It’s been a slow and frustrating descent for the Mavericks and their fans since climbing the championship ladder in 2011. The quality of team play dropped as fan favorites left for different opportunities, while new faces mostly failed to live up to expectations. To recall how the Mavericks got to this point, it’s illuminating to look back to an email sent from Mark Cuban to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas on December 8th, 2011:
“The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past…
The rules are different now, and while it makes it tougher this year because of the affection we have for many of the guys that are leaving, if we want the Mavs to be able to compete for championships in future years as well, it’s a hard decision, but I believe the right decision.”
Cuban has been consistent with his desire to construct a winning team within the constraints of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. During a May 28th radio interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM Cuban said, “If we don’t get the big name, we want to start building that base of a team that can start having some continuity of playing together.” Despite Dirk Nowitzki being on the final year of his contract, it’s been generally understood that the Mavericks are trying to build a team around or with Dirk, while also building a team capable of being successful after Dirk retires.
But there’s been an elephant in the room that has not been acknowledged: What if those goals are mutually exclusive?
Mark Cuban has been very careful in what he’s said to the media over the last few years, mentioning how important cap flexibility is in the long term while also giving attention to Dirk’s dissatisfaction with the last two seasons. If Cuban and Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson are able to land either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, then this point is moot. But what if they don’t?
The remainder of the talent in the 2013 free agent pool either doesn’t fit with Dallas’ plan, like Josh Smith, or represent risky gambles, like Brandon Jennings or Andrew Bynum. Signing one or more of the second tier free agents might benefit Dallas in the short term by making the team more competitive. However, it’s hard to imagine any 2013-2014 Maverick squad without Paul or Howard being a “championship” or “top-seeded team,” which Cuban insists is possible.
Any influx of talent might make Nowitzki happy as he heads into his final years in a Mavericks uniform, but at what point is doing something for Dirk detrimental to Dallas long term? He turns 35 on June 19th. Dirk’s offensive game remains amazing, but he’s also expressed a desire for someone to share the load. Do any of the non-superstar free agents really strike the Dallas front office as the kind of players they can build around after Nowitzki retires?
On the flip side, if Dallas elects to sign a roster full of project players and single-year contracts again, they’re essentially wasting a third straight year of Dirk’s career. For many Mavericks fans, Nowitzki is the alpha and omega when it comes to Dallas as a franchise, and putting together a competitive team while he finishes out his Hall of Fame tenure is an utmost priority. After all, when Nowitzki re-signed with the Mavs at a discount in the summer of 2010, he did so with the understanding that the front office would do its best to surround him with high-caliber players. The lockout and ensuing CBA changed the landscape drastically, and in the process limited Dallas’ team-building options. Yet another lost year for Dirk would be tough to swallow for all involved, even if such a course proves to be best for the Mavs’ greater efforts to construct a contender.
Nowitzki has long been a good soldier for the organization, despite playing with the least talented teammates of any superstar from his generation. While he’s on the record saying he’s willing to take a hefty pay cut when he re-signs after next season, another wasted season could change his internal calculus. Loyal though he might be, Nowitzki’s re-signing in that scenario would first require that he endure another year on the “mediocrity treadmill” without losing faith or interest in the Mavs’ rebuilding efforts. Dallas has been a step above bad for two seasons, held together mainly by Dirk’s brilliance. As he ages, he can’t be expected to carry a .500 team in a Western conference that only seems to get better each season. Nowitzki has seen the peak, and to trudge through the lowlands with a middling team through his slow decline would seem a painfully unfulfilling turn.
