Kyrie on return to Mavs: 'Happy to come back'
DALLAS — Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving described himself as “happy to come back here” after the eight-time All-Star re-signed with Dallas in free agency following an exploration of his limited options elsewhere in the league.
Irving and the Mavs agreed to a three-year deal worth up to $126 million in the opening hour of free agency, a contract negotiated by his agent and stepmom, Shetellia Riley Irving. Due to having Irving’s Bird rights after trading for him last season, the Mavs could offer Irving significantly more money than other potential suitors who interested him, such as the Phoenix Suns, who were limited to veteran’s minimum deals in free agency.
“It wasn’t too difficult of a process,” Irving said after Thursday’s practice, the first time he has spoken to the media since the final week of last season. “Had Dallas as No. 1 on my list. Obviously I looked elsewhere — salary cap opportunities, where I could fit in with other guys around the league — but there just wasn’t much space. And me being 31 now, I had to have a different vantage point, and I felt like I could not just settle here but be happy to come back here and be welcomed back with a warm embrace.
“So I took everything into account. I took my time a few days before free agency just to be with my family, gauge how they felt about being in Dallas alongside me. And everybody was excited. I mean, even when I got traded here, midseason, a lot of my family was excited and they were just looking forward to me having a peace of mind just on the court and off the court. I had already dealt with enough last season or the past two seasons, so they knew that I just wanted a lot of that off my back and off my shoulders of feeling like I had to be Superman or I had to be perfect. I just wanted to be myself. And then going on the last few years, just figuring myself out. So I think this is the best place to do it and continue to mature and grow as a man.”
Irving’s contract includes a player option for the final season. It also has $6 million total in incentives — $1 million annually for playing at least 65 games and another $1 million if the team gets at least 50 wins and Irving plays a minimum of 58 games. The incentives are officially classified as unlikely because Irving would not have achieved them last season, when he played a total of 60 games for the Brooklyn Nets and Mavs and Dallas finished with a 38-44 record.
“I wanted everything that was structured in my contract incentive-wise to be based on production and that was wins and how many games I’m playing,” said Irving, who last played more than 65 games in 2018-19 for the Boston Celtics. “I hear all the noise. So I just wanted to make sure that I had some friendly terms, but also some realistic expectations for myself going into the season, looking to just play as many games as possible.”
Dallas made a blockbuster trade to acquire Irving in February — sending starters Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick to Brooklyn — with the hopes that acquiring a co-star to pair with Luka Doncic could boost the Mavs to contender status. However, the Mavs faded in the last two months of the season and missed the playoffs. Irving (foot) and Doncic (thigh) both dealt with injuries, but Dallas struggled with them in the lineup together, going 5-11 in those games.
“I think we were being too passive with one another,” Irving said. “We’re both killers on the court, everybody knows it. We want to win. So we just have to continue to have that consistent mentality together and lead the team as best we can alongside other guys that have experience in this league or young guys that we have to coach even more. So it’s all been a learning experience. It was so quick last year and it was so much pressure on us to win now, win big, and ‘It’s Luka and Kyrie, why can’t you guys win games?’ So we were answering a lot of questions that honestly I don’t think we were ready for.
“And health is everything in this league. So us not being 100 percent and going through last season and trying to do the best we could mentally and emotionally and physically, I got to give ourselves some grace and some credit.”