spend one more season languishing with a team that has not won enough with him and Anthony Davis? Would losing out on Irving push him toward a premature exit to find a clearer route toward another ring?
We will find out. The first domino has fallen.
Today’s back page
🏈 SERBY: Patrick Mahomes’ barber believes his scissors hold key to Super Bowl
🏒 BROOKS: Alexis Lafrenière may have had breakout moment Rangers were waiting for … see it: Jacob Trouba delivers helmet-launching hit
🏀 Nets waste Cam Thomas’ 47 points to lose in first game since Kyrie trade
Postcard from Phoenix
The Post’s team of football writers are in Phoenix this week to cover the Super Bowl. What’s it like to be there and take in the sights and sounds leading up to the big game? This edition is from Brian Costello, who shares an NFL version of Sightings:
As passengers waited to board United Flight 1236 from Newark Airport to Phoenix on Monday morning, you could see more than one do a double take.
Is that …? Yes, that was Giants coach Brian Daboll heading to Arizona in the early hours Monday.
Daboll’s Giants did not make it to the Super Bowl, but Daboll is a finalist for NFL Coach of the Year, which will be handed out at NFL Honors on Thursday. Daboll spent time at the gate talking to Giants fans, posing for selfies and cracking jokes. When I pointed out that Daboll probably could get on the plane early if he let the gate agents know who he was, he stayed at the back of the line and cracked, “I’m just happy to get on the plane.”
When we landed in Phoenix, there were more fans waiting for him at baggage claim. As one walked away with a new photo in her phone, she said, “Well, my trip is made.”
The NFL Honors has a red carpet entrance like other awards shows. As we departed, I told Daboll I would see him on the red carpet. “I’ll be the one in sweats,” he cracked.
Steve’s sticker shock
In August, The Post’s Mike Puma looked at the Mets’ impending free agents, did some contract estimates and determined the Mets would have to run their payroll to about $345 million just to return the same 101-win team from last season.
It is possible Steve Cohen did not read that article.
The Mets owner talked with ESPN for a story published Monday in which this spending spree — guaranteeing nearly $500 million to free agents this winter and running his 2023 payroll up to a projected, competitive-balance-tax record of $369.9 million, according to Cot’s Contracts — and acknowledged he didn’t quite see this coming.
“I didn’t know I was going to have to spend like I did,” Cohen told ESPN. “I actually was a little naive in that regard. But once I got comfortable and realized, OK, what’s it going to take to put a great team on the field, I still had made a commitment to the fans, and to baseball, that I was going to come in and turn this thing around. I came in saying I’m all-in. And I keep my word.”
Mets fans are not complaining, even after Carlos Correa’s $315 million pact fell through.
Since Cohen took over, the hope has been that the Mets’ farm system would begin producing quality young talent, which would be supplemented by free-agent splashes. The farm system is not ready yet, so Cohen’s wallet is keeping the Mets afloat and competitive for now.
He outlined this plan early, but not even he realized how expensive it would be.
Tom Brady takes some me-time
For the first time since 1999, the NFL will hold a season absent Tom Brady.
Brady, fresh off announcing his retirement, said Monday he would enjoy a gap year in 2023 before joining Fox Sports’ top NFL broadcast booth in fall 2024.
After 23 NFL seasons, the last of which included a divorce, taking some time for himself and his family might be a wise move.
“Decompression’s really important,” Brady said on FS1’s “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” “You’re on this really crazy treadmill, hamster wheel, for a long time, loving the moment and journey. At the same time, it’s a daily fight.
“I have appreciation for so many people that are so committed every day to showing up, to put their max effort into their life and career. For me, I want to be great at what I do — talking, even last week, with the people at Fox Sports, and the leadership there, allowing me to start my Fox opportunity in 2024, something that’s great for me.”
For Fox, this means Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen will remain as the top broadcast team for one more season.
For Brady, this means he has committed to one entire year removed from NFL Sundays. Of course, as soon as a top quarterback gets hurt, rumors will circulate concerning whether Brady is fully, 100 percent retired.
“I’ve loved my time in football,” Brady said. “It’s hard to make decisions [like retirement], but it’s certainly the right time.”