February 26, 2024

Mavericks’ trade deadline primer: Kyle Kuzma? Andrew Wiggins? Evaluating your fake trades


The Athletic has live coverage of the 2024 NBA trade deadline.

The Dallas Mavericks have made at least one midseason trade every year since 2017. They vary in magnitude and outcome. Some were inconsequential (Doug McDermott in 2018, JJ Reddick in 2021). Some didn’t work (Nerlens Noel in 2017). Some were completed weeks before the deadline (Willie Cauley-Stein in 2020). But under Nico Harrison, who took charge of the team’s front office in 2021, Dallas has made roster-shifting transactions near both deadlines he has helmed. The Mavericks traded away Kristaps Porziņģis in 2022, and traded for Kyrie Irving last year.

That track record, small as it is, is the best reason to suspect Dallas will make another transaction before  Thursday’s 3 p.m. Eastern deadline. Harrison has not shied away from making trades, not even when the team has offered an incomplete grade on the court. Porziņģis, after all, was traded partially due to his non-participance on the court in that 2021-22 season. This season, Dallas has already used 28 different starting lineups, thanks to every key player missing time with various injuries. But even if the team’s ceiling is hard to know given the makeshift nature of the past two months, it definitely falls beneath title contention.

The Mavericks’ front office has been active as the deadline approaches, and the team is most interested in a tall four, ideally with two-way ability and solid spot-up shooting, several league sources tell The Athletic. The roster could also use a more defensive-minded backup center. Yet while each of those archetypes could improve Dallas’ roster this season, the only two players who might have raised the team’s ceiling in significant ways, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, have already been dealt. There’s room to reasonably disagree about that sentence, but there’s no doubt those two were the NBA’s most coveted wings as this season’s trade market developed.

Dallas can’t know with certainly how that market might change this summer or next season, which makes future speculation — about who might become available, but also how the value of Dallas’ young players to other teams around the league could change — important to every current trade proposal the front office discusses. Is it better to acquire talent now, if available, or bank on the team’s potential offer of three first-round picks this summer and beyond putting them in a better negotiation spot in the near future. (Assuming the team’s 2024 first-rounder finally conveys to New York, Dallas can offer its 2025, 2027, and 2031 first-rounders in a trade following this summer’s draft.)

The Mavericks also have to cast that soon-to-come flexibility against the league’s other bidders. Several teams, like the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz, can dig far deeper into their treasure chests to pursue bonafide 1A stars. Dallas’ two major acquisitions, Porziņģis and Irving, both came with availability asterisks and immediate paydays. A repeat scenario seems likeliest for Dallas to acquire a star-level talent in the next 12 months: one whose talent is attached to something less favorable, be it contractual, health or overall fit.

Dallas is right in its archetypical target: A tall four who can contribute defensively and with some interior shot creation is what this roster most needs. While it worked well in a second-half comeback, Dallas was forced to play matchup zone against the Orlando Magic earlier this week because the team doesn’t have an ideal defender for the Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner type of big wings in this league. Having someone like that is increasingly necessary for any team with serious ambitions.

Alongside the Luka Dončić and Irving pairing to which the team has committed its near-term future, Dallas views rookie center Dereck Lively II as untouchable. Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr. might as well be, too, due to their affordable contracts and how seamlessly each fits on the court. (That the Mavericks have a second-year team option for Exum makes him even more valuable, too.) Everyone else on the roster can reasonably be seen as available in the right deal.

That’s the groundwork for these discussions. Let’s toy with some fake trades to test it out.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

2024 NBA Trade Board 2.0: The top 40 names on the market right now


DALLAS RECEIVES: Kyle Kuzma

WASHINGTON RECEIVES: Grant Williams, Richaun Holmes, Jaden Hardy, 2027 Dallas 1st

Kyle Kuzma is the one rotation player available who fits best in Dallas. He checks a lot of boxes: declining scale contract; needed off-the-dribble juice; an above-average defender when he’s been in situations where he needs to try; a tall dude who can rebound and be big. The path to success in this league runs through 6’9 forwards like him.

I’m not sure he warrants the team’s coveted first-rounder. Kuzma is a good starter, not a game-changing piece. The Mavericks need to acquire more players like him in addition to adding someone who can be the team’s third-best player. Kuzma’s 13 points per game average during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2019-20 championship run is probably a better summation of his fit on a contending team than the 22 points he’s averaging with the lowly Wizards.

Could Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green and whatever necessary second-round draft capital be a potential framework? Especially if Daniel Gafford came along for the ride? (Unlikely without the first-rounder, as the Wizards reportedly want two of them just for Kuzma.) I’m on record saying Hardaway is harder to replace than most fans think, but a 6’9 jack-of-all-trades player like Kuzma who takes plenty of spot-up 3s — albeit at a much worse conversion rate than Hardaway — is the type of player to target.

