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What If: Paul Pierce was traded to Dallas in 2008

The Mavericks history would have looked a lot different.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: There are a few new faces in the Dallas Mavericks front office. While there were no big splashes in their first free agency they did add a piece or two that should make an impact. But we can always ask for more. So we as a staff took some time to ask: if we could add any former Maverick from the post-title years to the 2021-22 Mavericks who would it be and why? I mean, what else are we supposed to do with this down time before training camp?

In recent years, anecdotes have cropped up through various outlets retroactively informing the Mavericks community about players that were close to landing in Dallas, but didn’t quite make it. Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Andre Igoudala are just a few high profile names that have been mentioned. Paul Pierce was another name that had been public knowledge, as he has expressed his desire to play in Dallas during the mid 2000’s, but just how close he was to becoming a Maverick was unknown until Mark Cuban tweeted this information out on Tuesday:

Because of Mark Cuban’s desire to pain Mavericks fans on Twitter, the question must be asked: what would have happened if Paul Pierce was traded to the Mavericks after the 2008 season?

Who were Paul Pierce and the Dallas Mavericks in 2008?

Before getting into how the trade would have played out, it is important to remember where Pierce and the Mavericks were 13 years ago. Dallas was coming off of their eighth consecutive 50 win season, but after a disappointing first round exit at the hands of a Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets team, Head Coach Avery Johnson was fired. They were two years removed from playing in the NBA Finals, and one year removed from a franchise record 67 win season. Dirk Nowitzki had made his fifth straight All-Star game, with averages of 23.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in 2008. Nowitzki had won league MVP one year prior in 2007. Josh Howard averaged nearly 20 points per game and a trade for Jason Kidd brought the fourth leading assist man in the NBA to Dallas for the final 29 games. The Mavericks were formidable, but not title contenders.

Paul Pierce resided in quite a different place when the 2008 season ended. His Boston Celtics had just won an NBA championship, and he had earned the honors of Finals MVP. Coming off of two consecutive losing seasons after 2007, and limited to 47 games due to injuries in the latter, Pierce was upset and frustrated with the possibility that he may never reach the top. He called the 2007 season “another year gone for me.” The Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett in July of 2007 and promptly found out that anything was possible. He was a six-time All Star by the summer of 2008 and, despite his injury, was still in his prime, albeit his scoring numbers had hit a steep decline. The loss of over five points per game year-over-year can certainly be attributed to the additions of Ray Allen and the aforementioned Garnett. In 2008, Paul Pierce was still at the top of his game.

The implications for Dallas

The trajectory of the Mavericks in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s would have completely altered had this deal gone through. Assuming the Mavericks would have had to give up some combination of Josh Howard, a veteran or two, and picks, let’s not just assume that Pierce would have been an add-on to the roster that played out the seasons following. Dallas would have given up valuable assets, but what they would have received in return would far exceed the cost. The Mavericks would have paired two superstars in their prime on a team with a winning culture and veteran guys around them. By the time Pierce and Nowitzki would have paired up, Pierce would have already had as many All Star appearances as Nowitzki’s teammates ultimately had over his 21 year career combined. In addition, Pierce signed a contract extension in 2006 that would keep him on the books through 2012, meaning his move to Dallas would not have been a 1 or 2 year rental. The Mavericks would have had at least four years with the Hall of Famer, and considering he averaged over 18 points a game until 2014, what an exciting four years they could have been.

At the time, the Lakers were the team to beat in the West. They made the NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010, before the Mavericks ultimately dethroned them in 2011. The most clear-cut missed championship opportunity came in 2009. The Mavericks won 50 games that year, and lost to a young Denver Nuggets team in the second round. This was a series where Josh Howard only averaged 12.8 points per game, a steep drop off from the 18 he put up in the regular season. Pierce would have provided Nowitzki and Jason Terry a lethal third scoring option, and would have put the Mavericks over the hump and advanced them to the Western Conference Finals. They would then have faced the Lakers, a familiar foe to Pierce, and one where his career scoring average against them exceeds 20 points. After winning a Finals MVP against them the year before, Pierce would have given the Mavericks a legitimate shot at advancing to the NBA Finals, where they would have beaten the Orlando Magic. Nowitzki would have gotten his first ring 2 years sooner, and Pierce would have back-to-back championships.

The spring of 2010 is where things get tricky. The trade for the Boston forward would have demanded a combination of Devean George, Jerry Stackhouse, and Eric Dampier, key pieces in the deals that brought Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion to Dallas. In addition, with Josh Howard being gone, the trade for Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, and Deshaun Stevenson would not have happened. If Pierce is traded to the Mavericks, a ripple effect disperses the 2011 championship team before it is ever formed. That is why 2010-2012 is so hard to predict, because the Mavericks would have had to find other pieces to put around their superstar duo. Due to the uncertainty of the roster, we cannot simply use the Mavericks history to highlight what would have happened, but instead use what we know about that time period to project the Mavericks path. We know that the Mavericks would have a Hall of Fame point guard in Jason Kidd, who was one of the greatest at getting people the ball where they needed to be. They would have had two Hall of Fame forwards who could both shoot the ball at a high clip and put the ball on the floor. Their offense would have been unstoppable. They had a head coach in Rick Carlisle that was championship-caliber, and his offensive scheme catered to the way Dirk and Pierce played. They would have been mentioned in the same breath as the Lakers and the Spurs every year, and given that the Lakers’ reign was coming to an end, the Mavericks would have taken over as top dog in the West.

Lebron James’ playoff loss to Boston in 2010 was the catalyst for him moving to Miami, so if Pierce is in Dallas, James never loses to Boston and stays in Cleveland, eliminating Miami and Boston as contenders in the East. This means the challenge would be getting to the Finals, which the Mavericks would have been more than capable of, and would then have to beat a lesser Eastern Conference team when they got there. Had Paul Pierce been traded to Dallas, the Mavericks would have won one to two more championships between 2010 and 2012, giving them at least two or three rings before Pierce became a free agent.