Trades. The Dallas Mavericks. As recently as three summers ago, those two terms went together like hand and glove.
However, since the arrival of Avery Johnson in Dallas, this team has virtually abandoned the trade game and focused on building through better continuity and internal improvement. The last major trades by this team (trades involving a player who was a key player for the team either before or after the trade) all occurred in the summer of 2004. Since then, the path of choice has been to shuffle the bottom of the roster with minor trades and signings, and keep the core intact.
This summer, it's time for a change again. This team has to return to that trade market and make a move to fill a hole or two.
Here's how we see the trade possibilities for the Mavs.
First, the basics in Part 1 of our two-part analysis:
If the Mavs want to get real talent, they'll have to give some. Because of the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement two summers ago, teams have changed the way they have been offering contracts. The days of packaging expiring contracts for another team's overpaid star are now extremely rare.
This means the Mavs will have to be dealing (at least one of) Nowitzki, Howard, Terry, or Harris as the core of almost any realistic scenario to get what they want. What about Dampier or Diop? While both are key players, we think they are more valuable to the Mavs to keep than what they might yield in trade.
Regarding whom to trade, we think the team has already made up its mind in this area, but we'll look at other possibilities too.
What have they decided? We see two noteworthy items that make the answer clear to us.
First, we think they've decided that Dirk absolutely stays, no matter what. If a team is to become a serious contender and perhaps win titles, they have to find (or typically develop) a superstar. Then they build around him and take it as far as they can. While some of Dirk's weaknesses were exposed in the playoffs this year, the fact remains that all players have flaws, and he has been 1st-Team All-NBA for the last 3 seasons and was this season's league-wide MVP. They have a superstar.
In addition, even though the Mavs' goal is "to win titles" we believe on some level the goal here is more complex than that. The goal also includes the desire to do it as some sort of quasi-family quest, with players that this front office appreciates having here. And I can't quibble with that - if you own a $500 million franchise, your team will represent you, so why not get and keep players you like? Accordingly, when it comes to a player to support and have as the face of your franchise, Dirk is ideal. He is humble, team-oriented, and hard-working. And he is a superstar.
Can they win a title with Dirk? They think so, and thus they prefer to try with Dirk and his boys rather than look for replacements.
With him settled in place, the other players are here to supplement his ability, and complement his skills. The ones who continue to be seen as part of the solution to a title for Dirk-and-friends are here to stay and try to make it happen.
Second, we believe they've decided Devin Harris has to be their full-time point guard next season.
If you've been watching closely, you recognize they actually made this decision a year ago. Coming off an NBA Finals, they wanted to keep the core intact last fall and make another run at a title. With the free agent market pathetically weak last summer, and a big hole at shooting guard, they made the logical decision to move Jason Terry's shooting prowess to SG, opening up the PG slot for Harris. It was a lineup that had been incredibly successful in the playoffs, even though it was vulnerable due to a lack of size. As an insurance policy, they drafted Maurice Ager and signed Greg Buckner as backup options at SG.
But it didn't work like they hoped. While JET was effective in spurts as the SG alongside Harris, they found he needed the ball in his hands at PG during a large portion of the game in order to be comfortable. So early in the season they returned JET to start at PG, using Harris as a complementary combo guard (he started 61 games). Since the team had huge regular season success with the continuity and talent, they just ran with it in spite of the flaws. But the parts never fit quite right, and they remained extremely undersized at guard when they played their best lineup (with JET and Harris on the floor together).
Now they know what they have and the limits, and change is due. In fact, the public statements by the powers-that-be have declared that they need to settle on a PG and that JET is a wonderful talent but is a combo guard. To us, that means they've decided Harris will be The Point Guard here next season, in the role they would have given him this year if not for the good of the team. Yes we've heard their words saying they have to decide "if" Harris can do it, but we think those were merely the words of a team letting us know that choices would be carefully evaluated. They also may be a hedge against the upcoming negotiations with Devin over an extension, which has an October 31 deadline if they want to keep him from being a free agent next summer. But to us, it looks like this choice was made a year ago, and everything we've seen has persuaded us Harris can become the effective penetrating, dishing, 2-way point guard that Avery wants on the floor.
So where does that leave JET? While it's clear he's been an integral part of this core and its success, you can't retain the status quo. If you play Harris and JET together, you no longer have Devin taking the reins because of JET's need to control the ball regularly. The PG minutes have to go to Devin. That means the player to trade is Jason Terry.
