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NBA Daily: Dallas Shoots For The Stars Again

Trading for Kristaps Porzingis is another example of Mark Cuban going the extra mile to bring success to Dallas, which brings just as much risk as reward.

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If you’ve tuned into the NBA for an extended period of time, then you’ve probably formed your own opinion on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Plenty of words come to mind to describe him, such as outspoken or passionate to name a few. If there’s one word that will never escape Mark Cuban’s persona, it’s fearless.

Thursday afternoon, Cuban went all-in on the Mavericks’ next generation of success by acquiring the Knicks’ top prospect, Kristaps Porzingis. This, of course, came at a relatively heavy cost.

Acquiring Porzingis required trading last year’s lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr. along with two first-round picks – one unprotected – and absorbing the contracts of Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s Kristaps Porzingis. When you have the chance pair up one of the league’s most polished rookies in recent memory in Luka Doncic with a 23-year-old big on a rookie contract who has “Future Superstar” written all over him, you take it.

It also comes with some risks. Porzingis has a very long history of injuries and there appears to be some uncertainty so far as to whether he’ll stay long-term. It doesn’t matter though, because the payoff from a move like this could be extraordinary. This doesn’t just open up a championship window. This opens up a potential dynasty in Dallas.

This is the clear-cut definition of a calculated risk. There could be so much reward from this trade, and yet, it could backfire so horribly beyond all comprehension. Cuban doesn’t care.

Because moves like these are his M-O.

Cuban has never been afraid to mix it up in order to help boost his team to a championship. Sometimes these moves succeeded. Sometimes they have fizzled.

In Feb. 2008, Cuban hoped to boost the team’s championship hopes when he traded the team’s most promising player in Devin Harris along with multiple picks for an aging Jason Kidd. The reception to this trade was divisive since Harris was a budding star at the time and Kidd was not the same MVP-caliber player he was back in his heyday. While it didn’t work out the year they acquired Kidd, he played a vital role in the team winning its first championship three years later.

In Dec. 2014, he traded Jae Crowder among others and a first-round pick to acquire Rajon Rondo. At the time, the Mavericks had one of the best offenses in the NBA, so adding an elite distributor in Rondo seemed like a no-brainer, especially since he was acquired for seemingly little to the public eye. The Rondo trade became a misfire, as his constant clashing with Rick Carlisle ruined the offense, and thus, the season. Until now, the Mavericks hadn’t recovered.

Those are just two of the many gambles that Cuban made since running the Mavericks, and he’s made quite a few.

This particular trade tops them all in terms of risk. Now that the Porzingis trade is official, Dallas has deprived themselves of two resources:

1. Draft picks: Because of their trades for both Porzingis and Doncic, the Mavericks are likely to have just one draft pick in the next four years (2022). Outside of Doncic, Porzingis, and Jalen Brunson, don’t expect the Mavericks to have an infestation of youth.

2. Cap space: Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr. account for almost $60 million combined over the next two seasons. Hardaway Jr also has a player option for almost $19 million the season after that, which he is almost guaranteed to opt into. With that in mind, and Porzingis’ looming extension this summer, don’t expect the Mavericks to be a bidder in free agency for a while.

That’s a lot to put aside for a young big who already has an extensive injury history. Then again, while they paid a substantial price, it’s not like they gave up the farm for KP. They traded a disgruntled prospect who didn’t have a place on the team in Smith Jr. He definitely has the potential to be special. That just wasn’t going to be with the Mavericks.

They also traded Wes Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, two veterans whom, from the looks of things, did not look like long-term fixtures in Dallas. Matthews had been in trade rumors pretty much all season, while Jordan’s demeanor on the court appeared to be aggravating his teammates.

The fact that the Mavs turned three players who all appeared to be expendable for a player who’s been deemed a “Unicorn” through most of his young career is impressive.

The kind of impact Porzingis can have on Dallas is pretty self-explanatory. He’s improved his statistical output every year since joining the league. Before he tore his ACL, Kristaps was putting up 22.7 points and 6.6 rebounds on 43 percent shooting from the field, including 39.5 percent from three. In other words, numbers that made him a shoo-in for the All-Star team at just 22 years old.

With all due respect to the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, Porzingis is now getting paired up with the best playmaker that he’s ever had in his career with Doncic. When these two pair up on the court, expect the Mavericks’ offense, which is currently tied for 18th in offensive rating (110), to wreak havoc on opponents with the extra spacing that Porzingis, a career 36 percent shooter from three, provides.

Defensively, Porzingis could add some staunch to the Mavericks’ gameplan. Porzingis led the league in block percentage last season at 6.4 percent, according to Basketball-Reference, and has a career block average of two swats per game. Those aren’t empty stats just as a heads up. The Knicks’ defense was a minus-4.1 with Porzingis on the floor last season, which was second on the team among players who played at least 1,000 minutes.

That should improve the Mavericks’ 13th-rated defense in the league, which allows 109.6 points per 100 possessions according to Basketball-Reference. This is all based on the assumption that Porzingis will be back to normal following rehab from his ACL surgery, so who knows.

His Knick teammates who are joining him in Dallas may also benefit from the change of scenery. Not much can be said of Lee. He hasn’t played well because of his recovery from a neck injury, so who knows what role he’ll play in Dallas. Hardaway, though, could benefit greatly.

As overpaid as he is, Hardaway’s efficiency could go off the charts in Dallas. Any stats nerd would know that Hardaway is putting up career-high in points per game (19.1) but on the worst percentages of his career. Both Hardaway’s field goal percentage (38.8 percent) and effective field goal percentage (46.9 percent) are career-lows for him. The conclusion to draw from this is that Hardaway’s scoring more on worse percentages because he was the No.1 scoring option.

Correlation may not mean causation, but Hardaway’s usage rate and field goals assisted percentage hurt his case.

Hardaway has the second-highest usage rate on the team behind only Trey Burke – who also has a golden opportunity on the Mavericks – at 25.7 percent. The percentage of Hardaway’s made shots that have been assisted have also taken a sharp decline. According to Basketball-Reference, Hardaway’s successful two-point shots are being assisted only 35.2 percent of the time, which is a deeper drop from his career-low of 50.4 from last year. Hardaway’s made three-point shots are being assisted 67.5 percent of the time, which is also fewer than his career-low of 79.2 percent from last year.

With Doncic, Porzingis and Harrison Barnes, not as much pressure will be put on Hardaway, which should do wonders for his efficiency. Not to mention, the hierarchy of those four could make Dallas so very lethal.

Again, there is a solid chance this goes wrong. Porzingis could leave by 2020, Dallas would be straddled with some bad contracts and the Knicks would reap almost all the rewards. Porzingis’ latest tweet would indicate that might not be the case.

Dallas and Porzingis could be a match made in heaven. If it is, then it was well worth the risk.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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