It is late December; Christmas is over, New Years just around the corner. Just like clockwork, the NBA trade rumor machine is beginning to crank out information fast and furiously.
One of those rumors that I haven’t truly been able to wrap my head around is the Mavericks shopping Dennis Smith Jr. I have heard more of this talk in the past few days than almost anything else. And, it really makes me scratch my head.
Smith Jr. was drafted number 9, overall, in the 2017 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks are in the midst of a massive rebuild. Dirk is fading in to the twilight of his career, and the draft cupboard baron. The Mavericks have continually traded away picks and draft positioning to chase star free agents, flailing to put big names around Dirk in the last years of his career.
I’m astonished to say that this strategy has fallen short, almost every time. People often forget that Dallas acquired a good number of the players on their 2011 Finals Championship team, via trade. Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson. The list goes on and on.
Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks finally swallowed their pride a few years ago and decided to burn the franchise to the ground and commit to a good, old fashion rebuild. The idea: to find a super star replacement for Dirk, all while providing a place for young talent to grow.
The Mavericks, in the 2016-2017 season, went 33-49, finishing 11th in the Western Conference. This gave the team the 9th pick in the draft, with which they used to select DSJ. In the 2017-2018 campaign, the Mavericks went 24-58, truly embracing team tank mode. The Mavericks wound up with the 5th pick in the 2018 draft, which they traded along with a future first, to move up to number 3 and draft Luka Doncic. Luka is a 19 year old, Euro League star from Slovenia, the understood heir to the Dirk throne.
Luka has had an incredible first year in the NBA, showing out consistently on a night to night basis. Luka’s game transforms in to anything that the team needs on a given night. Luka is the leading league Rookie of the Year candidate, averaging 19 points and 7 rebounds per game. He has already surpassed his lofty pre-draft expectations.
Luka’s success has had a lot of folks clamoring for the Mavericks to throw in the towel on DSJ. The “logic” suggests that DSJ isn’t nearly as effective with Luka on the court, since they play interchangeable positions at times.
There are several reasons as to why this doesn’t hold water:
- DSJ needs time: DSJ is a work in progress and should not be directly compared to Luka. Their experience levels are very different, and it was always going to take more time for DSJ to develop, regardless of who they drafted around him. The fact that Luka’s game has progressed at a quicker level is no reason to dump a potential super star.
- What would a trade look like? The Mavericks would be selling incredibly low on a young, controllable asset, in which they desperately still need. A team that wants to take on DSJ is more than likely in a rebuild themselves. Dallas would need to ship out Harrison Barnes, at the minimum, with DSJ to create any kind of deal that would be worth setting the rebuild in a backwards motion. We’re talking about a first round draft pick with an incredibly high ceiling. Dallas would need to get a haul in order for this to make any kind of sense.
- DSJ hasn’t played much this year: DSJ has played in 21 of Dallas’ 33 games this year. Smith Jr. has been hurt for a couple of weeks with a sprained wrist, and injury paired with the first point listed above doesn’t help.
It feels like Mavericks fans are certainly surprised at where the team is in this rebuild process. There are many that didn’t expect anything decent out of the Mavericks for another couple of years.
But shipping Dennis Smith Jr. out of town for pennies on the dollar, chalking it up as a loss of a draft asset a full season and a quarter in to his career is very hasty. And true Mavericks fan should be incredibly weary of hasty deals that affect the future, given the Mavericks’ past indiscretions in this area.