As the Mavs attempt to thread the needle in building a team for the future that will simultaneously make the most of Nowitzki’s twilight years, the front office is flirting with disaster. Despite all assurances to the contrary, Dallas’ plan seems to be to land Paul/Howard or bust. The Mavs are reportedly shopping this year’s pick for salary cap space, as has become something of a trend; Dallas traded away younger assets like Corey Brewer and Jordan Hamilton only to make cap space in the past, and the bid to have max-level cap room has left the Mavericks’ cupboard alarmingly bare. If Dallas strikes out with Paul and Howard, it’s quite possible the 2013-2014 Mavericks will be a bad team with a murky future. Despite trying to place themselves in the best possible situation for this off season, the Mavericks are left at the mercy of the decision-making of others.
It’s an uncomfortable situation with meager chance for positive resolution. Yet this is the lot of a team rebuilding around an aging star owed $22.7 million in single-year salary, left only to rely on the long-shot landing of Paul or Howard. For now, acquiring either superstar remains a vague possibility for a franchise in need of hope. Yet come July, the overwhelming likelihood is that both Paul and Howard will sign elsewhere, leaving Dallas to face difficult questions with few — if any — encouraging answers.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
You wouldn’t know it from the game results (L, W, L, W, L), but the Mavs played at a fairly consistent level for the entire week (at least until the fourth quarter of the final game against Brooklyn). After being wildly inconsistent for most the season, the Mavs seem to have finally leveled out and settled into a groove.
So, if the Mavs were so consistent, why 2-3? Why alternating wins and losses? Well, that’s just the thing — the Mavs’ “consistent” level of play sits pretty much right in the middle of the league. Their season-long ceiling (as opposed to their single-game ceiling, which is largely a function of variance) sits right around the 50th percentile. By playing consistently over several games, then, the Mavs make it very easy to see exactly where they sit in the league pecking order. They’ll beat bad teams regularly (Cleveland); they’ll beat decent teams sometimes (Atlanta); they’ll lose to decent teams sometimes (Brooklyn); and they’ll lose to elite teams almost always (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).
Hence, the week that was.
Week 21 (@Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, @Hawks, Nets)
1) Brandan Wright
Wright’s offensive game is so fluid and efficient, it’s hard to imagine that he could barely get off the bench earlier in the year. Here’s how Wright’s key numbers shook out this week: 10.4 points per game, 24-of-43 (56%) shooting, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s much more difficult to quantatively measure individual defense, but I thought Wright showed his continued improvement in that area. He’s got a long way to go, but his footwork in the defensive post has improved since November, and he’s being more judicious with his weakside defense (i.e., not wildly jumping around trying to block every single shot instead of boxing out). Wright earned numerous accolades during college while playing in the highly competitive ACC, and it’s easy to see why. His raw talent is undeniable. With hard work and on-point coaching (and I have no reason to suspect both won’t occur), his ceiling is fairly high.
Mark Cuban spoke on ESPN Dallas Radio 103.3 FM the day after the trade deadline. Of the numerous things he discussed, he mentioned that the Mavericks were close to landing a superstar. “It was crazy,” Cuban said the day after the deadline on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “We thought we had a bunch of things done, literally a bunch of things done. We had teams get cold feet at the last minute. … Things that would have used cap room next year, would have had money next year, that were high-dollar guys, difference-maker guys.” Many people (sarcastic people) suggested that the players initials were BS (think about it and you’ll get it).
Reports today now suggest Cuban wasn’t fibbing. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Friday that the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics were on the verge of a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
In a three-way deal that would’ve secured Josh Smith and surrendered Paul Pierce to Dallas, Atlanta wanted Boston’s first-round draft pick, too.
The Celtics were in talks to send Paul Pierce to Dallas at the trade deadline.
Dallas had constructed a package that included Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Dahntay Jones to Atlanta, with the Mavericks and Hawks exchanging positions in the 2013 NBA draft.
Nevertheless, Boston wouldn’t relent on the pick and the deal died on meeting-room grease boards in three cities.
Well, that’s something, isn’t it? Atlanta would have gotten the pieces they needed for a rebuilding project. Boston would have gotten a new superstar. The pieces on Dallas’ end don’t exactly match up in terms of finances, so other pieces would likely need to be involved in that suggested offer. It likely wouldn’t be pieces of a major consequence. Clearly Dallas and Atlanta were on board, but Boston was the team that put things to a halt. What would acquiring Paul Pierce mean to the Mavericks?
