It’s Thursday and quiet inside Dallas Mavericks headquarters. Last night, the Mavs lost to the Pistons, leaving them at 22-34 and sitting in 12th place in the NBA’s Western Conference. (See our game coverage here.) Now the players are on their All-Star weekend vacation, and there are no games for more than a week.
In the interim, the NBA's Feb. 23 trade deadline will come and go. Will a player swap be the next thing on the calendar for the front office? Or when the Mavs return to play, will the roster still be the same?
Mavs owner Mark Cuban has been talking a lot this week, as to what the team might do. His keyword, as he told our Mike Fisher, is “opportunistic” (which means that the Mavs are only looking for deals so advantageous that they simply can’t say no). That's like all teams, every year - they are looking for a no-brainer to make them better.
In theory, we see four different types of trade scenarios that could involve the Mavs. But as we look at where the Mavs are and what they have to offer, only one of those is very realistic.
Who might need assets like what the Mavs have to offer? And what might the Mavs expect in return, to act? Let's take a closer look.
SCENARIO 1 - MAVS TRADING UP, LANDING THE SUPERSTAR OR STAR
This is the move that is at the top of the Mavs’ priority list as a team: obtain a superstar to complement and succeed Dirk. They’ve been looking to get this guy for years, one way or another, with no luck.
Cuban's suggestion is that these guys never get traded. While his generality is way too broad in light of the fact that some of the league’s best have been traded in recent years, there’s no arguing with his bottom-line truth that the Mavs aren’t going to land The Franchise Guy in a trade in the next week. Even if one were to be made available, the Mavs simply don’t appear to have the assets to compete.
In fact, one perennial All-Star is almost certain to get discussed in trade talks. NY is very willing to trade Carmelo Anthony. But he has a no-trade provision in his contract that gives him the ability to block any trade and he really likes NY. Maybe he would say yes to a team like Cleveland, to play on an elite contender alongside his buddy LeBron, or perhaps another team or two could be of interest to him, but Dallas is too far from NY and too low in the standings to have any chance of being considered.
Don't look for this scenario, in any form, to happen for the Mavs.
SCENARIO 2 - MAVS TRADING THEIR 1st ROUNDER
As we write, the Mavs first-round pick this year would be lottery-seeded at 7th, and they are only a hard dive from 2nd or 3rd. For such a pick in a draft this talented, there are likely to be any number of teams this week eager to swap packages of Stanley Solid, Alex Average, and Rick Role Player in exchange. The Mavs have a history of trading their picks, so undoubtedly the phone will ring, and often.
Cuban says the Mavs won't be interested. Of course, you can never say "never" because in theory what if LeBron was being offered in trade? But the Mavs are clearly taking this "non-tanking tanking" project seriously, and there's no reason to think they will be willing to let go of the pick without a MAJOR piece in return - the type that no one expects to be offered.
Don't look for this scenario to happen, either.
SCENARIO 3 - MAVS LANDING A SHORT-TIMER FOR A PLAYOFF RUN
This is the type of trade the Mavs chased for many years, looking to swap a future asset that might have some potential down the road for one that might offer more immediate results. As the Mavs term it, the goal in this sort of trade is to get "over the top" and some teams are very willing to chase this trade if they feel it can give them that last missing piece, even if it's only for this season.
It should also be mentioned that this trade isn't exclusively for a team that is a hair from winning a title. It might also highly interest one that is on the cusp of being good enough to make the Finals, or make the Conference Finals, for the first time in a very long time. In the right circumstances, even a team who is merely chasing the playoffs might be eager enough to make this sort of commitment to "now."
The on-court Mavs are certainly wanting to make the playoffs. But they are already short on long-term talent to get to an elite level, and the Mavs hint to us that they are not willing to mortgage the future for the present, in a trade for a rent-a-player this year.
This scenario is a non-starter as well.
SCENARIO 4 - MAVS OFFERING A SHORT-TIMER FOR ANOTHER TEAM’S PLAYOFF RUN
This is exactly the same trade as Scenario 3, but would have another team looking to buy a "now" player from the Mavs in exchange for talent for the future. And this fits both the assets the Mavs have, and the situation they are in, with their bigger priority being the future.
This is the scenario that could very well lead to a Mavs trade.
As for the assets, the Mavs have several experienced, talented, veteran players who are not really a part of the long-term future in Dallas, but who might be just the right added talent for a hungry playoff team. Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams have expiring contracts, and Devin Harris has another year left but can be bought out of the final year for only $1.34 million, and all have strong pedigrees as top-10 picks, long-time NBA starters, and guys still able to contribute at a solid-to-high level. In addition, each offers help at a premium position (Bogut at center and the other two at point guard).
As for what such a deal would look like ... these deals happen almost every year so they typically look very similar each time. The team "selling" the playoff-ready veteran will get a first-round pick and/or young player with upside, along with trade-matching filler that expires at the end of the season, and the negotiation will center around the relative value of the pick or player. And the "buyer" gets the veteran who can help them immediately, and perhaps be re-signed at season's end.
Who might come looking for a deal? Any number of teams are possible. But we see a few that might offer more potential to chase the Mavs than others, so here's our quick list.
BOSTON - The Celtics have emerged as a real contender this season, a true threat to the sagging Cavs, but they lack the paint-clogging defensive presence in the middle, to complement players like Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Their big men are neither dominant defenders nor rebounders. Could Bogut offer them the same sort of defensive and rebounding force that he gave to Golden State's perimeter-based game and allow them to pass the Cavs and get to the next level?
