Balancing when to cash in and when to stay patient is one of the hardest things for an NBA team. As we’re learning with these very Dallas Mavericks, growth is not always a linear path — sometimes there are giant spikes, weird lows, and some up-and-down spurts.
While the team will tell you otherwise, Dallas shouldn’t be in the spot they are now. The team won 33 games a year ago in Luka Doncic’s rookie season and made minimal moves to the roster last summer. Their big move occurred at last year’s trade deadline, when they acquired Kristaps Porzingis. Pairing Doncic and Porzingis and getting them to gel right away was the glass half-full approach to the season. Instead, the Mavericks are 31-20 and a solid playoff team with Doncic and Porzingis still not on same page.
That’s why I understand the groans and mumbles that came from fans online as, it appeared, the Mavericks twiddled their thumbs. The trade deadline is over and the Mavericks have the exact same team today as they did Wednesday. If you were hoping for Dallas to capitalize on its sudden success, it’s easy to feel disappointed.
However, take a breath. Take a step back, even. When you look as this roster, what the Mavericks did (or didn’t) makes sense. A trade would have been nice, yes, but there was zero reason to force it. They are on track for a historic turnaround with a decently young roster! The Mavericks are going to be OK.
That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. The Mavericks desperately need wing help. Doncic is out with an ankle sprain and Justin Jackson is slumping hard. It’s forcing Rick Carlisle to go deep into his bench, playing Ryan Broekhoff and even trying out Antonius Cleveland. Don’t mistake inaction for lack of trying.
As Tim Cato of The Athletic wrote Thursday night, Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson was busy. A deal the Mavericks liked just didn’t fall their way. To get a picture of this trade deadline for the Mavericks, it’s best to reassess the assets the Mavericks had to work with—aside from parting with a rotation player:
- The Golden State Warriors’ 2020 second-round pick, at 31 currently.
- Courtney Lee’s expiring $12 million contract.
- About $11 million left from the Harrison Barnes trade exception.
That’s it. Anything else and the Mavericks are dipping into core players with great chemistry on a team learning how to win games for the first time.
Of the three assets, the Golden State pick is more valuable to Dallas than it is to other teams. It’s likely the Mavericks can nab a first-round talent on their draft board with it, which can help recoup the losses of the first rounders in the Porzingis and Doncic trades. The Mavericks don’t have their first-round picks in 2019, 2021, and 2023, because of those moves. Teams cannot trade their first-round pick in consecutive years. For other teams that aren’t as desperate for picks, the Golden State second rounder is still good — it’s just not as bright and shiny as it is to Dallas.
That means the Mavericks were likely at an impasse. There were probably offers they didn’t deem worthy of including the pick as well as ones in which Dallas thought it deserved more for it, like trying for Minnesota’s Robert Covington. The Timberwolves ended up getting a solid young wing (Malik Beasley) and a first round pick in the massive 12-player, 4-team trade from earlier in the week. You could argue the Mavericks might have topped that by throwing in someone like Jalen Brunson, but then you’re dipping into the Mavericks’ core—never mind the fact that the Wolves got their point guard in D’Angelo Russell in another trade on Thursday.
There were some other names, like the Warriors’ Alec Burks, who would be useful. Again, he’s probably not worth that pick. It’s important to remember that while the Mavericks have been anguishing a little bit over the last three to four weeks, Doncic and Porzingis have only played eight games together since Dec. 12. That’s almost two months. The ire Jackson creates is palpable, but he’ll see his minutes reduced when Doncic returns.
Another potential target, for Mavericks fans especially, was Andre Drummond. The Detroit Pistons seemingly traded for scraps to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Do we really need to go over why trading for Drummond is a bad idea again? Even though the Cavs traded for him on the cheap, that doesn’t mean he was worth the gamble for the Mavs. When you consider Drummond has a wealthy player option for next season, the Mavericks would have had to include a key rotation piece, like Tim Hardaway Jr., to make the salaries match. That’s not worth it for a player who doesn’t fit what the Mavericks do and has questions surrounding defensive effort.
Barring any roster buyout moves, the Mavericks will finish the season with the roster they mostly started with. That’s fine. It’s natural to want everything at once now that the Mavericks are good again. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Just remember, Doncic is 20-years-old. Porzingis is 24.
To be clear, I’m not arguing that not doing anything at the deadline is good, but that it’s acceptable. The Mavericks can still get better at the draft and in free agency. Maybe they’ll use their pick to trade up. They could even trade the pick for a more established player the day before. Inactivity this week does not mean the Mavericks are satisfied with the current roster. They still need to do some work. It just might take longer than you want.