Today is the day. The trade deadline is finally here. At 2 pm central standard time, the wheeling and dealing will pretty much be over. The Mavericks are in a tough spot as they try to balance their run for the playoffs this year and continue their process of transitioning into the future. With viable trade assets in Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and Chris Kaman, anything is possible. Dallas could be looking for players that can boost their playoff chances this year, they could look to accommodate other teams and acquire nice pieces in return or they could unload everything and work with a relatively clean slate going into the offseason.
The most recent report came from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com suggesting that the Mavericks have made Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones and Brandan Wright available for draft picks, according to sources. Some have joked that the Mavericks would be willing to take a third-round draft pick for either Roddy or Jones (there are only two rounds in the NBA draft). Picks are quite valuable in today’s new NBA as rookie-deal players are all the rage. The Mavericks would be interested in obtaining those picks, but they won’t do anything to compromise their cap room.
As the festivities of All-Star weekend faded away, the trade deadline became the top story for the league. Rumors, like the ones mentioned above, always run rampant as the deadline approaches. Owners and general managers are valuable sources of information, but it’s hard to really figure out if they’re giving you information that is worth running with. The best thing to do is just look around the league and get a feel for where each team is at and determine if there is something in terms of a fit for your team. That’s what we’re going to do here. As the trade deadline inches closer and closer, it’s time to look at every team around the league and see if there’s anything that makes sense for the Mavericks.
The trade deadline is always an interesting time for the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Cuban has always said two things when it comes to that time of the year: the team will always be opportunistic and don’t believe what you hear or read when it comes to them. The team is at a crossroads. The chances of making the playoffs are slim and the team has to do what they can to ensure they don’t waste any more time off of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. The deadline on the 21st is one way they can help build for the futre. How do the Mavericks assess things as the trade deadline approaches? Let’s look at the assets and what could be out there.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
After hitting a three at the 7:43 mark of the third quarter, Dirk Nowitzki played 8 minutes and 49 seconds without attempting a shot (he did attempt two free throws). This does not include the time he spent on the bench as his next shot came at the 7:33 mark in the fourth quarter. The lack of a Dirk-centric offense is really concerning. The argument has been made that Dirk’s still working himself back into form, but it’s hard for him to do so when he doesn’t get shot opportunities. Dirk took 14 shots and attempted six free throws. O.J. Mayo 20 attempted shots and no free throws. Who is (or should be) the number one option in this offense?
The lackluster contributions from Shawn Marion (10 points, 3 of 10 shooting) really took a toll on Dallas’ offensive flow. The Mavericks rely on his easy buckets which come on the break or through ball movement, and Marion’s well-timed cuts are a valuable action in both contexts. Yet against the Hawks, Marion had trouble getting much of anything to fall, missing dunks, put-back attempts, and post-ups as he struggled to contribute.
Maverick fans got a taste of the crest of the Josh Smith experience. 26 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, on 66% from the field and 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. He’s an impressive player, no doubt, but I also question the Maverick strategy of defending him. First, Dallas opted to have Dirk cover him defensively, which is bizarre considering Dirk’s lack of lateral quickness. Second, the Mavericks didn’t even try to challenge his outside shots. I understand giving him space, but he is a paid professional basketball player, and these guys can hit open shots given the opportunity. Even a late challenge might have affected his jumper a bit, and in the process earned the Mavs a more significant buffer.
The O.J. Mayo experience is hard to quantify. He takes and makes tough shots, as he did in the first half, shooting 6 of 9 from the field and getting some friendly bounces on the rim. Then he follows that up with an atrocious second half, shooting 3 from 11, including six misses on long two point shots. His late game turnovers also effectively cost Dallas the game. The first, a fast break turnover when he did not have a numerical advantage is a somewhat understandable, if frustrating (he should have known a player was behind him). The second, where he passed it off of a defender’s back is inexcusable. The quality of Mayo’s offensive decision making is often a key factor in a game’s final outcome.
Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.
“Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.“
That’s two huge wins this week, each arguably the greatest of the season. But while the win over L.A. on Wednesday was notable for the quality of the opponent and the in-conference ramifications, this victory goes down as not only the most spectacular Mavs win of the season, but a true candidate for game of the season.
Jason Kidd’s (19 points, 16 rebounds, 17 assists) performance was dominant. It’s rare that we get to see Kidd put on a show of such direct magnificence, but his fingerprints were all over just about every big play Dallas made in the fourth quarter and in overtime. It wasn’t just a perfectly placed feed to Dirk in the post; Kidd flooded the endgame with highlight reel assists, clutch shooting, and incredible work on the glass. The shocking thing: the numbers look good, but it’s possible that the tape looks even better. He was that good.
Then again, the numbers are rather impressive. Not only were Kidd’s box score totals impressive in their own right, but they’re even more so if you dig a bit deeper. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Kidd was responsible for 56 of the Mavs’ 111 total points, and 27 of 34 in the fourth quarter. Nice.
For some historical perspective: only three players in the three-point era have put up a 15-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist game? Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Jason Kidd. Kidd was actually the last to accomplish the feat, as he put up a 21-16-16 game with Dallas in 1996. Tonight’s 19-16-17 game makes Kidd only the second player to do it twice, with Magic being the other. And FYI, Shaquille O’Neal once completed the 15+ trifecta, although by registering over 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 blocks. Or more specifically, 24 points, 28 rebounds, and 15 blocks. Not bad, right? (Hat tip to Tyler for hitting the record books.)
This game was quite the roller coaster, with each team going on some pretty significant runs to completely change the outlook of the game. The Mavs started out strong, but the Hawks took the lead behind a 6-0 run. Then Dallas opened up a 16-0 run to close the first quarter behind some hot shooting and great defense. Atlanta rattled off two separate 9-0 runs to pull within striking range in the second, before Dallas closed 7-0 to take back the lead. The Hawks owned the third quarter, outscoring the Mavs 26-15, largely behind the power of a mid-quarter 13-2 run. The Mavs trailed by as many as 15 points in the fourth, but outscored the Hawks 28-13 over the final eight minutes of regulation. And then they went into overtime.
The play of the game has to be Jason Kidd’s incredibly bizarre decision to draw a technical foul…on Hawks head coach Mike Woodson.
Strange to be sure, but it was quite the heady play and something that most players (Kidd included, in most scenarios) would never think to do. If Woodson’s on the court, he’s fair game — especially when the opposing team is pushing the ball in a transition situation. Now, was Woodson on the court? I’ll leave that debate up to you guys. He definitely made an attempt to slide past the sideline to avoid Kidd, but Jason’s path was still blocked (thanks to an extended left arm) by Woodson. Either way, Woodson was assessed a technical foul, and what was a two-point deficit with 1:37 left in regulation was cut in half. The game eventually went into overtime; you shouldn’t need me to tell you how huge that one point was.
There was a near-footnote in yesterday’s game preview about the Hawks’ ability to switch on every pick. In some situations it makes a ton of sense; Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford, and Maurice Evans are all capable, mobile defenders that can cover a variety of positions. But the Mavs’ late-game strategy was a direct exploitation of that philosophy. Dallas ran the two man game with Dirk and whichever guard was matched up with Mike Bibby. Once Bibby was switched onto Dirk, the Mavs isolated him at the top of the key — a move which necessitates an Atlanta double-team. If the double came slowly or not at all, Dirk got a great look from one of his most comfortable spots on the floor. If the double did come (the double man was typically Josh Smith, who was originally matched up with Dirk), Nowitzki quickly passed the ball out to the open guard on the perimeter, who was met with a wide open three or an assist opportunity to the shooter in the corner. It worked like a charm, and the Hawks refused to adjust.
