When the Mavericks signed Trey Burke to compensate for the loss of Willie Cauley-Stein, I was confused. With Dwight Powell down and Kristaps Porzingis relative brittleness, I didn’t understand the move to sign a guy who stands at six-feet flat.
As the season restart got closer, I understood the move was a simple way to just add more depth to the bench. Still, I didn’t really buy into the value of the move.
The entire NBA had been off since March, but Burke had been out of the league since February after getting cut by the Sixers. Burke was also the last Maverick to arrive in the bubble, getting to Orlando just a week before the first seeding game. We now know that was because he had tested positive for COVID-19, adding yet another element to the already bizarre situation.
With all things considered, it would’ve been totally understandable if his first few games — or even his entire bubble performance — was a complete disaster. But in his first game back as a Maverick, he hung 31 points on the Rockets. That was the most points he had scored in a game since November 18, 2018 when he sauced the Magic for 31 as a New York Knick.
The incredible performance against the Rockets, which included a career-high eight made threes, began the appreciation and excitement I now have around Burke.
It was unrealistic to expect this kind of performance from Burke every night. At the end of the day, this is someone averaging 10.6 points per game through his career. That’s a solid number for a league journeyman, but it’s safe to say 31 points was an outlier.
Even as Burke struggled to put up consistent box scores, he had the Mavericks highest scoring average off of their bruised bench through the seeding games. In the playoffs, Seth Curry — who averaged half a point more than Burke — was the only Maverick to average more than him off bench.
It’s easy to just look at the box score and see how important Burke was, but his value goes far beyond that. I like statistics and analytics. It’s in my risk aversion nature to find concrete evidence that supports what I believe. But Burke broke down that boundary.
When he came into the game, the energy of the game changed. For a guy who was out of a job before the Mavericks called, it’s incredible how good he looked. The moves Burke was pulling off reminded many, including myself, of those Allen Iverson used to perform. He also showed exceptional chemistry with a group of guys he had barely played with. Part of that comes from Burke’s tenure with the Mavericks just a season before. He knew the offense, he understood his teammates, and it payed off tremendously.
If you’re throwing up in your mouth as I use words like “chemistry” and “energy”, I totally understand. But these traits truly do hold importance for developing a team and leading them to a championship. Even I can admit that.
Now I know that this league is first and foremost a business. Teams do not give out contracts for free. There are no participation trophies, except for the Hustle Award, whatever the hell that is. But Burke isn’t going to be a trophy contract that takes up a seat on your bench. What I see in him is a valuable player who fills a team need.
By all accounts, it doesn’t sound like J.J. Barea is going to be a Maverick next season. He believes he still has a role on the court, but the Mavericks are leaning towards putting him in a suit on the bench. It’d be a tough decision to let him walk, but one the team is totally within their bounds to make. In fact, it’s one that shows me they are pretty serious about their championship aspirations.
I applaud those of you who have faith in Delon Wright. Seriously. If you can find something optimistic to take out of his season, you are dedicated to positivity. What I saw this season was a catastrophically disappointing season by a guy who was proclaimed as the Mavericks big splash in free agency.
Whatever it was, Wright did not work out. It seems like Rick Carlisle noticed that as well, as Burke played 103 more minutes than Wright in the playoffs. I don’t expect the Mavericks to make very many moves this off-season, but I would not be the least bit surprised if getting rid of Wright is one of the few.
With Barea’s impending departure and Wright occasionally disappearing for a ten game stretch, that leaves Jalen Brunson as your only backup facilitator. Brunson is fine, I guess, but he’s also most effective as an off-ball guard. The same goes for Curry, who I’ve seen some suggesting can run the offense when Luka Doncic is off the court (spoiler: no, he can’t).
It’s decision time for the Mavericks. Do you want to use one of your picks on a guard? Acquire one in free agency? Trade for one? Cross your fingers and hope for the best with those you have?
Regardless of what the Mavericks decide to do, it’s clear there’s a spot for Burke on this team. I’ve seen some suggesting that his play in the bubble made teams raise an eyebrow and now he’s worth $5 million a year or something ridiculous. That’s just not true. Since Burke has grown out of his rookie contract, he hasn’t made more than $2 million a year. I would expect his next contract to be two years for a little more than $1 million per.
Burke is truly the Mavericks’ to lose, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he even took a pay-cut to stay here hearing how highly he speaks of this team. He’s a cheap, experienced and talented player who can come off your bench and give you points. He’s not a great defender, but his offense is good enough coming off the bench.
If you’re the Mavericks, I think you take that any day. I’m not saying he needs to play 25 minutes a game. But the need is there, and his fit is clear. Bring him back.