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Trey Burke tries to put aside thoughts of free agency as he adjusts to the Mavericks

Burke is in a tough spot where he has to learn a new team mid-season while also face an uncertain free agency

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

DALLAS — Early in the first quarter Friday night against the Grizzlies, Trey Burke crossed over his defender and drove hard to the rim. For a second, you could likely squint from your seat in the arena or at home on the couch and remember the Trey Burke who was the talk of college basketball at one point in his career. Burke easily got the rim after his move and was fouled before he could finish the play.

Then, as Burke shot his free throws, you sit back and realize this crossover came against a Grizzlies team as far away from the playoffs as the team Burke is playing on. A game between two teams resting almost all of their normal starters, with no real meaning besides lottery odds.

It doesn’t feel that long ago that Burke was playing meaningful games in March and April. In reality, Burke is on his fourth team in his sixth season after being drafted ninth overall by the Utah Jazz in 2013. It seems crazy that we’re already six years removed from Burke’s clutch heroics against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament and being considered a top draft prospect. Now, instead of fighting for postseason success, Burke is auditioning for a job.

He’ll be a free agent this summer, and after never making a true dent at any of his previous stops, it makes you wonder what type of market there will be for the 26-year-old guard. Burke failed to pop in Utah and his recent uptick in play has come on two tanking teams in the Mavericks and Knicks over the last two seasons.

Since being traded to the Mavericks in February as part of the Kristaps Porzingis trade, he’s had to block that noise out.

“You think about it, we’re humans as well,” Burke told Mavs Moneyball after the Grizzlies game of his pending free agency. “The ones who are able to kind of stay in the moment, not think about it too much — that’s when you play at the highest level that you can play out there.”

When the NBA reaches this portion of the schedule, things slow to a crawl. Secured playoff teams are just trying to stay healthy, while lottery-bound squads are just trying to keep their draft odds solid. Winning becomes an afterthought as teams on both ends of the spectrum rest players for completely different reasons. The players who have contracts aren’t usually playing for much. And then, there are the guys like Burke.

Since Burke needs a contract, he has to go hard whenever he gets a chance. His numbers with Dallas are modest — 9.2 points and 2.5 assists in just under 17 minutes per game on a 46/35/81 shooting line — but he’s popped a little in the last week.

On the road against Oklahoma City, he led the Mavericks to a win with 25 points, eight assists and zero turnovers. He scored 16 points the next night in a win against the 76ers. Sure, the dog days of the season, but those performances highlight the talent that Burke still contains, even if his ceiling might not be as high as it was six years ago.

Against the Grizzlies on Friday night, Burke had another modest but productive night. With Luka Doncic resting his injury, Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson out for “load management” and the Grizzlies top eight players all on the bench as well, there wasn’t much juice in the building aside from whatever Dirk Nowitzki did in his probable second to last home game. The Mavericks got crushed, but there was Burke, with a solid 13 points on seven shots and no turnovers.

In a game Dallas lost by 10, Burke was a plus-10 on the night.

It’s been a challenge for Burke and the other new Mavericks to adjust. And though Burke has bounced around before, that hasn’t made the experience any easier — in fact, this is the first time Burke has been traded mid-season in his career.

”To really know guys, it takes weeks,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told The Dallas Morning News back in February. “And a lot of these guys are younger guys that are going to get better, so it’s exciting. If you look at it that way, it’s longer than that, as you continue to work to develop them.”

Burke doesn’t really have that kind of time. While Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Justin Jackson all have contracts next season, Burke doesn’t. He’ll be a free agent for the second time in his career. He has to make the most of his minutes, which have been up and down since he’s been in Dallas.

The Mavericks are in total tank mode, resting starters and playing new lineups to see what they have going into an important summer. That means some nights Burke is starting like he did Friday and others he’s seeing spot time as a backup behind promising rookie guard Jalen Brunson.

Lately though, the trend has been up. Burke had good games against Oklahoma City and Philadelphia, and is averaging 14.2 points, 4.8 assists and 0.8 turnovers in 24.2 minutes per game over his last five.

“It’s encouraging, I know what I can bring to this team and I know what type of player I am once given opportunity,” Burke said. “That’s my job: to continue to stay ready and when my number’s called, go out there and be aggressive. Play the style of basketball I’ve played my entire life.”

For Burke, he’s just trying to do what he can with the opportunity he is given. That also means soaking up what could be a short time in Dallas, which he says is a much different place than his previous stops in Utah, Washington and New York.

“Championship pedigree, obviously they’ve experienced what it feels like to win a championship in the last 10, 15 years,” Burke said of what’s different in Dallas. “As soon as I got here I realized that immediately with their culture and how things work. Just trying to get adjusted to all of that on the fly. It’s definitely a challenge but I think it’s been fine so far.”

With only three games left this season, Burke’s audition is nearly up. After that, who knows where he’ll wind up. Maybe it’s back in Dallas to sustain the bench or maybe it’s a bigger opportunity elsewhere.

Whatever it is, Burke knows he has to make it count.

“When those type of things are up for negotiations I think I've done a great job up until this point,” he said. “When I get out there on the court — somehow, someway to let those thoughts get out of my mind, be free and go play basketball.”