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NBA Draft 2018: debating what the Mavericks should give up to get Luka Dončić

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If Luka Dončić gets passed up by a team or two in this month’s draft, the Mavericks could consider trading up to grab him.

Basketball: Luka Doncic Sipa USA-USA TODAY NETWORK

As we inch closer to the draft, there have been increasing reports that the Phoenix Suns may pass on Euro sensation Luka Dončić — and that rumor mill has even extended to the possibility of the playmaker getting passed on by Sacramento Kings with the second pick.

With those scenarios floating out there, Mavs Moneyball draft diehards Ian Miller and Jordan Brodess can’t help but wonder whether it’s worth trading up to get the recently named Euro League MVP. And if it is worth it, how much should the Dallas Mavericks be willing to give up to make it happen?

Ian (@SmitheeMMB): I think Luka is rare. That doesn’t mean he’s can’t miss, or that other quality guys can’t be found, but usually the guy who’s far and away the best prospect goes first. And for a team that probably won’t be back in the top 5 again, the chance to move up and grab him tempts me. But my argument isn’t to say they should always trade up. He’s just unprecedented as a prospect. If he was LeBron the Athlete, then he’d be #1 and no package in history would be enough to get him. But right now, I’d consider giving up a 2019 protected first rounder.

Jordan (@jbrodess): I think he’s the best talent in this draft, is set up to have a long career, and if put in the right situation, will be a key cog on a competitive team. But because he’s not that athlete, which would be a once in an era talent, I pause at giving up a future lottery pick. The Mavs need to have as many lottery picks on their roster as possible. Even if they’re all in the 10-14 range. I’d trade up for him with players, not picks, when I know they’re going to be bad for the next several seasons. Giving up picks feels more logical for a team like the Memphis Grizzlies to do in their timeline, not Dallas.

Ian: I think Dončić dramatically changes their trajectory in a way that means they might not need to be bad for several seasons. They’re going to try to get more guys via free agency/trade. That’s just a given — Mark Cuban is not going to go Sam Hinkie on this. Plus I think the best way to attract free agents or “trade free agents” (where a guy requests a trade to you a la Chris Paul) is by having star talent.

Jordan: And you can’t get that at five? You think Dončić is the only one who will attract future free agents?

Ian: If the first four picks are some combo of Dončić -Ayton-Bagley-JJJ, who is the star they get at five?

Jordan: If we’re talking about star pull for future players, probably Michael Porter Jr. I’m not sure that’s who I want them picking there, but in terms of attracting open market talent. Separately, I think an element of trading draft assets to get him that concerns me is the possibility that he and Dennis Smith Jr. don’t play well together. If they don’t and Dončić is better, then you eventually move on from DSJ. But then that means you’d have essentially given up 2017 and 2019 lottery picks for him.

Basketball: Luka Doncic Sipa USA-USA TODAY NETWORK

Ian: In Rick Carlisle’s offense I don’t have that concern. And if DSJ fails because of Dončić I’m not sure who he succeeds with. If I knew Jaren Jackson Jr. would be there, and I knew Carlisle would embrace him, I might come off this stance, but barring that I don’t know.

What if there was a way to package one or several of Harrison Barnes/Wesley Matthews/Dwight Powell, and get back into the top 20 next year? (probably at next year’s deadline when teams are dumb and their expiring contracts are most valuable).

Jordan: Listen I’d be thrilled if the Mavs got Dončić. He is the best player in this draft. Give up Barnes, Matthews, Powell, and nearly anyone else on this roster for him. But when they are as starved for young talent as they are, I can’t justify giving up another top 12 pick. Let’s be honest, the Mavs aren’t moving Barnes.

Ian: The very real possibility that Dallas tries to sign or trade for a bunch of guys this offseason doesn’t push you more toward trading the pick, Jordan? Not that I think Dallas is going to go to the playoffs next year, but I do absolutely fear getting to a point where they are capped out and picking 12-15 forever. At which point you’re praying they get a gem in the late lottery.

Jordan: Picking between 12-15 isn’t ideal. But I also have zero faith in their ability to acquire top tier talent. Obviously it’s impossible to know who they’re actually targeting this summer. Is it Clint Capela where they’re bound to crash and burn? Or is it, like, Derrick Favors? If it’s Favors, then yes, maybe you consider trading that pick with some protections on it. You’d have to have protections on the pick to prepare for the inevitability of failing in free agency.

Ian: Yeah, say they sign Favors or someone similar and trade for somebody (a salary dump who is better than the Jabari Parker’s of the world, but not a superstar). I feel like that’s what Cuban wants to do.

Jordan: I’m just far more fascinated with the idea of young players built for long term sustained success. Not two young players plus a bunch of 29 year old third tiers, where you’re constantly trying to wheel and deal and reload every three years on the trade market. This is their chance to right the ship, long term.

Ian: But what percentage do you give Dallas righting the ship as you put it? Are they going to be bad for a while and get a bunch of top 5 picks?

Jordan: No, but I think if they were patient, hit on a couple Mario Hezonja level free agents, they could have three more (probably including this season) top 12 picks. That gives them an entire core of players on the same timeline. It requires really good scouting and development, which is no easy task. But at least gives them a chance at straight forward long term success. OR it gives you young assets so when you think you have a couple of foundation pieces, you can pull the trigger on the trade market, and actually compete.

Ian: If we assume I’m right about Cuban’s intent to add pieces, we’re talking about a difference between picking 2nd, then nothing in 2019, then like 15th in 2020; compared to picking 5th, then 11th, then 13th (if you don’t trade up). When it’s the right guy, I think I’m okay with that difference.

Jordan: That’s a valid argument. I just think it leaves the margin for error a little smaller, and that’s my concern.

Ian: Yeah it’s a bit cute. And maybe Dončićis just a kinda good player. I just see the other doors as roads to Blandtown: DSJ, Barnes, Mohamed Bamba, and like Keldon Johnson (2019 draft) or something? I’m not inspired.