* This article is written by Chuck of Chucking Darts. Please give him a follow @ChuckingDarts on Twitter
(Hello. My name is Chuck and I have a podcast, the Chucking Darts NBA & Draft Podcast. MavsDraft has been a repeat guest, you should check it out sometime! Last week, the Dallas Mavericks traded Kristaps Porzingis and a second round pick to the Washington Wizards for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. Unless Porzingis’ knee is actually torn and both teams know that it’s torn, it qualifies as the most baffling trade in terms of current market value that I can remember.)
The Mavs wanted to trade Kristaps Porzingis. That’s understandable. Porz has never consistently lived up to the max contract they gave him. With two more years and nearly $70 million left on his contract, they could practically hear the ticking time bomb inside of his balky knee(s). That’s to say nothing of the reputation Porz has seemingly earned for himself off the court: a crabby, displeased star who could not be happy either playing under Rick Carlisle or playing off Luka Doncic. Remember when Mark Cuban said he was not going to fire Carlisle after the playoffs last season, only for Rick to resign that same week and high tail it to Indiana? I’m sure that Porzingis did not make that situation any smoother. So I get it.
And to be unhappy playing off Luka? The nerve! Sure, players can want to be more involved in the offense, but does Porz not realize how good he had it? How easy Luka made his life on the court? How he papered over Porz’s inefficiencies when posting up by excising those plays from the playbook? Porz has never been good at leading an offense, and the Mavs are positive with him off the court this year anyway. They’re outscoring opponents by nearly 5 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That isn’t great, but it’s fine. They’re sitting in the 5 seed, and Jason Kidd is presiding over a defense doing yeoman’s work each night. Luka seems engaged and in shape and they seem a good bet to stay in the top 6 through the end of the year. Porz likely was not going to raise their ceiling into West contention this year, and who knows how badly the relationship between Porzingis and the organization had deteriorated. If Porzingis wants to be a big fish in a losing pond, then so be it.
But here is what Dallas apparently doesn’t realize: for a team trying to win, trades should actually improve either its current roster or its long term outlook. Eye test heads and analytics truthers even agree on that. That might sound condescending, but given what the Dallas Mavericks just did, we need to get back to basics. And basically speaking, this is one of the most baffling trades I’ve ever seen.
Let’s go over why:
- They traded for unequivocally worse players.
They acquired Davis Bertans, earning $16m for each of the next two years and at least $5m the year afterward. He isn’t earning minutes on the Wizards and his contract is widely regarded as one of the 10 worst in the league. Dallas can whisper “change of scenery” to themselves over and over, but even at his best Bertans is one dimensional and unlikely to be a player that helps in any sort of meaningful game. For the short and long term, he likely makes the team worse than a street FA or buyout option would (hello Goran!).
At least Bertans contract was likely understood by both teams to be an albatross, part of the cost for Dallas to “dump” Porzingis’ salary. But the Mavericks actions indicate that they actually value Spencer Dinwiddie, who averaged 13 points and nearly six assists in Washington. As to that…
The Wizards are bad (!!).They’re in a tailspin. There are whispers about Dinwiddie not getting along with teammates and coaches. And he’s much more inefficient than he should be. Did you know he hasn’t shot over 34% from 3 in any year where he’s taken more than 2 per game? He hasn’t shot over 44% from the field either during his eight year career. He had one year before he tore his ACL where he was pretty efficient from 2, and that’s it. The data on Spencer Dinwiddie is clear: when a team trusts him to score, the ball usually doesn’t go in the hoop.
He’s not a picture of health, either. His contract pays him $18m this year, next year, and at least $10 afterward in 2023-2024 He does not defend well. He’s an inefficient, overpaid, defensively challenged player with a checkered reputation as a teammate Does any of this sound familiar?
Meanwhile, good old Porz, drama and all, is averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and nearly 2 blocks per game. He is playing better on defense than he has in 2 years. The only stat of his that is down this year is his 3 point shooting which is likely to improve over the rest of the season. Remember when I reassuringly mentioned that the Mavs are a decent team with Porzingis off the floor? Well, they are also a decent team with him on the floor. Their point differential is also positive, and just about by the same amount. He may not have made you a contender, but he most certainly wasn’t hurting them on the court either. Compared to Dinwiddie and Bertans, he has been a Hall of Famer. And since Dallas certainly is not a contender for the rest of this season in any meaningful way, it begs the question:
Why couldn’t the Dallas Mavericks wait until the summer to trade Kristaps Porzingis?
- By making this trade now, the Mavericks cost themselves a minimum of approximately three 1st round picks. (This might sound wild, but hear me out).
The truth is, if the Wizards tried to trade either of Dinwiddie or Bertans to any other team in the league, they’d be attaching first round picks. Probably two to Bertans and one to Dinwiddie. The Mavs may be buying low, but the Wiz are selling very low. Was there one other team in the league expressing interest in either of those guys before this trade occurred? Who exactly were the Mavs bidding against? Despite a total lack of competitors, you acquired 0 picks. They even sent the Wiz a second rounder for good measure.
That’s to say nothing of whether a team might actually value Porzingis as a talent. Sure, he has disappointed. He has injury concerns. He isn’t worth $33m. But he also isn’t bad, and he’s only 26, and he’s some 3 point regression away from being very good this season. I’m a bit more willing to give Dallas the benefit of the doubt that Porzingis’ market was thin, but that is exactly why it makes sense to wait until the summer to trade him, when teams have much more cap space and open roster spots. (If the report was accurate linking the Mavs to Toronto in discussions around Goran Dragic and expiring salary to likely include Chris Boucher, then Dallas should feel even worse. Dragic and Boucher are cheaper and better than Bertans and Dinwiddie.)
