The Mavericks’ Kristaps Porziņģis acquisition and subsequent trade has been one of the most embarrassing and impactful mistakes of modern NBA history. Especially when it comes to surrounding their young superstar, Luka Dončić, with a contending roster.
Now that the smoke has cleared, the Mavs essentially traded an unprotected first, a protected first, and a second-round pick for the broken body and spirit of Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans, owners of the absolute worst contracts in the NBA. Porziņģis never played at the level he did with the New York Knicks. He was mostly pouty, injured, and declining. The Mavs front office and fanbase made up every excuse in the book for the 7-footer, citing his ability to block shots as the anchor of the Mavs improving defense. Blocking shots is just one aspect of defense. It was Porziņģis’ one-on-one game that was conveniently ignored. After tearing his ACL and suffering recurring injuries, he couldn’t guard anyone anymore. He was usually there for the weak side block because he had either lost his man or chosen to rotate and hover around the basket, waiting for a stat.
The organizational ineptitude and mismanagement of Porziņģis span two general managers, former Mavs GM Donnie Nelson and current GM Nico Harrison, who probably wishes he stayed in his cushy Nike gig.
Mavs fans had high hopes for Harrison. There was optimism he wouldn’t squander assets like his predecessor. That he wouldn’t continue the two-decades-old trend of trading assets for goofy European role players, no one else wants. Enter Davis Bertans.
Bertans has been brutally below-average at every facet of basketball, save for perimeter shooting. His 43 percent from 3, and 15.4 ppg during the 2019-2020 season earned him an absurd five-year, $80 million deal with the Washington Wizards. This season he’s averaged 5.7 ppg while shooting 31.9 percent from 3-point range. There are guys in the stands who can put up better numbers who aren’t getting paid an insane contract. It was thought the Wizards would never be able to trade Bertan’s atrocious deal. Enter Nico Harrison.
Or should we say, Mark Cuban? The Mavs owner has always been the shadow GM. He’s been blatantly outright about it. Dinwiddie’s crypto bro side hustle reeks of Cuban meddling at the deadline. Porziņģis wasn’t perfect. He usually wasn’t healthy either. Or easy to coach. Or typically fun for Luka to play with. But at least when he was suited up, he gave you 20 ppg. Dinwiddie and Bertans don’t even average 20 per combined.
It gets worse. Usually, the team dealing the worst player in the trade has to attach a pick to help the other team swallow the deal. In this case, both sides agreed KP was somehow the worst asset. So the Mavs added a second-round pick to unload Porziņģis’ large hospital bills and even more oversized ego.
The Porziņģis debacle has short-term and long-term implications. This trade was not really about Porziņģis, it was about Dončić. Now, most Mavs games will look a lot like the game directly after the trade. Against the depleted Clippers, Dončić had 51. The next highest scorer, Dorian Finney-Smith (who agreed to a contract extension right after the Porziņģis trade), had 12. In recent memory, no team has failed more at surrounding their young MVP candidate with a competitive roster than Cuban’s Mavs have for Dončić.
There is no All-Star on this Mavs roster. There’s no young player with star upside. There’s no one averaging over 20 ppg. Hell, there’s no one averaging over 17 per. This roster is devoid of athletes, young pieces, and a center capable of nailing a three. In Year 4 of Dončić’s Mavs career, he has zero help inside. To make matters worse, in the initial Porziņģis deal with the Knicks, Dallas gave up two first round picks. This has drastically limited the Mavs from including future first round picks past 2025. In today’s NBA draft capital is premium, and the Mavs have been kept from including any due to their deal with New York. Even if they had picks to trade, as long as Dončić is healthy, any Maverick pick would convert higher than 10, as they have the last few seasons.
Even New Orleans, who has become a laughingstock for how pitiful they’ve surrounded Zion Williamson with a competitive team, found a way to bring in All-Star CJ McCollum in a winnable deal. Luka is surrounded, by all accounts, by nice guys. He enjoys going to the club with these dudes — Maxi Kleiber, Josh Green, and his bestie, Boban Marjanović. But these are guys no other team wants. Those fun teammate vibes will only get the Mavs and Dončić so far. If he is a generational talent, most believe him to be — failing to advance in the playoffs has already begun to eat at him.
The inability to get anything beyond a Porziņģis deal done proved that. Instead, the Mavericks are chock full of glorified role players who only look good playing next to a generational talent like Dončić. Half of them wouldn’t make an NBA roster elsewhere.
Remember that reference to the Mavs not having a guy who averages over 17 ppg? Jalen Brunson is the closest at 16. It took four seasons for the Mavs to finally start Brunson, a bull on offense, who plays with a ton of heart. But he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer, and early whispers have him commanding a $20M per year contract. And have I mentioned Dinwiddie is owed $54M over three years.
Do the Mavs want to be on the books for nearly $40 million to two non-All-Star-level guards? If they pick up soon-to-be-cut Goran Dragić, that will make three point guards in need of minutes. Brunson seems to be the odd man out, with Cuban securing Dinwiddie as insurance, in case he does. If the Mavs re-sign Brunson, that’s locking in an exceptionally mediocre supporting cast around Donic for the next three to four years. This summer, handling Brunson’s free agency will mark the second-toughest Dončić-centric move for Harrison and Cuban. Especially if the market heats up and the Mavs end up overpaying, putting them over the luxury tax.
The Mavs just signed Dončić to his rookie extension at five years and $207.1 million. But that hasn’t been enough to keep most modern superstars from demanding a trade when it’s clear the team has hit a ceiling. It makes sense. The team that drafted you can give you the most money. Take it, then wait it out a year or two to see if they’re competent enough to build a contending squad. If they don’t, you secure the bag and get the trade. Many superstars have done it — most notably Anthony Davis with the Pelicans.
Why does this happen? Front offices hit a ceiling and couldn’t keep, or even get, their teams in contending status. So the superstar bolts. The Mavs have already surrounded Luka with the worst supporting cast of any NBA superstar. So now they go into the next five years of his rookie extension with only four out of five draft picks, the hefty salaries of Tim Hardaway Jr. (three more years), Dinwiddie (two more years), Reggie Bullock (two more years), and Bertans (three more years).
The Porziņģis experiment wasted Dončić’s first two playoff runs. For both years, Porziņģis sat out crucial playoff games with various injuries, leaving Dončić to carry the load. There were many reports of the two not getting along or building an on-the-court or off-the-court rapport. NBA observers and Mavs fans especially knew a Porziņģis trade was inevitable. They needed a scapegoat for why the team had mostly under-achieved this season. But ask any Mavs fan before the deadline, and they would balk at a deal that returned talent deemed less than Porziņģis. “Don’t make a Porziņģis trade for the sake of making a trade,” rang out over Twitter and NBA group chats like a call to arms.
And yet, the trade that ended up happening was worse than even the harshest Mavericks critic could conceptualize. Porziņģis has been underwhelming, maybe even bad if you can look past the bloated stats. But he’s certainly better than the combined bum deals of Dinwiddie, a player who can barely stay healthy or engaged, and Bertans, perhaps one of the top five worst overall players in the NBA when his shot isn’t falling.
If there’s any silver lining, maybe with the exile of Porziņģis, Dončić is happier. If he is, it was all worth it. At least temporarily. Most superstars are divas. It’s part of the modern NBA. To older basketball heads, it’s a depressing place to be, under the thumb of a 20-year-old’s whims. But it’s a pain of being a small market team. Just ask New Orleans.