The Dallas Mavericks have been a pleasant surprise this season, as star rookie Luka Doncic has helped the team exceed expectations thus far.
The Mavericks, who are currently 12-10 and in seventh-place in the Western Conference, have no desire to tank for better draft odds because they already traded their 2019 first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks to land Doncic.
Considering they’re currently in playoff contention – just 3.5 games out of first place in the West – perhaps it would make sense to flip some of their assets to make a run this year. Dallas inquired about Jimmy Butler before the Minnesota Timberwolves traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers, and they may still be interested in making a move if the right deal presents itself.
Bill Simmons suggested that Dallas use the expiring contract of Wes Matthews as a trade chip to try to make the postseason. Marc Stein had an interesting answer when asked about this (via The Ringer):
“Look, I’ll tell you this. They are looking and they want to do something. There is no question about that. Donnie Nelson is always active. And so they’ve got chips. I don’t think it has materialized [in terms of] what is out there yet. We’re not even at December 15. But they’re always on the look out to do something.”
As a caveat, however, Stein wondered what the rush would be to make the playoffs this season. He mentioned that Dallas still needs to figure out if the pairing of Doncic with Dennis Smith Jr. is one worth keeping long-term or if they’ll have to eventually move Smith.
The Mavericks have been outscored by 5.6 points per 100 possessions when both players are on the court. Doncic has been just as impressive during the minutes he has played alongside Smith as the time he has spent without the point guard.
In fact, his statistical splits during these two situations are nearly identical. For a team building around Doncic, that’s an important distinction and reason enough to hold onto Smith for now.
One deal that Simmons theorized was offering Matthews and a second-round pick to the New York Knicks for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. For the Knicks, Hardaway has a very large contract that eats up cap space that could otherwise be offered to an upcoming big-name free agent (like, say, Kevin Durant in July).
Plus, Hardaway will help New York win some games when it may make more sense to tank for a top talent like Zion Williamson. Since Dallas is focused on winning, Hardaway could make more sense alongside their young core. With that said, Stein shot down this particular theory because the Mavs’ front office wants to keep the cap space they will have this offseason:
“I think they do want to go into this summer with cap space if they can and now they have Luka. Is Luka going to be the first European who actually attracts other players because of the way he plays? … They’re not going to take on long-term money unless they really like the guy because I think they want to take the space and see what they can do.”
As we’ve previously written, Dallas could potentially create enough room to add not just one but two max contracts in free agency. If this is the case, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of players they would target.
Don’t expect the Mavericks to sign a top free agent like Durant, but if they’re able to keep their cap space, someone like Khris Middleton or DeMarcus Cousins may be worth keeping an eye on.