Dirk (37 points, 15-26 FG, nine rebounds, four assists) had a terrific night, and won’t get the credit he deserves because of the way Kidd stole the show. But it was Nowitzki’s shooting that jump-started the Mavs in the first, his play that facilitated the offense in the fourth, and his points that iced the game in overtime. How sick is it that Nowitzki can put up 37 and still not make the headlines? Part of that is Kidd playing at an out-of-this-world level, but it’s also because this is what we expect from Dirk. Maybe not 37 night-in and night-out, but that level of efficiency, and those types of plays. This is a truly phenomenal player that we have the privilege of watching on almost a nightly basis.
J.J. Barea also deserves a bit of praise, despite the fact that he didn’t contribute much in terms of scoring. But Barea’s presence on the court skewed the match-ups in favor of the Mavs, as Rick Carlisle leaned heavily on the three-guard lineup. Kidd, Barea, Terry, Nowitzki, and Haywood played the games final 13:22. Barea only had four points on 2-of-5 shooting over that span, but he had three assists to just one turnover (despite Jason Kidd having seven assists in the same stretch) and played wonderful defense on Joe Johnson. Yes, I said J.J. Barea on Joe Johnson.
Barea on Johnson is very, very far from an ideal match-up, and would never be Carlisle’s first choice in normal man-to-man situations. But when he decided to close the fourth quarter using the zone, Rick was clearly willing to embrace the possibility that J.J. would be exploited defensively (something we saw Golden State do against Barea in the zone earlier in the season). To his credit, Barea not only contested Joe Johnson’s shot attempts without fouling, but bodied him up and made Johnson’s life quite difficult. Joe had zero points in the fourth quarter and in overtime, despite scoring 27 in the first three quarters.
The zone was effective on pretty much every front, though. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Atlanta shot just 1-for-9 from the field against Dallas’ zone. That might have something to do with how effectively Dallas played to finish regulation.
More great all-around play from Brendan Haywood (11 points, 5-6 FG, 11 rebounds, four assists, three blocks), who can pretty much do no wrong at this point. Haywood had five offensive rebounds to boot, and made two huge buckets during the Mavs’ comeback rally. At this point, he can essentially do no wrong.
Josh Smith’s line also goes down in the “Incredibly awesome, but completely obscured by Jason Kidd” category: 18 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, seven steals. Crazy good.
In the battle of Sixth Man of the Year candidates (not quite the same as an MVP match-up, eh?), Jason Terry scored 17 points on 50% shooting with six assists and Jamal Crawford scored 18 points on 31.3% shooting with four assists. The two are certainly comparable, and though Crawford is having a nice season in the perfect role for his ability and skill set, the numbers between the two are strikingly similar.
Shawn Marion’s first quarter deserves mention, mostly because he went 5-for-5 in the frame and was finishing with some serious authority. The Mavs were great in transition throughout the game, and Marion’s ability to convert layups and throw down some huge dunks was a big part of that.
That’s six wins in a row, which is the Mavs’ longest winning streak of the season and the longest active streak in the NBA. Boosh.
The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most watchable teams in the league not because of one must-watch player (a la LeBron or Wade), but precisely because they don’t have such a player. They’re a quality team on the verge of true contention (and share that standing with the Mavs, in some regard), and they’ve done so with a team-wide embrace of on-court versatility. Mike Bibby may be penciled in as the point guard, but I’m not sure he’s a point guard. Joe Johnson may be penciled in as the shooting guard, but I’m not sure he’s the shooting guard (although the guy certainly does love to shoot). Josh Smith may be penciled in as the power forward, but I’m not entirely unconvinced that Smith isn’t a futuristic warrior from the year 2183 to prove to us how futile the notion of gravity really is. The personnel in Atlanta allows for such a system to thrive, and the best Hawks team of all time is not a product of individual dominance, but of incredible parity:
With just about every competitive squad in the league, you can isolate a player that stands at the heart of everything the team hopes to accomplish. More often than not, that player is simply the team’s most talented (Chris Paul, LeBron James, Brandon Roy), but in some cases, it’s a secondary star who compensates for shear production with massive on-court influence (Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, one of the Boston Celtics).
