Yesterday, the Dallas Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis in what has got to be one of the most Mavs trades of all time. Naturally, not everyone knows what that means. I’ll explain!
First of all, it was surprisingly good, given the assets the Mavs had. Nobody could have looked at the Mavs prior to the trade and said aw yeah, that’s Kristaps Porzingis material. A couple of weeks ago, another contributor to this site asked me whether I thought the Mavs would consider trading Dennis Smith, Jr., and Wes Matthews for Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Courtney Lee. The answer apparently was “yes, but throw in Kristaps Porzingis.”
The Mavs are very, very good at trades. It is totally bonkers that they of all teams ever lit on this “cap space or bust” strategy because obviously, it deprived them of the assets to make any. From 2006, when they should have won a championship, to 2011 when they actually did, they gradually traded up from a starting lineup of Dirk, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, and an aged Jerry Stackhouse, with key reserves Doug Christie, Adrian Griffin, and Erick Dampier, for Dirk, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and Peja Stojakovic, bit by bit like a scam artist who was asked to give the keynote at a scam artist convention. Then they quit for five years, in order to save money for FAs who were never going to come, and then they started again and ended up with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in a span of about three minutes, give or take. Even the Nerlens Noel trade looked pretty incredible at the time.
Second, they showed their extreme hatred for the draft. The Mavs hate the draft so much, one hilarious sitcom idea would be to have the Mavs front office share an apartment with the draft. There are only two players getting minutes on the Mavericks who were actually drafted by the Mavs, and spent their career with the Mavs, and those are Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Dončić. I know Dirk technically wasn’t, but that’s so boring to talk or think about, I’m moving on. The more important point is that the Mavs ALSO won’t have any guys like that in the near future, having traded every first-round draft pick they will ever have to one of either the Knicks or the Hawks. And, they won’t have them in the near past, having traded last year’s first-round draft pick in order to make this trade. This is, by the way, another reason their cap-space-only strategy was nuts. Since they refused to sign anybody ‘til they got a big fish who was never coming, since they refused to draft, they left themselves with only the one, really unlikely way to get better. Which is why, of course, they didn’t.
Third, it happened in part because Rick Carlisle and a point guard had creative differences. There is a long and storied history of Rick Carlisle having creative differences with point guards that include names now known mostly to Mavs fans — Roddy Beaubois, for example — and those known to everybody, such as Darren Collison, Rajon Rondo, and even Jason Kidd for a time. Call it a clash of old school and new school, or whatever you want, but not every team would have alienated a seemingly amiable twenty-one-year-old point guard so much that he staged a contract holdout in the middle of his second year. And not everyone would have decided that differences with a guy that young, that athletic, and with that much talent — the No. 9 draft pick just two years ago — were totally irreconcilable.
The end result of this swirl of very characteristic developments is also, naturally, deeply characteristic. The Mavs have done something marvelous. They started last year’s offseason with Harrison Barnes as their best player, probably by far, and before the Ides of February added two of the best young players in the game. At the exact same time, they have given themselves very little in the way of an obvious path to get much better, since they won’t be drafting until after The Rapture, and they traded big expiring contracts in Wes and DeAndre Jordan for a guy, in Tim Hardaway, Jr., making around $18 million for the next two years, and Courtney Lee, who will make $12.7 million next year.
I wouldn’t bet against ‘em — and I specifically wouldn’t bet against them trading Harrison Barnes’ expiring for something interesting next year — but still. Every single thing about this trade is so Mavs: its strengths, its weaknesses, its return, its excesses — could they really not have gotten this done with one first-rounder if they wanted? And yet, at the end of the day, having Luka and KP is a pretty incredible core for a team that at the end of the 2017-18 season had neither. And that’s pretty Mavs, too!