Well, that was awkward.
Essentially, everyone’s reaction to Dennis Smith Jr.’s mid-season vacation that ended last night with a start versus the Clippers. To say the least, this has been an unpredictable situation no one saw coming. Unless, of course, you own the team.

Unlike the other prominent sports owner in Dallas, Mark Cuban has a way of voicing his honest thoughts and opinions about the team without negatively impacting on-court results. Wasting no time, Cuban solidified the unease when he described the situation to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Two Perspectives

Professional athletes are expected to handle trade rumors and unfair speculation with an understandable demeanor that keeps both the team and players’ value intact. It would seem both the team and player would prefer a do-over in this case. The team was clearly looking to attain the value of their second-year point guard which is typical of a rebuild; however, the only issue was the player wasn’t prepared for this scenario.

The unpredictable nature of the news seemingly sent DSJ to a sick bed causing him to miss the last six games. Although a complete embellishment, this seemed to be the narrative. Initially, this type of behavior can be interpreted as immature, unprofessional, and most importantly, detrimental to his value. It’s difficult to think otherwise when compared to other trade protocols practiced in the NBA. Dennis is young and full of aspiration, so to anticipate this would be handled ideally is naive.

luka n DSJ
Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic Tuesday night vs Clippers.

The tea leaves obviously suggest the Mavericks didn’t receive the offers they were expecting, which is why an about-face was suddenly necessary. It’s rare for a team to practically move on from a player then suddenly start him after an unprecedented mid-season sabbatical. This season’s journey has been far from stellar for both parties; however, NBA executives have indirectly spoken and reality is staring the Mavs and Dennis square in the face.

Moving Forward

This scenario should serve as all the evidence needed to authenticate the notion that Smith Jr. isn’t the sought-after commodity many believed he was. Not just the Mavericks but the entire league believe DSJ must elevate his game before garnering the assets a top 10 pick would warrant. No matter how many filters used on this photo, the blemishes have to be addressed. This mutually dependent relationship has been ignited to a new degree as all the chips are on the table. The player knows the team is prepared to move on if presented with proper compensation and the team knows how they handle this will impact their franchises reputation in upcoming free agency/ drafts. The Mavs know the league is prepared to call their bluff if and when Dennis reappears on the trade block.

Tuesday night against the 7th ranked Western Conference Clippers, DSJ was assertive and potent while Luka continued his recent shooting slump. In the last five games, Doncic has missed 32 of the 85 shots he’s taken, good for a measly 38.6% from the field.

If Smith Jr. wants to secure a future with the Mavs, a clear continuity with Luka has to be established. Equally important to his trade practicality will be showcasing he has the ability to run a squad. The season-ending injury to J.J. Barea means there will be an abundant amount of opportunity to display this.

Like most faltering teams, the Mavericks are at a crossroads. In one direction, the all or nothing attitude required to be a buyer in the NBA transaction market, and in the other, the meticulous nature necessary to align a team with a high draft pick (aka tanking). This explains the importance of the reconciliation project. The information obtained has been mutually beneficial providing an extremely important baseline required to make an educated move. The only way winning can be achieved is through grueling, uncomfortable assessments such as these.

Recently, teams have become increasingly more willing to go through the tense and edgy circumstances mandatory to determine a high draft picks’ true merit. According to Cuban, there isn’t a team in the league this doesn’t happen to.

After being away from the club for two weeks, Dennis Smith Jr. arrived refreshed and energized. His pace and athleticism spearheaded a much-needed win for the Mavericks. The stat line (17 PTS, 4 AST, 8 REB) was far from eye-popping, but his activity and all around vibe were felt in tangible ways that secured the victory.

On the way to success, we all experience significant moments where a wake-up call is needed to disrupt our comfort zone. The Mavs and DSJ are there, and in an effort to avoid complacency, they have to answer the call.

Photo: Mavs.com
Twitter: Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon)
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