After catching fire in the beginning of December, the Dallas Mavericks have slid backwards in the Western Conference. Their 18-22 record places them 14th and last in their division. Thankfully, they are still only 3.5 games out of the playoff picture in a neck and neck West.
The real good news for Dallas is that despite the wins not coming their way as they would hope, their prodigal rookie, Luka Doncic, continues to show incredible promise. Through the month of December, Doncic averaged 21.1 points 6.4 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.1 steals in just under 31 minutes, all while shooting 36.5 percent from deep and 42.7 percent overall. Couple those numbers with coming in second during early returns for the 2019 All-Star Game and the hype train for Luka seems to keep on rolling.
This is great for the Mavericks, but not so much for one member of the team specifically: Dennis Smith Jr.
Around Christmas time, it was reported by Marc Stein and confirmed by Tim MacMahon that the Dallas Mavericks are testing the trade waters for their second-year guard. Smith Jr. has been putting up decent numbers, though his stat line of 12.6 points, 3.9 assists, and 2.6 rebounds is down from his rookie year. He has improved his steals per game from 1 to 1.4 and is shooting .62 percent better on his 3’s.
The problem for the Dallas Mavericks is with Luka Doncic as their primary ball handler and offensive initiator, Dennis Smith Jr. just doesn’t fit. He needs the ball in his hands to be at his best. If the Mavericks feel it is time to move on, sooner is always better than later. Smith Jr. still has two years left on his rookie deal after this season and tons of value. Dallas has had their sights set on flighting their way into the playoffs this season and dealing Smith Jr. could help them add pieces to help the team right now. Here are potential teams that could reach out to Dallas to take the 2017 lottery pick off their hands:
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are one of the few teams in the league with clear cut ambitions to miss out on the playoffs in favor of constructing their future. Focused on making big roster additions in both the draft and free agency, New York isn’t likely to do much buying in the trade market. A starting caliber point guard who can score has been something this franchise has coveted for a while now, however. Frank Ntilikina, who was drafted one pick ahead of Dennis Smith Jr., hasn’t lived up to expectations and Emmanual Mudiay isn’t likely to be a long-term fixture for the Knicks.
Dennis Smith Jr. would be a great fit in New York and could even play alongside Ntilikina. Adding more young potential could further entice prospective free agents, as well, without taking up much cap space. Seemingly committed to retaining their picks and young players, the Mavericks best bet at pulling back a meaningful haul would be attaching salary to DSJ, such as Dwight Powell, to bring back Tim Hardaway Jr. or Enes Kanter. Both of these players would add offensive firepower for Dallas. Kanter has proven in Oklahoma City that he can be a reliable scoring big off the bench and Hardaway Jr. could bring much a much-needed deep threat.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been one of the bigger surprises of the season, racking up win after win in a tough Western Conference. Their success makes it easy to forget that this is one of the younger teams in the league. With big plans to sign at least one max level player in free agency, bringing in young talent is their best bet at growing the team without compromising upcoming cap space.
Dennis Smith Jr. would be a somewhat odd addition given their recent drafting of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. A backcourt combination of the two could be deadily, though. Gilgeous-Alexander has versatility and has already logged a third of his minutes this season at the two-guard spot. He could be the perfect defensive off-ball guard to pair next to Dennis Smith Jr.
The obvious choice for the Clippers to send back is Patrick Beverley. Beverley would give Dallas an elite defensive guard and some spot up shooting. The Mavericks could seek more in this trade, however. Attaching a pick or two, or possibly even rookie Jerome Robinson, who hasn’t gotten much playing time with Los Angeles could make this a unique trade for Dallas that sends them both a piece to help right away, as well as future assets.
There may not be a team more in need of a starting point guard than the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have tried using Devin Booker or Jamal Crawford as the floor general in addition to playing guys like Isaiah Canaan and Elie Okobo heavy minutes. Bringing in Dennis Smith Jr. would almost make too much sense for Phoenix.
A pairing of Smith Jr. and Booker in the backcourt could help the Suns round out a big three alongside their recent first overall pick DeAndre Ayton. The timeline for the three players would work perfectly and the extra years on Dennis Smith Jr.’s contract would give Phoenix time to build around their young core in free agency before it became time to pay up.
With a roster stacked with wings, the Dallas Mavericks would have options on a return. As Phoenix seems to be ready to give up on Josh Jackson, the Mavs could take a chance that the former fourth overall pick has a lot to offer still. He would provide athleticism and could be great alongside Doncic, with both players provide a lot of lineup versatility. If the Suns were willing to part with him, Mikal Bridges could be a great return for the Mavericks, as well.
After starting the season defying projections, the Orlando Magic have cooled off and are currently 17-23. With only two or three playoff spots likely up for grabs in the East, the Magic could find themselves looking to abandon postseason hopes this year and focus on their future. If that is the case, Orlando could be an excellent landing spot for Dennis Smith Jr. Since giving up on Elfrid Payton, the Orlando Magic have yet to find a permanent solution to their point guard troubles. Dennis Smith Jr. would give them someone who is a viable player right away, but still young and expected to continue to develop.
If the Magic decide to throw in the towel for this season, the Dallas Mavericks could have a chance to use Smith Jr. to coax Orlando into trading Nikola Vucevic. Vecivic would bring a ton of paint scoring to Dallas and a Luka-Vucevic pick and roll could be lethal. For Orlando, trading him for a young, promising point guard versus possibly losing him for nothing in the Summer could be enough to get them to pull the trigger. If not, Orlando could still offer immediate help, like Evan Fournier or Terrence Ross, to the Mavericks.