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Kyrie Irving sounds ready to keep chasing titles in Dallas after NBA Finals loss to Boston

DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving is a year away from having the option to leave the Dallas Mavericks, and at that point would be closing in on his longest stint anywhere since asking out of Cleveland, where he was drafted, in 2017.

Yet the mercurial guard sounded as if Dallas could be his basketball home well beyond 2025 after losing the NBA Finals in five games to the Boston Celtics in his first full season with co-star Luka Doncic.

“I see an opportunity for us to really build our future in a positive manner where this is almost like a regular thing for us, and we’re competing for championships,” Irving said after Dallas' 106-88 loss in Game 5.

Irving jilted Boston in free agency in 2019 and has been steadfastly booed by Celtics fans since then. His 3 1/2 seasons in Brooklyn were filled with mostly self-inflicted drama, to the point that he finally asked for a trade after doing the same to break away from LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

When the Mavs acquired the eight-time All-Star at the deadline last year, Irving’s reputation around the league was in tatters. Things have changed in 16 months.

“From a spiritual standpoint, I think I enjoyed this journey more than any other season, just because of the redemption arc and being able to learn as much as I did about myself and my teammates and the organization and the people that I’m around,” Irving said. “It’s a lot of good people here, so it makes coming to work a lot of fun.”

Doncic's player option is a year after Irving's, following the 2025-26 season. And every other rotation player in the playoffs except for guard Derrick Jones Jr. is under contract next season.

The Mavericks don't have much room to maneuver under the salary cap, but they will have the nagging question of whether a more dangerous third scoring option is the missing piece.

The 25-year-old Doncic is entering his prime in a difficult Western Conference, with two trips at least to the West finals in the past three seasons.

But Dallas was a surprise team both times, and couldn't stick around past five games. The next level would be getting this far without being a surprise, perhaps as the favorite to win the title.

Such progress might be required to keep Irving and Doncic together beyond 2025-26, or to keep Doncic in Dallas as long as retired star Dirk Nowitzki stayed — a record 21 seasons with the same franchise.

“When you have one of the best players in the world,” coach Jason Kidd said, “you should be always fighting for a championship.”

While Irving and Doncic had a full season, the Mavs like to talk about having just five months together. That's when trade-deadline additions Daniel Gafford and P.J. Washington arrived and helped give Dallas a defensive mindset that became crucial to the deep playoff run.

Last fall, the talk was the full reset for Doncic and Irving. In 3 1/2 months, the talk will be of Gafford, Washington and budding 7-foot-1 star Dereck Lively II, Dallas' rookie first-round pick, having their first training camp together.

“We did some great moves,” said Doncic, who won his first scoring title. “I would say we’ve been together for five months. We didn’t win the finals, but we did have a hell of a season.”

If the Mavs don't add a starter in the offseason, the 32-year-old Irving figures to be the only player older than 26 in the lineup. Lively won't be 21 until February.

Maxi Kleber, a 32-year-old with seven seasons of NBA experience, is the other 30-something who might be in the rotation. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the same age, but he fell out of the rotation late in the season, leaving his role in doubt with one year remaining on his contract.

“We’re a young team, and so this isn’t a team when you look at do we have to replace some of the older players,” Kidd said. “We have a core, a young core at that, and so this is an exciting time to be a Mavs fan and to also be a coach for the Mavs.”

The “old guy” — Irving — sounds as if he doesn't want to be replaced in Dallas anytime soon.

“When you really love something, you really want to win and it doesn’t happen, how do you respond from that?” Irving asked. “I think I could tell you I’m pretty confident that we’ll be back in the gym pretty soon and getting ready for next year.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press