The generalities of such an offer are fairly easy to envision. Boston has a third-string center that rarely plays (Zeller). He does have another year on his deal, but it is non-guaranteed so he can be waived after the season with no future cost, effectively making him an expiring contract player. His contract would trade-match Bogut's one-for-one, and a swap would have no detrimental impact on either team in relation to general tax or cap issues.
As for a pick, Boston has accumulated so many first-round picks that swapping one would seem to be no biggie. Instead, we think the negotiation here would center around balancing Bogut's potential worth in a playoff run this year, and perhaps in several more as well if they can re-sign him, in relation to what might be offered by each of the picks the Celts have to offer.
TORONTO - The Raptors finally advanced past the first round in the playoffs last season, making it all the way to the conference finals before losing in six to the Cavs. But this year, amid high expectations, it's turned into a huge struggle, and last year's 56-game-winner is now on a 48-win trajectory.
It's possible that the Raps have already made their big move, as they just traded for Serge Ibaka to pair with their offensive-minded center (Valanciunas). But Ibaka is not really a defensive force, either, and if the Raps are determined enough to maintain and improve their position, Bogut could be an ideal fit.
Since coach Casey's defensive scheme should be very similar to what is used in Dallas, Bogut would be able to master its nuances quickly. And his defensive skills would make him valuable alongside either Valanciunas or Ibaka, providing better interior play to complement the Raptors' excellence at the guard positions (both Lowry and DeRozan are All-Stars). There could also be extra value to the Raps in being able to land him, while keeping him from going to a competitor like Boston instead.
Fashioning a trade here would not be difficult. Toronto has a little-used player on an expiring contract who could provide most of the trade matching (Sullinger), and would have to include another small salary alongside. Sullinger would provide no real value, only necessary filler, but that added salary could be a player such as Nogueira or Poeltl, who would also provide part or all of the longer-term value that the Mavs would be expecting from such a deal. The Mavs might have to also send back a young player, either Brussino or Finney-Smith, to balance the trade. Toronto also has a firtst-round pick (which should land at about 20th or so), and negotiations here would center on the relative value of Bogut versus each player and possibly the pick as well.
CLEVELAND - The Cavs have been mentioned regularly as a contender that desperately needs help at point guard, and is likely to prefer Deron Williams. In addition, LeBron has expressed a need for help in the middle, and Bogut sounds exactly like the sort of aid he's hoping for.
Unfortunately, the Cavs have neither the necessary expiring contracts nor the draft pick(s) to swap with the Mavs for such players. If they really want to do a deal, the closest fit on the Mavs to what they have to offer would be Harris. (See here for a fuller explanation of trading with the Cavs.)
There's a different way around the block to a deal with Cleveland, but we mention it as merely a what-if and not something to expect. But what if, in adding up the pieces of Cavs info, it all comes to this:
- What if LeBron's vocal complaint, that the Cavs are "too top-heavy" in the way their salary is allocated, is very serious
- What if the Cavs decide that Love - injured once again, this time for five weeks - is too much money to be worth it
- What if the Cavs consider trading Love for Melo, but decide that Melo would only offer them even more of a top-heavy salary, and if acquired would be impossible to re-trade with his no-trade control
- What if the Cavs consider that for the same salary, they can get BOTH Bogut (for their need at center) and D WIll (for the ball-creator and point needs) ...and could re-sign and keep both in the summer, by trading for them (while in the summer, lacking cap room, they could not be in the running)
- What if the Mavs decide that while Love may not be the ideal player to target alongside Dirk and Barnes, he would certainly be a long-term asset that could either turn into another top piece here, or be traded for some help
- What if the Cavs decide that they don't want to take a chance on missing THIS title, and have to make a deal now to fill multiple holes, no matter what
If all that happens, could the Mavs and Cavs do a trade? We're not "predicting'' this, but rather, just having fun with the math ... so, you be the judge.
But overall, while Dallas has the assets that the Cavs want, it's hard to see a trade that would work for both teams, because the Cavs assets to offer just don't entice.
OTHER TEAMS - Two teams chasing the last playoff slot in the Western Conference could make an offer for a Dallas player, and are worth a brief mention. But one possible deal-breaker could be the fact that the Mavs are also chasing that same playoff spot.
Then again, if the Mavs are thinking with a longer lens, perhaps they decide that they'd rather have a deal and take their chances.
Sacramento is desperate to make the playoffs, and they could really use veteran leadership. If they landed D-Will to run the show, could it get them over the (relative) top? There are a few obstacles here beyond the fact that the teams are competing, as D-Will has a no-trade and would have to consent to going to the Kings, and the Kings' draft pick cupboard has been plundered already, so finding an obvious return in trade could be an issue. On the other hand, the Kings owner is a lunatic when making trade offers, so if the Kings come calling, it's an avenue that must be explored fully.
Another team that might have interest is Portland. Their guards are stellar, but their presence in the middle has been awful, and as a result they have floundered this season. Bogut would be a great addition for them, and they do have multiple first-rounders, and an easy trade-matching contract as well (Ezeli), although it must be noted that tax issues (both current and future) could come into play. On the other hand, given their salary crunch, could there be a way to leverage Bogut into a swap for some of the Blazers' longer-term salary (and talent) at another position?
Ultimately, the Mavs must weigh "buyer'' vs. "seller'' ... and they've got to end up, in regard to on-court success and successful swapping, being a "winner.''