Trades are a sports inevitability. But as a fan that reality can be complicated. Fantasy sports and video games have convinced us all we are capable of being our favorite team’s GM, comfortably slipping into the clinical approach of building a contending team. But there’s still that nagging other side of fandom that makes us, well, fans: our emotional connection.
So while the last few days have been mostly focused on the complexities and implications of adding Kyrie Irving (and Markieff Morris) to the Dallas Mavericks — something our site has covered superbly — my immediate gut reaction after the trade was reported focused on Dorian Finney-Smith. And Jalen Brunson. And Brandan Wright.
The Dallas Mavericks have pulled headline-grabbing trades seemingly out of thin air many times over the years. It’s hard not to think Mark Cuban is at least a little attracted to the moves for that thrill alone. And as a fan it’s easy to be excited by your favorite team suddenly adding this shiny new piece to the puzzle.
But what happens when those puzzle pieces come with their own dings, and acquiring them requires the Mavericks to give up some of your favorite players?
So many times during last summer’s playoff run watching Mavericks role players — especially Finney-Smith and Brunson — that scene from Moneyball kept rattling around in my head. The one where Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) reflects on the impact of his strategy in finding undervalued capable players. It kept echoing for me watching that run.
Finney-Smith’s path was winding. He earned Rick Carlisle’s trust as a rookie, appearing in 81 games and starting in 35 as an undrafted free agent signing. His tenacity and defensive instincts counterbalanced a truly horrific shot. In his first three seasons he was 155-of-512 from three, and there is no way to describe to someone that wasn’t watching the tanking years the experience of watching him shoot, especially as he rebuilt his mechanics.
But the hard work paid off. The next three-plus seasons in Dallas, “Doe Doe” was a 38-percent three point shooter and nearly 42-percent from deep over three seasons in the playoffs. He also turned into the anchor of a defense that had the sixth best Defensive-rating in the league last season.
Brunson entered the league as the most decorated college player in his class (and maybe recent history), but his size and style drew skepticism about his translation to the league. Even the previous year’s playoff performance left everyone wondering if he could be an impact player on a playoff team, let alone a contender.
Now Brunson is in New York posting near all-star caliber numbers after the Mavericks let him walk for nothing, reportedly offering below market value for his services. And Finney-Smith has been traded for the most volatile star asset in the league.
There are some echoes here from the past. In 2014 the Dallas Mavericks were chaotic fun. A piece of that engine was high flying Brandan Wright, a long and springy big man that lived near the top of the square. Unassuming outside his highlight reel dunks and blocks, Wright was the sweet spot of playing along the fringes so every game didn’t live or die by him but making impact on the floor just enough for a fan to defend him to the death.
But then came Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, with championship pedigree, an intellectual approach to the game, and maybe the missing piece for Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis, and an aging Dirk Nowitzki. Though Rondo came with his baggage, the Mavericks felt the risk was worth any potential reward and sent a package of players and picks, that included Wright, to Boston and rolled the dice. We know where that led.
What I’m saying is I understand the inevitability of trades, even the ones that send off the players we care for the most. But I’m tired of the Mavericks making me say bye to my favorite players through questionable moves, whether it’s by trade or free agency. This, I suppose, is the pain of being a fan. It’s a cost for the emotional connection you have to their growth and impact. It would just be easier to let go of my favorites if each move didn’t feel so risky or ominous.