February 26, 2024

Mavericks trade deadline analysis: How deals for P.J. Washington, Daniel Gafford fortify roster


NEW YORK — Luka Dončić requires urgency. That’s what general manager Nico Harrison and his Dallas front office reacted to on Thursday, making two acquisitions in the final hours before the league’s trade deadline to go along with another move it made earlier in the day. It was with an understanding that the Mavericks couldn’t wait, couldn’t obsess about years-away draft picks or future possibilities. It was imperative to act now, to put more talent around the team’s 24-year-old superstar, which Dallas believes it did.

Dallas made three trades Thursday. The first was for a 2024 first-round pick owned by Oklahoma City, either its own or one received from the LA Clippers, whichever is least favorable. To receive this, Dallas conceded the rights for Oklahoma City to swap 2028 first-round picks. Dallas then used that 2024 first-rounder to get Daniel Gafford from the Washington Wizards while sending Richaun Holmes as a salary match.

Later it acquired P.J. Washington from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Grant Williams, Seth Curry and Dallas’ 2027 first-round selection, with top-two protection. Charlotte had been unwilling to trade Washington without the inclusion of Dallas guard Josh Green, league sources say, but relented in the hours before the deadline. Dallas also received two second-round picks from Charlotte, which will be for 2026 and beyond since the Hornets had already traded away their 2024 and 2025 second-rounders.

The Mavs also explored trading for the Wizards’ Kyle Kuzma this deadline cycle, league sources say, but those discussions were considered dead by Wednesday evening, leading them to the Hornets.

Washington, the 12th pick in the 2019 draft out of Kentucky, should fit into the starting lineup as a power forward. He’s the type of athlete opponents feel on the court — 6 foot 7, 230 pounds with a 7-3 wingspan and a 34-inch max vertical during the pre-draft process. The Mavs roster is filled with guards who pose as wings, and undersized centers. The average height of the team’s rotation players ranks as the league’s sixth shortest. Washington is an inch taller than Williams, the player he’s replacing, but the difference between them will feel more substantial than that.

Washington’s role for the Hornets was ever-changing this season. In Dallas, it’ll be more consistent: he’ll be cast as a high-minutes 3-and-D player, but one with a far more luxurious shot-creating skill set than most players who have filled this role in the Dončić era. The 3-point shooting must come first, though.

This season, Washington has shot a career-worst 32.4 percent, including just 25.6 percent on corner 3s. He’s averaged 0.88 points on spot-up possessions, per the NBA’s stats site, which includes catch-and-shoot jumpers and closeout-attacking drives. That’s in the league’s 20th percentile for a guy who entered the league with a shooting rep and converted almost 39 percent of his 3s in his second season.

There’s no doubts about his scoring talent — he had a 43-point game on Jan. 27 against Utah — but he’s been inefficient throughout his career. This season, he’s slightly under his already subpar career True Shooting mark of 55.2 percent. But Washington’s talent exists and there’s reason to believe it could be funneled in this new environment in a manner it hasn’t before. Dallas believes his shooting will turn around, and it must.

Gafford’s fit is simpler. One of the players he’s most similar to is one who already has altered Dallas’ season: 19-year-old rookie Dereck Lively II. The Mavs are 22-14 this season when Lively has played and 7-9 when he hasn’t, so it’s clear the team needs similar qualities from his backup. Gafford is a ruthless rim protector — averaging 2.9 blocks this season, which was the league’s sixth-best block percentage at the trade deadline — and bouncy pick-and-roll partner. It’s plausible that he could even close some games over Lively, but what’s far more important is that Dallas can maintain interior physicality for entire games when both players are healthy.

After these two acquisitions — and an empty roster spot that could be used on a player in the buyout market — Dallas now has a viable 10-man rotation that looks like this:

The Mavericks’ new-look rotation

G G W W C

Luka Doncic

Kyrie Irving

Josh Green

P.J. Washington

Dereck Lively II

Dante Exum

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Derrick Jones Jr.

