As NBA Trade Season kicks off, should the Mavs make a move or stand pat?

The Dallas Mavericks currently sit in 4th place in the Western Conference after going 1-2 since Luka Doncic has been sidelined for a high ankle sprain. They beat the red hot Bucks but fell last night to Kemba Walker and his Celtics, both of whom are the top 2 teams in the East.

With the Mavs seeing what their team is made of without the historic help of Luka, does it show them they have what it takes to make a playoff run as-is OR do they need to find a way to add a piece before the All-Star break?

First things first, this Mavericks team is performing quite well in relation to where they were 1 year ago and is outperforming preseason estimations. They are still on pace to win over 50 games and have already beaten last year’s road win total, so it’s easy to get greedy. However, this team has made this leap by letting chemistry develop from last year to this one and adding small pieces in the offseason.

It’s true, Porzingis coming back is a huge addition for both defense and floor spacing, but generally speaking, it’s the same team as last year. And the chemistry shows in how they interact on and off the court.

This comradery has produced a team with full buy-in from every player 1-15 in a way that has led them to mid-level defense and a historic offense, so why mess with that? Well, the thought process is that you might catch the Bucks napping one night in the regular season, but to do that over a 7 game playoff series is an entirely different prospect altogether. This team is built on depth, but in the playoffs, rotations shorten to play your stars more and your 10-15 bench players get relegated to towel waivers. With the Mavs setting their sights on the playoffs, do the Mavs try to capitalize on the value of their depth and try to add someone who would be a difference-maker beyond April?

Shawn Marion joined Mark Followill and Derek Harper on the Fox Sports Southwest broadcast for the Mavs home game vs the Pistons for a…colorful few minutes of insight when Harp asked him pointedly whether he thinks this team is ready to compete for a championship. Marion, without much hesitation, stated that he thought the team was “a piece away”. That piece being a difference-maker when either Luka or KP need some help a la Jason Terry’s role in Marion’s championship season.

The question becomes whether the Mavs view that as a RIGHT NOW acquisition, or if it can wait until this offseason or even further down the line.

The Timeline

Sports fans are rarely patient, so talking about waiting and timelines is usually frowned upon, but it’s worth mentioning again that last year the Mavs did not expect Luka to be this good this fast. Once they realized it, they moved up the development timeline and made moves to expedite it. This year, the team is yet again surprised at the progress this team has made, so they COULD do so again to try and capitalize on that. However, they COULD wait and see how this postseason shakes out to see EXACTLY where the faults are in the team to address them specifically.

Additionally, if you look at the Mavs contractual situation, lots of money comes off the books in the summer of 2021 (Tim Hardaway Jr’s $18.9M & Courtney Lee’s $12.7M, plus Boban & Justin Jackson as well) which just so happens to coincide to when Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a free agent looking for a supermax deal. The Mavs have clearly kept this summer in mind as they’ve marched towards that free agency. Any LARGE additions made via trade would have to take the length of the contract into consideration so they don’t miss their second chance at the Greek Freak.

The Assets

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Mavs are looking to add a player to bolster this roster, it’s a matter of TRADING for them. This means, the Mavs have to give things up to get them and right now, the Mavs might be short on truly desirable assets. They have no first-round picks to give for the next 3 years, thanks to last year’s trade for Porzingis and the Stepien Rule (forbidding back to back first-round picks to be packaged in a trade) and only having undesirable larger contracts in Courtney Lee and the streaky Tim Hardaway Jr to package as assets, it seems hard to envision a trade without sending out things the team wants to hold onto. They DO have the Warrior’s second-round pick for this year, which might turn out to be a HUGE bargaining chip, but do they want to part with it? And they have Jalen Brunson who is still on a rookie deal, but the team views him as a cornerstone.

There is, however, the trade exception from sending Barnes to Sacramento last year, but that has its own quirks. It is essentially an $11.82M slot that the Mavs can take a salary into BEFORE February 7th, 2020, but it cannot be combined with any other asset or take on a salary that is more than the $11.82M. A player literally has to fit within that exception to use it, which means that it has limited liability to the team, except to add a specified role player.

Who Would They Add?

If last year proved anything, it’s that MFFLs will not know anything until it happens and that Donnie Nelson will be taking and making calls. Being opportunistic has seemed to work out for the Mavs over the past 18 months, so we shouldn’t lose faith in the front office now. One rumor that has been mentioned came from Woj on the Zach Lowe Podcast:

This does not mean the Mavs A) are going for these EXACT players B) have means to get these players or C) aren’t setting smokescreens so they can quietly go for the players they DO want. In fairness, the Mavs are not the only teams out there that WANT a Montrezl Harrel on their team, so with the limited assets the Mavs are going to give up to get them, odds are that the Mavs will not have the best offer on the table.

The other question is what skillset would the Mavs be looking to add? They have the #1 offense in the league that would be the best in history if it lasts all year and they are 15th in defensive rating. So they don’t TRULY need shooting, but improving somewhat on defense to hopefully get to top 10 in the category will undoubtedly cost them some offensive production. What players provide defense, secondary ball-handling, help to shoulder the burden of defending top-shelf talent and/or a paint presence whose contract ends by 2021 that is worth giving up young talent to get? That’s a tall order, but it’s worth searching for.

Trades are hard and parting ways with something that’s working as well as the Mavs are so far this season seems like a risky proposition. They could upset the cohesive locker room that’s got 100% buy-in at the moment. They could accidentally end up with a Rondo or Lamar Odom that looks great with this team on paper, but it just doesn’t work on the court.

It’s a lot to wager for a team that is thinking about home-court advantage AFTER being in the lottery just 6 months ago. But if they swing and it works, it could be the difference between a first-round playoff exit AND a deep playoff run. Championship chasing is not for the faint of heart.
What would you give up to make the Mavs better?

Featured Image: Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News
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