NBA free agency is always a high-stakes game with no place for the faint of heart, and the 2023 edition is shaping up to be no exception. It's striking to note that so many of this summer's best potentially available players are also among the riskiest.
The top talents are always costly, forcing teams to put significant resources at hazard. But the cream of this year's crop comes with a litany of additional risk factors including age, reliability and uncertain fit outside of their current situations.
Of course, all of them have the potential to pay major dividends too. These are big names—starters, stars and future Hall of Famers in some cases. So the risk-reward calculus isn't out of balance with the 2023 class, but it does feel like the extremes are further apart than usual. Even in cases where the most likely outcome is a return to their incumbent teams, many of these free agents still come with significant long- and short-term uncertainty.
In other words, any organization considering big expenditures this offseason needs to know that there's no such thing as a safe bet on the board.
Kyrie Irving, Dallas Mavericks
Where else could we possibly begin than with a discussion of the player best described as uncertainty incarnate?
Actually, in fairness to Kyrie Irving, there's one ironclad given in his makeup: He's a bucket.
It's just that in conjunction with the eight-time All-Star's breathtaking scoring skill, you have to accept that his commitment and availability cannot be relied upon. Irving owns a career scoring average of 23.4 points per game on a 47.2/39.2/88.4 shooting split, and he's been even more prolific and efficient over the last several years. It's a testament to his ability that all the non-basketball red flags in his profile haven't cost him a career.
Any team taking Irving on as a free agent has to weigh his talent against a laundry list of concerns.
In addition to extensive (often voluntary) absences, Irving's career has been defined by unpredictable moodiness, broken promises, suspensions, a general refusal to accept accountability—exemplified by his initial refusal to apologize and denounce antisemitism after promoting an antisemitic film on social media this fall—and an occasionally mind-numbing lack of self-awareness. He's also missed significant time due to various injuries and hasn't played more than 60 games in any of the past four seasons. Put all the other worries about his availability aside, and at 31, a health history like his is concerning on its own.
The Dallas Mavericks may be pot committed after trading for Irving. If they let him walk, Luka Doncic will be left wondering if his front office is ever going to deliver the supporting cast he needs. From there, it's not hard to envision him becoming the next disgruntled star to seek a trade. Of course, the only thing scarier than that scenario might be committing to Irving on a costly multiyear deal.
Whether it's the Mavs or some other team with the guts to offer Irving the max salary his play says he's worth, it's impossible to imagine anyone agreeing on a contract with him and leaving the interaction feeling assured a smooth ride is ahead.