Had Dallas just waited to trade Porz this summer, there is a chance they could have gotten either
- A young dart with some promise (keeping it just with the Wiz, maybe Deni Avdija or Rui Hachimura or Isaiah Todd, a 20 year old 6’10 forward with shooting range putting up counting stats in the G league. Maybe the Wiz balk, but all those players are essentially PFs, with fewer minutes ahead of them now that Porz is aboard); or
- A first round pick; or
- Some player better than Bertans or Dinwiddie (Jerami Grant in Detroit? Jakob Poeltl in San Antonio? PJ Washington and/or Kelly Oubre in Charlotte?); or
- A combination of the above!
Are the chances of any of those acquisitions good? I don’t know. But even if the chance is greater than zero, it is better to wait than trading Porzingis now for Dinwiddie and Bertans. That’s how little trade value they held as Wizards. And as everyone (except Dallas?) knows, the Wizards are in a very precarious situation. They are a complete mess in figuring out how to appease Bradley Beal. They’re desperate now and would have been more desperate in the summer after missing the play-in. Bertans’ and Dinwiddie’s value was going to be as low or lower in June, and the Mavs could’ve demanded first pick(s) then.
Any of those hypothetical summer trade targets above are much more likely with Porzingis as the asset being traded than either Dinwiddie or Bertans. Why? Because he’s a 26 year old former all star who is 7’3 and can shoot. Teams can talk themselves into Porz in the summer when they miss out on other guys. Yes, Dallas can combine Dinwiddie’s salary with Dwight Powell’s and put themselves into the trade market for some Unknown Disgruntled Max Player. But here’s the thing about that trade package: it isn’t good. The Mavericks will have to attach picks to either Dinwiddie or Bertans just to get another team to take them, let alone to get something valuable back. Instead of acquiring picks for ytheirour troubles in rostering Dinwiddie or Bertans, Dallas will have to ship out picks to be rid of them.
Where does that leave us?
1. The possible first round pick (or equivalent player) Porzingis could have netted this summer
2. The minimum of one first round pick you could have had in waiting to trade for Dinwiddie and/or Bertans this summer, had you been hell bent on either player for some reason
3. The minimum of one first round pick you will have to attach to eventually trade Bertans and/or Dinwiddie again
Put another way, this trade says that you think acquiring Spencer Dinwiddie now is worth approximately three first round picks later. Which brings us to my final point:
- The Dallas Mavericks are pushing Jalen Brunson out the door.
Let’s agree on one thing: Jalen Brunson is better than Spencer Dinwiddie. Remember how Spencer isn’t very good at putting the ball in the hoop? Jalen is quite good at it. Just look at these quick numbers:
Jalen Brunson seasons in which he shot below 51% from 2: Zero (in 4 seasons)
Seasons in which he shot below 34% from 3: Zero (in 4 seasons)
Career from 2: 54.7%
Career from 3: 36.9%
Spencer Dinwiddie seasons in which he shot above 51% from 2: One (in 8 seasons)
Seasons in which he shot above 34% from 3: One (in 8 seasons)
Career from 2: 47.3%
Career from 3: 31.7%
It isn’t like Dinwiddie has been carrying some massive offensive burden to push his efficiency down either. He has been a rotational, spot starter guard, just like Brunson has until Brunson’s breakout year this year. Brunson also happens to have two healthy knees and is three years younger than Dinwiddie. Dinwiddie has some playmaking juice, but Dallas has seemingly forgotten what a team around Luka Doncic demands. In any important game or moment, Luka will have the ball. The most valuable offensive skill any of his teammates, particularly guards, can have is the ability to shoot or score when Luka draws help and passes. Dinwiddie, at least to this point, is unequivocally worse than Brunson at doing so.
Yes, something is better than Brunson leaving for nothing. But Jalen Brunson is better than both nothing and the something the Mavs have just acquired. With Porzingis off the roster, Brunson is Dallas’ second-best player. Their second-best player is a free agent. They are trying to build a contender. They’re priority, quite obviously, should be either to re-sign Brunson or find a better player than Brunson. Instead, they’ve guaranteed a roster spot to a worse player making comparable money.
Put yourself in Jalen Brunson’s shoes. Let’s say Dallas offers him $20 million a year this summer, as he is rumored to want. Let’s say that another team matches that offer. Why would Brunson return to Dallas knowing that Dinwiddie is there, making $18 million, grouchy about being a backup again, and wanting to take his job from him? Why would he risk that drama? Why should he? He’s earned his role as a starting point guard. Why would Dallas find a replacement for him, a replacement that would be available with draft compensation attached in July if Brunson left, before his contract is even up? Do you think that makes Brunson more likely to stay or more likely to leave?
Spoiler: he’s more likely to leave. The Mavericks told the Pistons, who inquired into Brunson’s availability last week, that they wanted Cade Cunningham in exchange. Then they made it both easier and more likely that Brunson leaves them this summer.
In fairness, I do need to give credit where it’s due. The Mavs did well in signing Dorian Finney-Smith to a 4 year, $55 million dollar extension. He’s earned it, he’s a solid supporting playoff forward, and he will be a value at that number. I just hope they’re ready for him to be their second best player next year. I won’t speculate on how happy Luka will be this time in 2023. I’ll leave that to you.
The Dallas Mavericks traded Kristaps Porzingis and a second round pick for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. In so doing, they made their team worse, cost themselves dearly in draft compensation, both now and in the future when you try to trade either player again. They took themselves out of the running for better trade targets, and it made it easier for Jalen Brunson to leave. They successfully executed one of the most baffling trades I have ever seen.