Trading JET isn't the only option, of course. There are lots of ideas floating around that propose to trade Dirk, Josh, Devin, and others for this or that player that would help the team. We'll look at a lot of those ideas here. Unfortunately, in fixing one problem, each of those creates additional problems by the holes left from the traded player(s). For that reason, trading JET - who is talented but is now an overlapping piece and in the way of future progress - is the obvious direction to go, in our opinion. Like a surgeon with a patient, you want to keep the slicing and dicing as limited as possible, so you don't kill the one you are trying to fix.
OTHER TRADE ASSETS
Besides Terry, there are a few other trade pieces that the Mavs might use. But these aren't basic trade ideas, so we will come back to add these ideas in Part 2. There we'll tell you about the other Mavs players we see as being potential trade fodder (and why), the little-known trade asset, and the artificial trade assets they can create if they have the guts.
WHAT DO THEY NEED TO TRADE FOR?
Assuming JET gets traded, this team will have a returning core of Dampier-Diop at C, Dirk at PF, Howard at SF, no one at SG, and Harris at PG. The target is obvious: use your trade chip to fill your hole at SG.
Can't Moe Ager fill that hole? Maybe he can eventually. But with this team already a contender, we think it's wiser to seek a ready-made answer, rather than putting our chips on one who is so untested. Hopefully Ager can create competition next year for playing time, but let's see it happen rather than depending on it.
There are things we want in that shooting guard. He needs to be big, not a tweener or undersized type. He needs to be able to create his own shot, and perhaps create some for others as well. And we'd prefer a guy who can be around for 2-3 years at least, so we don't have to address this need again soon.
JET has excellent value around the league. Although his contract isn't bargain-basement-sized, he's not overpaid either, with a contract in the middle tier ($8.1M in 200607). Although we see him under a microscope and notice his flaws, he's a very talented player at that price: he had a PER in the top 50 among all players. In fact, if you canvass other teams, you'll find there are many who have eyed him covetously the last few years, because of his ability to provide multiple hard-to-fill skills that they've been desperate for: he can handle the ball with low turnovers, and he's one of the elite outside shooters in the NBA (in the league's top 5 in 3-point shooting for the year). To top it off, his persona is that of a solid citizen and he’s a likeable team leader.
Ideally, the Mavs would trade away JET (plus scraps for salary matching) and get back Paul Pierce (still my ideal fantasy "get" for the Mavs), Michael Redd, Joe Johnson, or another SG of that ilk. Will that happen? Unfortunately, no.
But with the right team - one that needs a PG and that also needs a shooter - he could yield a really good SG. Let's look at some possible targets if we're trading JET that might make sense.
Ricky Davis, Minnesota. He's 6-7, he'll be 28 when the season starts, and he is a two-way player. He can shoot and drive, with a fairly efficient PER of 16 (2nd on the Timberwolves). But he has a reputation for being a head case and has bounced around the league as a result. JET is a more efficient player and scorer, but Davis would be much bigger and make a significant difference defensively. Also, Davis contract is affordable (he's entering the final year).
The T-wolves need veteran leadership and some solid DB Boards rumors say the teams are considering Davis and PG Mike James for Terry and Buckner. If that was the best option the Mavs could find for a JET trade, I'd be in favor. But let's look for more.
Corey Maggette, LA Clippers. He's 6-6, and he'll be turning 28 as the season starts. He's more of an offensive force than Davis (PER of almost 19) but typically lazier on defense. He dominates the ball more than either Davis or JET, and he's not the long-range shooter they are, but the stats say he's one of the absolute best in the NBA at drawing fouls. (Also of note: He rams horns in LA with Mike Dunleavy, who is a friend of the Mavs’ family. Will he buck the system here, too?)
With the future of young PG Shaun Livingston up in the air after catastrophic injury and Sam Cassell aging, along with the fact that the Clippers have struggled to find outside shooting to open the floor for star PF Elton Brand, JET looks like the perfect fit for them. Maggette is a favorite of Clipper owner Sterling but has been rumored to be available off-and-on for a year or more. I'd love to see a trade of SG Maggette and PG Cassell for Terry and Buckner plus, and might even be willing to settle for a straight 1-for-1 of JET for Maggette.
OTHER BIGGER TALENTED SG's?
