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What the J.J. Barea injury means for the rest of the Mavericks’ season

The Mavericks have big decisions to make in light of their veteran guard going down.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks confirmed over the weekend that veteran point guard J.J. Barea sustained a ruptured right achilles tendon Friday night, in the second half of the Mavericks’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.

It was a strange moment, where Barea landed awkwardly and went to the floor, but didn’t seem in severe pain. He tried to get up, then was quickly back on the ground, needing help as he limped to the locker room. Add to that it happening against the only other team the veteran Puerto Rican guard has played for in the NBA, there was a noticeable gloom over the rest of the game, though the Mavericks managed their fourth road win of the season, winning 119-115.

The 34 year old, 13 year veteran had surgery Monday, the morning after the Mavericks lost a close one to the Golden State Warriors at home. A game where Luka Doncic paid subtle tribute to the fallen Maverick:

While we send out all the positive energy and thoughts and prayers toward J.J. Barea and his recovery, the Mavericks, who have made known their playoff aspirations this season, will need to recalibrate on the fly and assess what they want their goals to be in the final nearly 40 games. The Mavs find themselves three games back from the eighth playoff spot in the West. They are a little over three weeks until the February 8 trade deadline, and will need to make some difficult decisions about the roster and who can fill in for the undersized Dallas hero.

The Trade Market

Before this injury any trade rumor the Mavericks were linked to involved them acquiring a wing of some sort. It’s their greatest need to be competitive. Now without their sixth man it’s hard to gauge who the Mavericks would be looking for, or if they’ll be buyers at the deadline at all.

Even before Barea went down the Mavericks needed to add to the roster if they really wanted to aim for the playoffs. But they will need to weigh how important it is to be relevant this season against what they’ll need to give up to make that happen. Especially with so much focus on the cap space they’ll have this summer.

Monday night the Mavericks’ thought process might have been revealed a little more, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Mavs have escalated trade talks surrounding Dennis Smith Jr., with teams like the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic. This is a major development that will be monitored heavily in the coming weeks.

Rotation Shake Up

Recently Rick Carlisle has played around with his subbing patterns, particularly with Barea and Luka Doncic. Opting to give the rookie some time to play with and against bench units, Doncic has subbed out a few minutes earlier than normal.

The biggest storyline this season has been the on-court chemistry of Doncic and DSJ, and is most likely the primary reason the Mavericks front office is considering a move from the young point guard in favor of a complimentary piece to Doncic. But until something (if anything) happens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Carlisle experiment with using one of them to be a spark plug with the bench, exiting earlier in the first quarter to make that happen. It could possibly even allow for at least one of them to be on the floor at all times.

Keep additional eyes on two-way contract player Daryl Macon, who was activated for Sunday night’s game. Macon, an energy scorer, has played with the Texas Legends this year, averaging nearly 20 points and seven assists per game. I can’t imagine Carlisle relying on him heavily, unless it was out of necessity or the playoffs seemed less in reach. But there should also be no reason the 23 year old isn’t given a shot.

Rookie Progress

While Doncic continues to wow fans and foes alike this season, it’s been important to monitor the progress of fellow rookie guard Jalen Brunson, especially during the absence of Dennis Smith Jr. We got our first look at a Barea-less Mavericks team Sunday night at the AAC, where Brunson played 30 minutes (nearly double his season average).

For his part, Brunson acquitted himself nicely against the defending champs, notching 12 points, four rebounds and one assist with some great hustle plays that didn’t show up in the box score. And though he was 3-of-10 from the floor, he hit 2-of-3 from three and made four free throws. He also had some veteran-like defensive stops, on players like Kevin Durant, when forced in to isolation.

What became noticeable in stretches where Brunson, or any non-Luka Doncic player initiated the offense, is the lack of a distributor for the Mavericks. Without Barea, the team’s assists leader, the Mavericks lacked a fulcrum for the reserve unit. That should be a surprise to no one, and is something the team will continue to adapt. What was nice, however, is it forced the bench to share the ball differently — the lineup of Jalen Brunson, Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki combined for eight assists (those five players average a combined 5.2 assists on the year).

As is stands now, Jalen Brunson remains the Mavericks’ most straight forward and simplest option. When you select a player with the mentality and pedigree like Jalen Brunson (especially when you have so many other positions of need), you do so with the belief that he can eventually shoulder the responsibility of a player like Barea. It’s unfortunate he may be thrust in to the role sooner than desired, but ultimately this season should be about developing the younger core of the team, and this is Brunson’s opportunity.