It would not be comforting parting with Dončić’s two most reliable spot-up shooters, but Kuzma is the type of player — if you believe in his defense coming back around — who is worth adding for what this team could be as a contender. But he’s probably too good-but-not-great to warrant the first-rounder it might take.

DALLAS RECEIVES: Daniel Gafford

WASHINGTON RECEIVES: Richaun Holmes, a 2025 Dallas 2nd-rounder via Toronto, a 2028 Dallas 2nd-rounder via Miami

I could be talked into this trade idea from @GarrenLephan but, for me, both Daniel Gafford and Charlotte’s Nick Richards — @627zach submitted a similar idea involving him — come with two questions. First, do these deals make sense for the team’s future, or do they just stabilize this season? And second, how sure are we that Maxi Kleber, fresh off his best game in just about two seasons, can be a consistent rotation player next to a non-shooting center?

Dallas plays far better with Lively on the court, which speaks to the need for another big presence behind him. But with the Dončić-led offense, the Mavericks should only consider giving up draft capital for a backup center — someone presumably worse than the teenager the team sees as its present and future at the position — if it unlocks another rotation player for them. That’s Kleber, who, at his best, imitates tall wings more than big men.

If you have faith in Gafford being able to do that, and in the team building around non-shooting big men for 48 minutes every game, then sure.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Wizards trade deadline intel: What we’re hearing about potential moves

DALLAS RECEIVES: Andrew Wiggins, Golden State’s 2026 first-rounder

GOLDEN STATE RECEIVES: Grant Williams, Richaun Holmes

If Wiggins could become the player he was two years ago, that’s exactly what Dallas needs and exactly what they hope someone like Kuzma would become. But I don’t trust Wiggins’ decline to be reversible, not enough to bite even at the reduced price. Nor is there any chance Golden State would do this deal — Williams and Holmes aren’t the sure-fire rotation players they want — with a first-rounder. Sorry, @navek321, but I don’t think this one works.

DALLAS RECEIVES: Tyler Herro, P.J. Washington, Caleb Martin, 2029 Miami 1st

MIAMI RECEIVES: Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris

CHARLOTTE RECEIVES: Grant Williams, Nikola Jovic, Jaden Hardy

This trade, from @HoopSocialDraft, is a fun impossibility. Dallas is not trading Irving; the team is committed to the star backcourt with him and Dončić. But as a thought exercise, sure, let’s talk about it real quick.

Adding this trio would improve some of Dallas’ key weaknesses while making Tim Hardaway Jr. expendable in another deal. But it reminds me of a fantasy football mode called best ball. Rather than starting lineups and benches, your best players are automatically selected at each position. You can prioritize more boom-or-bust performers and benefit when they pop off instead of deferring to the typical tried-and-true rule: Play your studs.

If the NBA worked like this, you’d sub in your best 3-point shooters if you knew the opponent was going to help off the corner to defend a pick-and-roll. Honestly, you’d have that knowledge in hindsight. But what the NBA is about is packing as much talent onto the court within the confines of a five-man lineup. And whether you like building around Irving or not, he undoubtedly provides more talent at his position — not just shotmaking, but as a connector and a spot-up shooter — than most players in the league.

So, no, this trade doesn’t make any sense to me. Herro can replicate some percentage of what Irving does, and the other two players would add some necessary skills that Dallas needs, but it’s that not-quite-there replication that differentiates contenders and playoff pests.

And P.J. Washington – who I haven’t addressed yet despite his being a popular name within fake Mavericks trades – is in the Kuzma spectrum. I’m not sure he adapts as well to Dončić Ball as well as it might seem from his raw numbers. It surely says something when a rebuilding team like Charlotte doesn’t see him as a future building block.

DALLAS RECEIVES: Jerami Grant

PORTLAND RECEIVES: Grant Williams, Richaun Holmes, 2026 Dallas 1st

This one came from Michael Wei, but I just don’t see it making sense. I have nothing but respect for Grant, someone who, in 2020, prioritized money and a larger role with the Detroit Pistons over his career’s previous iteration as a role player for a serious postseason team in the Denver Nuggets. Know what you want and make it happen, you know?

But even if Grant was willing to buy back into being the third option, with all of the dirty roleplayer work required for where he would fit into the Mavericks’ hierarchy, acquiring him would feel like the team’s attempt to get someone like Siakam, just less talented and a less ideal fit. It doesn’t seem likely that Grant’s going to be traded, anyway, but I don’t think he’s someone Dallas should be interested in.

DALLAS RECEIVES: Devin Booker

PHOENIX RECEIVES: Kyrie Irving

You know what? @RyanGobasco4177, this idea proves you’re the type of sicko I would get along with. As Ryan explained, “This solves the Kyrie fans vs. Luka fans and the Kevin Durant fans vs Devin Booker fan wars. Let there be peace.” And in a basketball context alone, it sort of makes sense, too.

It is a shame we don’t live in a world where this could happen.

(Top photo of Kyle Kuzma defending Luka Dončić: Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images)





Source