DALLAS (AP) — While Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says re-signing Kyrie Irving is the team’s top offseason priority, he doesn’t view it as a “Kyrie or bust” scenario.
The billionaire businessman who has stayed mostly silent on Mavericks matters this season also is showing support for coach Jason Kidd with the team currently outside the playoff picture a year after going to the Western Conference finals in Kidd’s Dallas debut.
Cuban held a rare session with reporters before Wednesday’s 123-119 victory over Sacramento that kept alive the Mavs’ hopes of getting the final play-in spot as the 10th seed in the West.
Dallas gambled with the blockbuster deal for Irving before the trade deadline in February despite his expiring contract, giving the franchise its first pair of All-Star starters with Luka Doncic.
The Mavericks have slipped in the standings since then, in part because of injuries to both stars, but Cuban maintains the move was made for the long term. Still, Cuban stopped short of declaring Irving’s return a must.
“It’s not Kyrie or bust, but we want to keep him,” said Cuban, who used to speak to reporters routinely before games before locker room access changed several years ago. “I’m done giving ultimatums on players like I did last year.”
He referred to the Mavs losing Doncic sidekick Jalen Brunson to the New York Knicks in free agency last summer, when Cuban confidently declared they would be able to keep him because they could pay him more. Brunson and the Knicks are safely in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
While Cuban took the blame for misfiring with roster construction, he fought back against suggestions from Brunson’s camp that the Mavs passed on a chance to give Brunson an extension before the 2022 trade deadline. Cuban said there were no negotiations with Brunson’s representatives last summer.
Cuban said on top of the loss of Brunson, he underestimated the effect of the new “take” rule that significantly reduced the number of fouls to prevent fast breaks. He said the Mavs haven’t kept up with the faster game defensively.
As a result, Cuban said, the blame shouldn’t be on Kidd and his staff for the team being in danger of missing the postseason entirely a year after the club’s first deep playoff run since winning the 2011 championship.
“I don’t think it’s J-Kidd’s problem that we didn’t have an identity,” Cuban said. “The game changed in ways we didn’t expect it to change. So I blew it. It was on me personally because the game changed in terms of the ‘take’ fouls and the speed of the game and where you need to be defensively.”
Cuban said the Mavericks never intended for Doncic and Irving to be the heartbeat of the defense, so the challenge will be finding those complementary pieces in the offseason.
That’s with the owner presuming he can convince Irving to stick around. Cuban was noncommittal on contract terms because of uncertainty over rules in the new labor deal.
“I want him to stay for sure, and I think we have a good shot,” Cuban said. “I think he’s happy here. He told me he’s happy here.”
Irving’s three-plus seasons in Brooklyn were filled with controversy, including him not being able to play many home games because he wouldn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 and criticism when he tweeted a link to a film containing antisemitic material. Nike ended its relationship with Irving over the tweet.
“I think he’s a good guy,” Cuban said. “All I can tell you is everything I knew about Kyrie because of everything I read is 100% wrong. I get emails from people all the time. I’m like, ‘Do you know the guy?’ Once you get to know the guy, I like him. He’s not like every guy. He’s not like every athlete. And to me, that’s a positive.”
To get Irving, the Mavericks gave up their best defensive player, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Spencer Dinwiddie, an important scorer who joined Dallas in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Washington. Dallas also surrendered an unprotected 2029 first-round pick.
Entering Friday’s home game against Chicago, Doncic and Irving are 5-11 when playing together. Each has missed time with injuries. Cuban is comfortable they’ve shown enough together to be a formidable pairing.
“We’ve got the best offensive rating I think with those two guys when they play together,” Cuban said. “We could not find a way to get stops in close games. I don’t think you can point to any one thing, but we’ll have to make changes, obviously, to be able to get better defensively.”
Lurking behind the more immediate question of Irving’s contract is the future of Doncic. The 24-year-old from Slovenia has three more years on his $215 million rookie supermax contract before a player option for the 2026-27 season.
Cuban won’t concern himself over whether Doncic will be another Dirk Nowitzki, who set an NBA record by spending all 21 of his seasons in Dallas.
“Players don’t talk like that, ‘Hey, I’ll be here for the next 17 years,’” Cuban said. “He’d like to be here the whole time, but we’ve got to earn that.”
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