Lauri Markkanen might make the Mavericks a better team… maybe …probably! That says more about the state of the roster surrounding Luka than it does about Markkanen as a player. But I don’t think I want him on this roster. I am basing that on two things – fit and opportunity cost.
Let’s touch on fit with the roster first. Markkanen is a facsimile of Kristaps Porzingis, a player that many agree currently holds this team back from reaching its full potential. Last season, Porzingis was unable to protect the rim, rebound, and create offense for himself.
Sure, he got hot from deep from time to time. His streaky shooting, however, was not nearly enough to raise the team’s ceiling and change their playoff fortunes. At the moment, Markkanen has shown that he is unable to protect the rim, he cannot rebound at an above-average rate for his position and was best utilized as a spot-up shooter. I’ve seen a number of fans state the team would be better off without KP and have seen a number of those very same fans talk themselves into a multiyear deal for Markkanen.
Markkanen is worth a low-cost flier. It is within the realm of possibility that playing with a true point guard could help unlock his talent on the offensive side of the ball. However, his deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball will never go away. He will never be able to anchor an above-average defense as a center. He will be even worse when asked to guard modern NBA power forwards.
He would be another one-dimensional player on a team full of one-dimensional players. Those players are valuable during the regular season. There will be matchups where Markkanen’s weaknesses can be hidden. Come playoff time, we’ll be able to see the bullseye on Markkanens’ back from space. His ceiling appears to be as a decent to solid rotational piece with some offensive upside. Is that worth a multi-year deal at about 15 million per year?
Teams like the Brooklyn Nets can afford to give rotation players such as Joe Harris a blank check. The only cost to doing so is increasing the luxury tax bill that Joe Tsai will foot at each seasons’ end. It doesn’t cost them anything in terms of assets or flexibility.
The Mavericks are in a much different situation than the Nets. It appears a deal for Markkenen would involve a sign and trade scenario for either Dwight Powell or Maxi Kleber. While Kleber has been injured the past two seasons, he has been the team’s best wing defender alongside Dorian Finney Smith. Some of the best lineups the past two seasons have featured Kleber at the 4 spot. Losing him would lower the defensive floor for a team desperate to find ways to generate stops at the end of games. Losing Dwight Powell presents a different sort of conundrum for the Mavericks. Dwight Powell the player isn’t as valuable as Dwight Powell the salary slot. His salary alone allows the Mavericks to bring back as much as 17.5 million in a trade. There are some talented players at that price point. The next tradeable contract would be Maxi Kleber but he would need to be aggregated with another smaller contract to bring back the same amount of money.
At the moment, the Mavericks have very few assets and even fewer tradeable contracts. Powell’s deal increases in value the closer we get to next season when he would become an expiring contract. The Mavericks could use his deal to help another team create cap space and shed long-term money. Using Powell to take on Markkanen would take that possibility off the table. I’ve heard the argument that Markkanen would be an asset that could potentially be moved in a deal down the line. If Markkanen at $15 million a year is valuable, why hasn’t he secured an offer sheet from another team at that salary? The Bulls appear unlikely to match a serious offer sheet. Signing Markkanen to that deal when no one appears willing to do so is another case of the Mavericks bidding against themselves. That has never worked out for a team.
Because of sign and trade rules, Markkanen would have to come to Dallas on a fully guaranteed 3 year deal with no options. It’s unlikely Markkanen would agree to signing a team-friendly multi-year deal. It would be better for him to play the year out on the qualifying offer and test the market as an unrestricted free agent next offseason. A one-dimensional player best utilized as a spot shooter is simply not worth cashing in the limited chips we have left. Fans of Markkanen will point to his 40% shooting from 3 as a reason to take that risk. I would argue all 40% 3 point shooters are not created equally. Markkanen isn’t capable of creating and hitting 3 point shots on the move. Outside of a few youtube highlight clips, he hasn’t been able to consistently break down defenses in isolation.
By acquiring Lauri Markkanen on a long-term deal, the Mavericks will be tripling down on a strategy that has proven to be ineffective in the playoffs. For a team with Luka Doncic, finding ways to succeed in the playoffs has never been more important.