Admit it, you’ve spent more time on ESPN’s trade machine than you’d like to admit. We’re all guilty. The fanbase is tired of watching the same team for the past three years and has grown frustrated with the front office’s refusal or inability to upgrade or even change the roster.
Even if Reggie Bullock’s shooting splits improve over the course of the season, he is another in a long line of players with limited upside. His perimeter defense is ok but he’ll never be confused with a lockdown defender. With free agency behind in the rearview mirror, the only way to improve the team for this season is through trade. Fans are desperate for the front office to make a move, any move.
The truth, unfortunately, is that a lack of activity on the trade market isn’t due to indifference from the front office, but a lack of trade assets. Let’s break down what the Mavericks could offer in any potential trade.
The Mavericks have none. This is quite literal at the moment.
The soonest the Mavericks can trade a first rounder is the 2025 1st round pick and only if they remove the protections on the 2023 first round pick owed to the Knicks from the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Any trade involving this year’s pick would have to be consummated after the draft pick has been made on draft night. That does nothing for us this season.
Teams like the Lakers and Bucks have traded first-round picks far into the future in exchange for immediate help. The difference is that the teams taking on those picks are betting against the long-term future of those organizations. The Bucks made the Jrue Holiday trade at a time when Giannis had not yet signed his supermax extension. If Giannis moved on from the Bucks, those future picks would have been worth their weight in gold.
There’s a similar situation in Los Angeles with the Lakers. Lebron is 36 and showing signs of aging for the first time ever. Anthony Davis has proven that he alone is not good enough to turn a team into a contender. The recent trade for Westbrook only exacerbates the situation. The picks owed to New Orleans look a lot better now than they did at the time the Davis trade was executed.
No team is going to bet against the Maverick's long-term future at this point in Luka Doncic’s contract. Doncic is that good. As long as Doncic is healthy, the Mavericks will never be bad enough to bottom out. As a result, no team is going to give up a good short-term asset for a pick that may never be lower than 16th. Even with the flattened lottery odds, it's unlikely Dallas will ever miss the playoffs and enter the mix for a top-three pick. If other teams covet draft capital, the Mavericks will always get outbid.
Jalen Brunson and Josh Green are the team’s best young players, outside of Doncic and Porzingis. Brunson is good. No one in the league will say otherwise. The mistake the team, and fans, have made is overestimating what his value is around the league. Brunson is a pivotal player for the Mavericks because they are so starved for secondary playmaking that his absence is always felt. He is able to play alongside Doncic and can help run the second unit. That is invaluable for this particular Mavericks team.
Across the league, however, he projects as a sixth man that can spot start for you in certain games. While that sort of player is valuable, it’s not worth what Brunson will command in his next contract. The Mavericks won’t let Brunson walk. They are in what NBA analysist Danny Leroux has labeled “the Bird Rights trap”.
The Bird Rights trap involves a team being forced to overpay a player because they have no means of replacing that player’s production. The player uses that leverage to secure a contract with their current team that they would be unlikely to secure on the open market. Most recently, the Wizards were in the bird rights trap with Davis Bertans.
Brunson is worth less today in a trade than he was a year ago. If a team view’s Brunson as the missing piece to a championship run and is comfortable with him as a rental, a half-season rental is unlikely to fetch much in a trade. Whatever it is won’t be as valuable to the team as the role he fills. Had they traded Brunson a year ago, the other team would have had him on the last year and a half of his rookie deal and would have had enough time to decide on whether to extend him. Any team trading for him now must be comfortable paying him his next contract. Another complicating factor is Brunson’s current cap figure of $1.8 million. The most he can bring back in a trade by himself is $2.2 million. Brunson would need to be aggregated with a larger salary in order to bring back a player making above the minimum.
That leaves Josh Green. In short, Green has no value. The Mavericks might be able to fetch a second-rounder or two but no team is accepting a deal for a meaningful player with Josh Green as the centerpiece.
Veterans on team friendly contracts
Dorian Finney-Smith has always been mislabeled as a 3&D wing. His defensive metrics prove he is closer to an average defender than a lockdown one. His shooting splits and inconsistency from deep make the three in 3&D a stretch.
That being said, he does have value. It’s probably not as high as the Mavericks and fans believe. The Trail Blazers have a similar situation with Robert Covington. They thought they were trading two first-round picks for a player that could space the floor around Dame and be the type of defender they could deploy on the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Thus far, Covington has failed to move the needle for the Blazers. Covington, like Finney-Smith, is a good fifth starter. He won’t make or break your team but you’re in decent shape if he is the worst player in your starting lineup.
These players’ success will be dictated by the players around them as opposed to their own individual talent. Finney-Smith was a decent trade chip the past couple of seasons due to his team-friendly deal but that value will evaporate the second he signs his next contract. He, too, has the Mavericks in the Bird Right’s trap and will likely be overpaid once he signs his extension. Trading Finney-Smith now would be infinitely easier than trying to trade him on his next deal. In a league starved for wings, it’s more likely a team will view him as the missing piece as opposed to Brunson. For those reasons, the Mavericks would be wise to move on from both he and Brunson this season.
Maxi Kleber is a good player but his body forces him into a limited role. In his prime, Kleber was a terrific help defender that helped space the floor on offense. Kleber turns 30 in January and is probably past his peak. Kleber would be the perfect player for a contender but he is unlikely to fetch a meaningful asset in return.
Top end talent
The trade value of Porzingis gets depressed due to his injury history. If he finishes the season strong it’s possible a team will talk themselves into the last two years of his contract in the offseason. Unfortunately for us, a half-season of health won’t be enough to convince a team that his injuries are behind him. Any trade involving Porzingis is likely to happen after the season.
Sometimes the dollars and years left on a player’s contract are more valuable than the player itself. That is the case with Dwight Powell. His contract expires after next season and presents the best opportunity for a trade. At his salary, he can bring back a player making $13.8 million. That figure can increase if we attach other contracts such as Boban Marjonavic and Trey Burke. The Mavericks have two primary ways to make a move at this point. Option A is using Powell to bring in a toxic asset (think a player who is under performing with his current team and paid too much, like Hardaway in 2019) with a contract that runs longer than his. Option B is to take a player into their $10.8 million dollar trade exception. Click here to take a look at players that fall within that price range. Spoiler alert- things get dark, quickly.
It’s time to exit out of the Trade Machine. Any hypothetical deal is probably one-sided and won’t happen due to the reasons listed above. Any trade made in season will be in exchange for a toxic asset that fans will have to talk themselves into. As fellow MMB writer Lauren Gunn stated in our slack channel, the team is likely to look for a marginal upgrade at the center position. Someone like Derrick Favors could make sense for Dallas but I that isn’t the answer fans are looking for. A trade for a significant player is simply a pipe dream at this point. It’s time to set sights on something smaller and hope the team figures out their own issues.