Or, in slightly less frequent and more bizarre circumstances, a team is left with no focus at all, depending on a balance of power, production, and personality to turn what could be a tornado into a whirling dervish neatly dressed in a tuxedo and a bow tie. The Atlanta Hawks are a team without a singular focus, without an anchor. That type of situation could be a cause of trouble for any number of rosters throughout the league, but somehow, someway, Atlanta makes parity look easy.
You can read my full piece on the Hawks here at HP.
Dirk Nowitzki’s exclusion was not one of them. His selection was never even debatable. But the Western Conference reserves will be Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, and and Zach Randolph. Great picks all the way down the line, and particular kudos to the coaches for picking this crop over Denver’s Chauncey Billups. Billups is a fine player, but this just isn’t his year. Plus, I think there’s a very legitimate argument to be made for Tyreke Evans over Chauncey, anyway…but we’ll save that for another day.
In the East, the reserves will be Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Paul Pierce, and Derrick Rose. In related news, it really, really sucks to be David Lee right now. He’s doing just about everything humanly possible (ahem, offensively), and still can’t catch a break. Pierce is having an off-year, but his selection was more or less assumed. I just wish we could see Lee and Josh Smith in the game, but no such luck.
First thing’s first: a little company policy. During the regular season and the playoffs, I like to keep trade rumor talk to a minimum. Confirmed, popular, or oft-repeated rumors will get a mention and perhaps some brief analysis as to the whys/why nots, but on the whole I like to stay away from the vacuum that is the rumor mill. The offseason is a different beast entirely, and one that gives us the opportunity to leave no stone unturned. I don’t want this blog to turn into a running thread of trade machine quick fixes, but some of these rumors deserve a bit of attention.
That said, the summer is a boring, desolate time. There’s a lot of reading between the lines as fans get progressively more stir crazy. In all likelihood you’ll find me sitting in a corner, twitching, with my eyes glazed over by the time September finally rolls around. The long summer days practically beg for this stuff, and who am I to deny them their most base speculative basketball instincts? As such, I’ll be dipping my toe into the pool from time to time, but still, I wouldn’t expect me to cannonball into the deep end. Though, I must say, I am a wicked cannonballer.
The big trade rumor flying around…centers on the Hawks’ Josh Smith. Several league sources told ESPN.com that the Hawks have been working hard the past few weeks to see whether they can find a taker for Smith…
The Hawks have had no problem finding teams interested in Smith. The issue is the whopping $6 million trade kicker attached to his contract. The trade kicker essentially would require the team that trades for Smith to pay him the $6 million immediately. In this economic climate, many owners will balk at the payment. “You are going to see very few owners willing to do things like that anymore,” one GM said. “I’m not saying he’s impossible to trade. There are a few owners like Paul Allen, James Dolan, Mark Cuban and maybe Daniel Gilbert who would pay the money. But there aren’t many.”
Josh Smith is a tasty find…for the right price. He can bring a lot to a team, particularly one that needs athletic finishers and help on the defensive end. When you boil down the basic Maverick needs to taglines, Josh Smith makes sense. But diving a little deeper, and there could be some problems. Nothing of cataclysmic proportions, mind you, but problems that may make you hold off on offering your first-born to the Josh Smith altar.