Mike Miller, Memphis. He's 6-8, he'll be 27 when the season starts, and he is a dynamic scorer. His defense is suspect (and he wears his hair in a scarf like a girl, which bugs us), but he's definitely a dynamic scorer, has needed size, and his contract matches JET's.
At the trade deadline when it looked like Memphis might be looking for salary reduction, we hypothesized ways to help them by getting Miller off their payroll for the likes of Croshere. But Miller was one of the lone bright spots for that team in a dismal season, and trading him now for JET wouldn't provide any payroll help. In addition, the Grizzlies already have a young PG they like (Lowry) so with Miller already on board at SG, they really don't need JET. Therefore, we think this salary match that might provide what the Mavs need wouldn't be desirable at all for Memphis. Rats.
Grant Hill, Orlando. He's 6-8, and he'll be 35 when the season starts. Although he's had a history of injuries, he played 65 games this season and is still an effective 2-way player (PER of about 16.5).
He's a free agent and should be in the Mavs price range. But would it make sense to instead use the Mavs prime trade chip (JET) to try to get Hill via sign-and-trade plus another player from the Magic? How about adding Hedo Turkoglu, a 6-10 F who can shoot a bit and rebound a bit and defend a bit? Or how about Keyon Dooling, who has combo guard skills but is much cheaper and perhaps would make a decent backup for Harris? The Magic supposedly want to move those salaries to have more room to chase free agents.
But after further consideration, we think we'd pass. Hill would be a short-term fix, and he can be gotten by free agency rather than using up talent to get him. Neither Turkoglu nor Dooling is the type of player you want to expend JET to get. And while he'd help their talent base, we’re not sure if such a deal ultimately would fit ideally into Orlando's financial plans.
Hill still makes sense to try to get in free agency. He's got the talent, and he's at a position of need. But in our opinion he's not as desirable if you have to use a trade chip like JET to get him.
Ron Artest, Sacramento and Caron Butler, Washington. They are both bigger and the contracts match in a trade. Each might be somewhat of a fit for the Mavs, but we can't see how JET would fit for the other team.
Paul Pierce, Boston. Yes, we know, it's unlikely to the point of absurdity. But we’re allowed to digress for a paragraph or two to indulge the David Lord Annual Pierce-to-the-Mavs Dream, yes?
He's 6-6, and he'll be 30 when the season starts. He's a dynamic scorer: he can shoot, drive, and had a PER of almost 22. He can create a shot. He rebounds and can defend. The one knock on him is that he takes over the offense too much - but would that be a negative in Dallas, or a positive? His contract is as big as Dirk’s, but he’s worth it.
So how would it work? With their youth-laden roster, let’s theorize the Celtics need veterans to lead them. Trade JET, plus Buckner, plus sign-and-trade Stackhouse to whatever size contract it takes to make the trade work (he can be offered up to 11.6M without creating base year issues) for Pierce and whatever young kid whose salary they want to jettison (Tony Allen?). Make Stackhouse's deal a three-year deal with only the first year guaranteed, so the Celtics can save some money in a year or two if they wish. Three veterans to provide savvy leadership, for one big-salaried guy who (we want to claim) is chafing to go to a team already near the top.
Git 'er done, Donnie and Cubes!
WHAT ABOUT USING TERRY FOR A SIGN-AND-TRADE ACQUISITION?
In free agency, there are several premium free agents that will go to the highest bidder at a price bigger than the Mavs MLE limit of about $5.5M. However, theoretically, the Mavs could use JET as a sign-and-trade chip to send to the former team, to enable them to sign/acquire that player at a higher salary than they would otherwise be able to offer.
But this is a very limited possibility and won't work for all free agents.
In Part 2, we'll look at the more complex issue of those premium free agents (Billups, R Lewis, G Wallace, Milicic, V Carter, Nocioni, and so on) and evaluate how a sign-and-trade of JET fits for those players. Where might it work and why? Where is it futile?
WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE OTHER TRADE IDEAS FLOATING AROUND?
Kevin Garnett? Jermaine O'Neal? Kobe Bryant? Jason Kidd?
In Part 2, we'll also take a look at all the alternate ideas floating around. Big names that might look good in Mavs blue. (And green. And, if they ever insist, that gray Hefty Bag color.) What it might cost, and what the Mavs could offer. The best trades involving other Mavs. What ideas would the rules allow, what's the most efficient way to make it happen, and how likely are they?