Maxi Kleber

Daniel Gafford

No, not all 10 are proven postseason contributors, but the point is Dallas hasn’t had many contingencies this season: not for nights when Lively was ineffective or in foul trouble; not for nights when Derrick Jones Jr. struggled to hit shots; not for nights when Dallas had no ideal defender for an opponent’s star power forward.

With this roster, Dallas has more mix-and-match options. These moves provide better role definition, one where Jones likely comes off the bench and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s minutes can often hover closer to 20 than 30. There are questions, no doubt, but Dallas now has 30 games to figure it out. And within those 30 games, we should also learn just how much these moves raised the team’s ceiling.

One upside is that Washington and Gafford should maintain their current value, perhaps even increasing it, even if the team recognizes something’s still amiss. If Washington comes to Dallas, becomes more efficient, as most players do next to Dončić, but doesn’t have enough defensive bite or a clean enough offensive game, Dallas can turn around and trade him.

He’s signed for the next two seasons at about $15 million annually, and he’s a versatile 25-year-old wing in the mold that every team craves. I can fix him, is something nearly every general manager says about players like him, even far less proven ones. Gafford is also 25 and also has two years and $27.8 million remaining on his deal. He, too, is likely to maintain his value.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

NBA trade grades: Mavs add P.J. Washington; Grant Williams, Seth Curry head to Hornets

Dallas has lost a lot of value over the past few seasons. Jalen Brunson left for nothing. One season of Christian Wood cost the Mavs a first-round pick. It took a 2030 first-round pick swap to acquire Williams, which has to be included in the true cost of the trade for Washington. JaVale McGee failed so dramatically that Dallas couldn’t even recoup the opportunity cost of signing him over any other option. Reggie Bullock, one of the team’s best free agency signings of the past few years, declined so rapidly that he ended up leaving as a salary match. There are more examples, some that failed despite a good process behind them and others that made little sense, even in hindsight.

Washington and Gafford, should not be that. And that makes it slightly more palatable that Dallas — once the team finally conveys its 2024 first-round pick to the Knicks at this year’s draft — only has its 2025 and 2031 first-rounders available to trade.

Dallas also kept its young prospects: Green, who has fans in many opposing front offices, and to a lesser extent Jaden Hardy and Olivier-Maxence Prosper. It added two more future second-rounders from Charlotte. That matters, too, because in the modern NBA, future second-rounders are viewed almost more as currency than their actual you-get-to-select-a-player purpose.

There are still concerns about this Dallas roster, particularly on defense. Lively is the most important piece to that unit, and adding another like-for-like backup in Gafford matters. But Dallas overall ranked 21st in points allowed per 100 possession this season and only rises to about 15th during Lively’s time on the court. Washington didn’t make a meaningful difference on his team’s defense when on the court — the Hornets allowed 0.4 more points per 100 possessions when he was on the court than off — and opponents converted a juicy 67 percent of their shots he defended within six feet of the rim. At some point soon, Dallas may need to acquire another high-level wing to reach title contention status.

But the Mavericks still should have flexibility to keep churning their roster around Dončić if this doesn’t work. If the team had stood pat, or at least held onto that 2027 first-rounder, would that have meaningfully changed an offer that the team could make this summer? Remember, the Mavericks will have no chance to bid on the true A-listers of the league; too many rival teams hold war chests. Because Dallas chose to recycle its roster now, it has more time to do so again if it’s needed.

It might still be wrong in the end. San Antonio and Oklahoma City sought those first-round pick swaps in 2028 and 2030 with Dallas because they, like every other team in the league, see the possible catastrophe that would come if Dončić leaves the Mavs in free agency or requests a trade soon after. It’s really hard to win in the NBA. The ticking clock of a maturing superstar only adds pressure.

That’s why Dallas acted: because it needed to, because the roster wasn’t yet there. The Mavs will see how much closer to their goals these two moves get them. And if they need to, there’s still time to act again.


Trade deadline blog: Analysis of every deal, latest news

(Photo of P.J. Washington and Grant Williams: Jerome Miron / USA Today)





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