To call this trade shocking is an understatement. Because of the number of fake news breaking accounts, my initial reaction was to think someone on my Twitter timeline had been duped. Surely, the tweet was fake. Kristaps Porzingis had been traded? Impossible!
Dallas fans have been plugging his name into the trade machine for years but it was always an exercise in futility. First, we didn’t think this front office and owner had the courage to make a move of this magnitude. Secondly, Porzingis has played well when healthy this season. His lateral quickness was much improved and he was once again protecting the rim. So why, exactly, did Mark Cuban and Nico Harrison decide to make this particular trade at this particular time?
The Truth about Porzingis’s Value
Half of the fan base believed Kristaps Porzingis could be the vehicle to help us land a second star while the other half believed it would be a case of addition by subtraction whenever he was moved. The truth about his value, however, was always going to be somewhere in the middle. They say the best ability is availability and Porzingis hasn’t been available to us as often as we would have liked. Because of his build, we would always see him as a ticking time bomb regardless of how well he played. We were terrified every time he went up for a dunk or fell to the ground after being fouled. Every conversation started with “If Porzingis is healthy” or “as long as we have a healthy Porzingis”. We were always going to go as far as a “healthy” Porzingis could take us. It seems the Mavs were no longer comfortable with that being the case.
Porzingis was never going to net Dallas a star. His contract would always be seen as a toxic asset and we would never be able to trade him for value. I believed anything we got back in a trade for Kristaps was never going to give us the upside a healthy Porzingis could. I wrote article after article warning fans that any move we made would be in exchange for another team’s toxic asset we would have to talk ourselves into.
Well, here we are. Admittedly, I’ve long been a fan of Dinwiddie and wanted the Mavs to sign him in the offseason. It didn’t take long for me to talk myself into the trade but more on Dinwiddie later. For now, it’s about coming to the realization that our hopes for Porzingis and this team were always built on blind faith. We had no reason to believe Porzingis could finish the season healthy. Porzingis hasn’t played in weeks because of a “knee contusion” and we have no idea when he’ll be making a return to the court. If the Wizards decide to sit him for the rest of the season, would you be surprised? And if another surgery is on the horizon, would that shape how you view this trade? I don’t blame Cuban for wanting out of the KP experience. We can argue about the quality of the pieces we got back in return but the sad truth is that it was probably time. Were Porzingis to suffer yet another season-ending injury, our short and long-term outlooks would have gotten worse before they got better.
The Trade Package
Last night, reporters leaked that the Raptors were offering a package of Goran Dragic and a protected first round pick. Many fans have stated they would have preferred that package over what the trade ended up being. I could not disagree more. Not because we hit a home run, but because that package would have done absolutely nothing for us in the long term. Dragic is going to get bought out so that trade was essentially Porzingis for a bad pick in a bad draft. In a normal draft, the chances of finding a star are minimal. In what draft experts predict will be a top-heavy draft with little depth, the chances are even lower. On top of that, a 2022 draft pick does not satisfy the Stepien rule and our ability to trade future picks would have been unaffected. The chances of that pick being good enough to crack the rotation are about 20% and the chance of that player turning into a star is much, much lower. Is trading KP for a one in five chance at landing a rotation quality player better than what we got today? In short, no.
In a vacuum, Davis Bertans has been flat-out awful this year. When you add in his contract, he’s probably a bottom five asset in the league. The Mavericks probably view him as the tax they had to pay to take on Spencer Dinwiddie. I’d be lying if I said I had any faith he could turn things around this season so let’s just accept that he has a ways to go before he can be viewed as a winning player. While we may think that KP and Bertans shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence in terms of talent, his injury history and the years left on both of their contracts makes them equally undesirable.
Ultimately, this trade is about Spencer Dinwiddie. At worst, he provides insurance should Jalen Brunson walk in free agency. At best, he is an excellent third guard that can start and/or close in certain matchups.
My affinity for Dinwiddie is well known. The second the trade was announced my texts and Twitter mentions blew up. I wasn’t just the president of the Spencer Dinwiddie fan club, I was also a member. In truth, I was fascinated by the idea of Dinwiddie more than I was the actual player. In a weak free agency class, I believed he represented the best chance at revamping our offense. A heliocentric offense with Luka as the offensive engine was built for the regular season but put a glass ceiling on the team during the playoffs. We had an excellent fastball but no plan B. We saw Jalen Brunson struggle against the length and physicality of the Clipper defenders. Now, some might argue the Clippers represent a unique challenge and it’s unfair to judge Brunson by how he performed against them. In reality, if we were ever going to take a step forward, we needed someone capable of thriving against the league’s best defenders. I didn’t trust Brunson was good enough to carry us when teams forced the ball out of Luka’s hands. Since then, Brunson has certainly improved but the playoffs will be the true test of how he has progressed as a playmaker and scorer.
I believed Dinwiddie was out of sight and out of mind for so long that fans forgot just how good he was on some terrible Nets teams. His ability to go one on five and create shots for both himself and others was something we desperately needed. I still believe he is capable of being that player. In Washington, he simply didn’t fit both on and off the court. For better or worse, that was Bradley Beal’s team. The collective has probably realized that Bradley Beal isn’t good enough to be the best player on a team hoping to do any meaningful winning. Beal has struggled all year and was not comfortable sharing the ball with anyone. Once the early season ball movement stopped, Dinwiddie’s usage rate cratered and so did his efficiency. Dinwiddie is good enough to play off of a superstar and I believe he will find more success in Dallas than he did in his short time as a Wizard. Sure, his shooting splits are bad, but have you taken a look at Porzingis’s numbers? The Luka/KP pick and roll wasn’t as effective as it used to be because teams were comfortable letting Porzingis launch from 3. Some of his 3s sounded like minor car crashes after hitting the backboard. That aside, Dinwiddie is a safer bet to stay healthy than Porzingis could ever be. Sure, he doesn’t have the upside that Porzingis does, but he is more likely to contribute in a year where the West appears to be wide open. He’s also more likely to regain his value than Porzingis is. Were Dinwiddie to flourish the rest of this season, Dallas would have no trouble finding a home for him in the offseason. At the earliest, we wouldn’t have been able to trade KP until next season’s trade deadline and that is assuming he avoided a serious injury between now and then.
At full health, the Mavericks are without question a worse team today than they were yesterday. The truth, however, is that we haven’t seen a fully healthy Mavericks team the last two seasons. If the regular season is any indication, we were probably not going to see a healthy Mavs team this postseason and it would have taken a mini-miracle to see a fully healthy Mavs team at any point moving forward. At worst, we’ve split one bad contract into two much more digestible bad contracts. At best, Bertans might be able to replace the shooting we lost when Tim Hardaway Jr. went down while hedging our Jalen Brunson bet with Dinwiddie. Today was a reminder that too many of us have had our heads in the sand for far too long. The path forward is a murky one but Porzingis was never going to get us to the promised land. If he stays healthy the next two and a half years, we will look back at this trade as one of the worst in recent memory. More than likely, we should heed the words of Bill Bellichick who once said, it’s better to move on a year too early than a year too late.