Now that the Christmas Day games have ended the first act of the NBA season, teams are now getting a good sense of what they have, and what they need to address moving forward. The contenders are hoping to find the final piece that will put them over the top, while the tankers are just blowing things up, as tanks are wont to do.
The Mavericks are definitely in the second group. The bottom four teams in the west all have either 11 or 12 wins, including Dallas with 12. Looking just through the prism of asset collection, losing as many games as possible is unambiguously (at least for this season) the best decision for the team. The worse your record, the better the odds of a higher draft pick. And once the calendar turns over and the league has sorted out the cream from the crop, like birds flying south for the winter there is a natural migration across the league. Talent and money move towards the good teams, and prospects and picks move towards the bad.
Relative to their tanking brethren, Dallas is in a unique position. While most tanking teams have rosters full of young, everything-to-prove players, the Mavs are one of the oldest teams in the league. The book is basically written for guys like Dirk, Barea, and Wes. Barnes is 25 years old, in his sixth season in the league, three of those including trips to the Finals. While I’d be delighted to see his game jump to another level, I think he’s going to settle into his prime the next few years doing exactly what he’s doing now. That’s nice to have, but I can’t see Dallas getting involved in any kind of bidding war for it. Yogi, Powell, and Klebur are all in their mid twenties; not exactly young enough to be prospects, so really just good enough to be known commodities as role players. Noel should be one of our best assets in theory, but considering he’s gone full Rondo, Dallas would probably be happy to get a 2nd round pick (or just cash considerations if they’re feeling spiteful) and call it a day.
So what does Dallas need? More players like Dennis Smith Jr., who is essentially the future of the franchise. Starting the first game of the season as a 19 year old, Dallas is essentially announcing that he’s the tentpole of the franchise, and if they’re going to develop into a contender, they need more guys who are going to be high-caliber players… in like 2-6 years. We’re lagging behind teams like Phoenix and Chicago in that regard. Some of that is intentional (Carlisle is never going to coach a youth-movement team, hence all the known commodities), but some of it is just extra meat on the bone. That puts most of the current team in an awkward spot, more or less just running in place, not in any long-term plans, but not contributing to a winner either.
Salah Mejri is in a particularly awkward spot. He’s in just his third year in the league, but is 31 years old. Definitely one of my personal favorite Mavericks to watch (maybe my second favorite center behind Chandler? It’s slim pickings after that), he’s a very known commodity. He brings a unique defensive presence to the paint, and a unique mental intensity to the entire game. And fouls too, he brings lots of fouls. He won’t crack anybody’s starting rotation, but he’ll give you a great 14 minutes off the bench, and in a pinch will probably protect the rim better than anybody else on your roster, if that’s what you need in a particular matchup. Moving into his mid-thirties, who knows how long that will keep up. So we need to get this guy onto a team where his talents will be appreciated. Here’s three ideas:
DAL receives: Daniel Theis, BOS 2019 1st Round Pick
BOS receives: Salah Mejri
First of all, Dallas would now have three Germans on the team, which puts them a Volkswagen sponsorship away from moving the team to Berlin. Second, the Celtics get a solid rotation player that solves one of their core weaknesses. Cleveland and Washington are both teams that will make them pay for not having adequate rim protection. Third, if Mejri and Smart are on the court together there is a 50% chance that an opposing player will end up getting ejected.
Boston has an absurd four first round picks in 2019. The team is also the Bizarro Mavs: very young and very good. They’re already in a position to buy, and all those picks are going to drop in value once they’re used in 18 months and stuck to players that GMs can talk themselves out of. Their own pick is probably going to be the worst of the lot, so they can afford to use it in order to upgrade a role player. Dallas gets that late first round pick, and a younger player with similar physicality and an actual jump shot.
DAL receives: Joffrey Lauvergne, Davis Bertans
SAS receives: Nene
HOU receives: Salah Mejri
More than anything this is just my Texas three-way trade fan fiction, but I actually think this works for everybody involved.
Dallas gets a couple of role players, not much more than what they’re giving up, but younger, and both could potentially be good DSJ wingmen moving forward. Meanwhile for this season I would guess that the team would be a little worse off, so that’s another benefit.
Houston gets a player who can fill in the Clint Capela role when he’s not on the floor. Similar to how they have Chris Paul, who can run the point while Harden sits, now they’d have a second big who can defend the interior and roll hard to the rim, making sure that interior pressure is out there for 48 minutes. That role is currently filled by Houston going five-out, which can get torched defensively, or with Nene, who is good but has a different game than what D’Antoni needs from the position.
Pop gets a third quality big who can stretch the floor to 18 feet, dribble, pass, and defend. With Kawhi soaking up Bertans’ minutes and Nene providing valuable big man depth (right now it’s basically just LMA and Pau, yikes), the Spurs move forward a little more complete, and a little more top heavy, which they could use.
DAL receives: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle
LAL receives: Salah Mejri, Dwight Powell, Josh McRoberts
AKA the “LeBron and PG are coming next summer and we need to clear the deck” trade.
Yes, that Deng contract is utter garbage. BUT: we get the next few years with a DSJ/Ingram/Barnes/Randle (think of the switching…) core. They’re young, they’ll run, they’ll lose a lot at first, but in a couple of years (when that Deng contract is expiring) the team will have had a good look at a good group of players who legitimately could develop into top-shelf talent. The lakers get rid of Deng, $10 million, and the guys who were going to get benched for LeBron and Paul George, while picking up a couple of role players who can slide in nicely alongside the arriving superstars.
In Dallas it might be a tough cap hit initially, especially for a team that would probably be stuck in the middle of the West for a while. But eventually Dirk will come off the books, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about Barnes getting shipped off in another trade in this scenario. And if Dallas’ elite medical team could eventually get some adequate minutes out of Deng, all the better.
In all likelihood if Mejri gets traded Dallas will probably just try to get a pick as close to the lottery as possible; there just aren’t that many young prospects that teams will give away for a 31 year old bench player on an expiring contract. That said, the combination of skill set and cap space puts Mejri and the Mavs in a good position to take advantage of a team desperate to plug a leaky hole. If they do move him I hope he goes to a good situation and the team gets solid return, because if they can’t make that happen I’m more than happy to keep watching him blow up drives, piss off opponents, and look around desperately for somebody to correct the ref’s obviously-incorrect foul call.