Any deal the Mavs are able to swing involving Smith would likely require some serious talent on our end. Probably Jason Terry and Josh Howard. As much as we’d love to believe that a salary dump would be enough to get it done, this is still a young stud. He’s tremendously athletic and comes with a fairly reasonable price tag (pre-trade kicker) salary-wise. There has been no explosion in Atlanta that would compromise the Hawk’s position in negotiations, and thus it’s fair to assume that it’s going to take somewhere around Smith’s market value to pry him out of Atlanta’s hands. That value is not equal to Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse, no matter how you shake it.
Now, Howard could conceivably be packaged with Stackhouse in a deal that would relieve the Hawks of Josh Smith and Speedy Claxton’s dead weight of a contract. Barring turning Jason Terry into their point guard again, that’s the deal that seems to make the most sense for Atlanta. Even then, this trade is hardly fit to sail. Howard and Smith are hardly on equal terms these days, so much of this trade (and these rumors, for that matter) hinge on Atlanta’s want to rid Mike Woodson of a headache and/or save some money. I’m not about to tell you what Hawks’ ownership and management wants, and I’m not sure that they could either. This development of the Hawks has been mired substantially by failings higher up in the management chain. Mismanagement and confusion are the names of the game. If I were to tell you that I had my thumb to Atlanta’s pulse, I’d be quite the liar. So let’s just say that there are variables at work here that are beyond us.
I’m not concerned about Smith’s position. He started his career as a natural three, and was moved to the four because of personnel and his inability to shoot. If he had to play the three again, I have no doubt he could do so. The biggest questions should dwell with Smith’s place on the court. Not necessarily in terms of position, but rather in regard to the skills he brings to the table and the spots he occupies on the floor. Offensively, Smith has no go-to moves when he’s farther than 1.5 feet from the basket. He doesn’t post up particularly well, he can’t shoot threes or mid-range jumpers particularly well (a gross .349 eFG on jump shots), and to top it all off, he exhibits some generally poor decision-making on that end. Get him the ball in transition, on a lob, or just an open cut to the basket, and he’s money. Otherwise, expect a clank.
On defense, Smith is best equipped to guard forwards. He doesn’t have the quickness to keep up with guards on the perimeter, and though he’s an excellent shot-blocker, that skill is negated when you’re acting as a human turnstyle. So what does this really change about the Mavs’ overall team defense? They have an improved defender on either the opponent’s 3 or 4, but still have limited means to prevent penetration. That said, Smith could be a flat-out defensive weapon against the league’s better small forwards. He won’t shut down LeBron James, but he could certainly be a sizeable road block against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Hedo Turkoglu, or Lamar Odom. Sometimes the key to a strong defense is to limit the opportunities of the second or third guy on the offensive end. Forcing an opponent’s star to take on more and more of the scoring load likely means a drop in efficiency, which is exactly what the Mavs should strive for. Apart from getting an elite defender at the wing positions or at point guard, the Mavs need to largely make do. Smith would allow them to do that and then some.
My issues with Smith are largely at the offensive end. He’s not simply a non-factor on offense, but has a habit of being a possession killer. Also throw in what he would likely cost the Mavs: the departure of Josh Howard, Jason Terry, or both. Both Terry and Howard are keys for Dallas on offense. The Mavs were able to find offensive success this season largely due to the hyper-efficient nature of Dirk and JET’s games, but from watching the team it appeared that such success was hanging by the slightest thread. Howard gave the Mavs a bit of breathing room with his ability to take over (or monopolize, depending on your perspective) the offense for stretches. Substituting Smith for Howard removes the safety net, and substituting Smith for Terry could make the sky fall. Howard’s inconsistency is manageable when he’s living the small-time life of a third offensive option, but he very well may drown in the responsibilities of being the second guy.
Annnnnd this was entirely too much for a bare bones trade rumor. Definitely a cannonball. Feel free to sound off in the comments, though. What price is too high for Smith? At what point does the offense begin to take a nose-dive?
EDIT: Some extra credit reading, in which SLAM’s Lang Whitaker, who knows a thing or two about the Hawks, tackles the idea of Atlanta unloading Smith.