It’s a pleasant problem to have, but it’s one that the Mavericks are wrestling with here in the early going of the season. Luka Doncic is a superstar, now averaging 30.8 points, 9.6 assists and 9.9 rebounds, but he’s arrived at this spot a bit ahead of schedule, even factoring in his outstanding Rookie of the Year season in 2018-19.
The Mavs have been planning to bring in help for Doncic over time, the idea being that the team could be ready to ascend next season. That started last winter when the Mavs traded for big man Kristaps Porzingis from the Knicks, figuring they’d have the time he’d need this season to bounce back from his ACL surgery and that he’d be 100 percent next year. And Porzingis has, predictably, been inconsistent, averaging 17.3 points but shooting 39.8 percent from the field.
But Doncic has been so brilliant to start this year that it might make sense for the Mavs to accelerate their plans. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been warming up to his role as the team’s No. 3 option, averaging 12.9 points overall but 20.2 in his last five games.
The Mavericks are 12-6 heading into play the Lakers on Sunday and though the Western Conference appears to be L.A.-dominant—the Clippers handled the Mavs pretty well last week—it lacks the depth many expected.
The Warriors are tanking. The Spurs, Pelicans and Blazers were expected to be West threats but are well below .500. The Mavs should be in the mix with Denver, Houston and Utah for one of the Top 4 playoff seeds in the conference.
Sizing Up the Assets Around Luka Doncic
The Mavericks had hoped to scoop up some long-term help for Doncic over the course of this season, or perhaps at next year’s draft, but the team lacks assets. It cost them two future first-rounders to bring in Porzingis, in 2021 and 2023, which leaves their 2025 first-rounder as the earliest pick the team can trade. They’re not looking to give away that pick.
The assets the Mavs have on hand are better suited to bring in low-rotation, short-term help:
Trade exception. The Mavs have the remainder of their trade exception they received from Sacramento last year, slightly less than $12 million, which they’d need to use by February. The Mavs can absorb any player’s contract less than the exception and don’t need to match salaries to do so.
Courtney Lee. They also have the contract, worth $12.6 million, of Courtney Lee, which they’ve shopped around the league. Under NBA rules, they can’t combine the exception with any other contract, including Lee’s.
Second-rounders. The Mavs have some second-round picks of value, potentially including this year’s Warriors second-rounder, which is currently slated to be one of the first two picks of the second round. In what could be a deep draft, that’s an attractive piece. Dallas has Utah’s second-rounder this year, too, though it owes its second-round pick this season to Phildelphia.
Dorian Finney-Smith. When it comes to assets on the roster, Finney-Smith is one of the more coveted guys the Mavs have. He’s an outstanding defender and still young (26), but the question has been whether he’d get the ‘3’ part of being a 3-and-D wing. He has improved each season, but that’s come slowly—he was at 29.3 percent from the arc as a rookie and is only at 32.8 percent this year. At $4 million per year through 2021-22, he has a very friendly contract. Of course, he’s exactly the kind of guy the Mavs want around Doncic, so it’s hard to imagine them trading him.
Real-World Mavericks Trade Options
So what can Dallas do? Don’t expect a blockbuster. Getting Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari to the Mavs, for example, would be difficult given the limited assets the Mavs have. Getting, say, Dennis Schroder from the Thunder might be more reasonable.
That’s just the reality. The Mavs probably can use Lee’s contract and the trade exception to fill in around the edges, maybe take a chance on a young-ish guy who has flamed out elsewhere but probably not anything major that will change the team’s trajectory.
The Mavs have been frequently mentioned as a potential landing spot for Andre Iguodala and while there is some sense in that—they’d have to give up the Warriors’ second-rounder, Lee and a player or two—it’s not lost on Dallas that Iguodala will be 36 next month and wants to play for a contender. The Mavs aren’t there yet and Iguodala is not going to get them there.
There are some mid-20s players either coming back from injury or looking to reboot their careers that might make sense, too: Schroder, Kris Dunn in Chicago, Brandon Knight in Cleveland, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Charlotte.
The easiest path would be to pluck a veteran or two from a go-nowhere team. The Knicks would be a likely partner, with Taj Gibson’s $9.8 million contract a reasonable target. Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, Charlotte’s Marvin Williams or Atlanta’s Evan Turner could fit as well, though the contracts are heftier, even as they are expiring deals.
These are not options that are likely to shake up the Mavs’ future. There’s not going to be a blockbuster to shake up Doncic’s supporting cast. But using Lee, the exception, the Warriors’ second-rounder and another second-rounder to come away with, possibly, Schroder and Gibson, gives Dallas a boost in the short-term with the potential to develop Schroder as a bench option.