The NBA Trade Deadline is exactly one month away, set to pass on February 9th at 2:00 pm CST. As expected, the Dallas Mavericks’ rumor mill has started to pick up, and although the Mavs don’t have an abundance of highly sought-after trade assets, one name that has apparently come up in discussions around the league is Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hardaway is in his 10th NBA season – which feels weird to type out – and is owed a little over $34 million over the next two years. His career with Dallas has been a bit like a roller-coaster, from virtual afterthought in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, to ace shooter under Rick Carlisle netting him another big contract, to what we’ve seen the last season or so: a supremely streaky shotmaker who is irreplaceable on the roster when hot and an expensive albatross when not.
According to both Chris Fedor and Marc Stein, the Mavericks are open to moving Hardaway, and one team who may have interest is Cleveland, who would presumably be sending back Caris LeVert in a straight swap. LeVert, like Hardaway, is a wing scorer with an up-and-down track record, as well as a nearly identical salary. There are some small differences between the two, that might just make this trade worthwhile for Dallas.
First, LeVert is an expiring contract. Now, the money freed up would not be sufficient to, say, sign a max player this summer, but it would go a ways toward making a potential Christian Wood re-signing more feasible, among other things. Secondly, while LeVert isn’t someone you’d want taking over primary ballhandling duties anytime soon, he offers more playmaking/creation than Tim, without sacrificing an enormous amount as a spot up shooter (around 37% this season on catch and shoot 3’s, and nearly identical on pull ups). Finally, while Levert’s effort has waned at points throughout his career, his defensive reputation is deservedly much stouter than Hardaway’s, who has never been an especially strong defender and thus has never really been an ideal running mate for Luka.
This is not to say a Hardaway for LeVert exchange would be without risk. While his overall numbers this season aren’t terribly impressive, Hardaway’s production has been crucial to Dallas staying afloat as they deal with injuries. After an awful October/November, Hardaway came alive in December, hitting nearly 40% of his threes and averaging 17 points per game, all while being elevated from the bench into the starting lineup. In four January games, he’s upped that three point percentage to 45.5%, and there have been several games we can confidently say Dallas would not have won without him on the floor.
Meanwhile, if Dallas did acquire LeVert, it would be the third straight season Caris has been traded at or near the deadline. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his seven year NBA career (and missed significant time in college at Michigan as well), which has dulled some of the promise he once showed. LeVert can also be a little ball-dominant at times, something that makes him slightly redundant in Cleveland. The Mavs do not have many players around Luka Doncic who can drive to the basket or otherwise create quality looks off the dribble, but how exactly LeVert would fit within the team concept would remain to be seen.
How likely is this trade rumor to come to fruition? With all Mavs’ rumors my default position is “not likely”, but it is notable that both Fedor and Marc Stein have commented on it (Fedor doing so on Jake Fischer’s “Please Don’t Aggregate This” show is hilarious). My personal relationship as a fan to Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a strange one, and for as much time as I’ve thought about the team moving on from him to find a more obvious fit with Luka, it would be strange to actually see him go. Would LeVert really be an improvement, and/or does his expiring money matter given the team probably won’t be major players in this upcoming summer’s free agent market? In a month (at the latest), we will know if these are questions worth pursuing further.