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Porzingis is Locked in With Dallas, For Better or Worse

kristaps porzingis dallas mavericks trade

Despite losing their first-round playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7, the Dallas Mavericks’ season was quite solid overall despite some bumps in the road. After a rocky start to the season in which they were below .500 for a few weeks, they got their season back on track and ended up finishing with the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Luka Doncic had another dominant, MVP-esque season, and was named First Team All-NBA, and backup point guard Jalen Brunson was a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year Candidate.

On the unfortunate side of things, Doncic’s supposed co-star Pornzingis saw yet another year of his career plagued by a myriad of injuries. He played just 43 games of the pandemic-shortened 72 game season and often did not look like he had fully recovered from the meniscus tear that he suffered during the bubble playoffs last summer. The ligament tear is just another bullet point on the laundry list of injuries that Pornzingis has suffered in his still-young career. The others include an ACL tear and an Achilles tendon tear.

In their first-round playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers, it was clear for all to see that this injury seriously limited Porzingis’ mobility and rim protection for Dallas. He was essentially relegated to being a 7-foot-3 spot-up shooter, and Los Angeles frequently hunted him as a defender by pulling him out to the perimeter. For the series, he averaged just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting a paltry 29.6 percent on 3-pointers. Additionally, he tallied only five blocks in seven games despite averaging 1.3 per game during the regular season and at least 1.9 per game every year of his career. This underwhelming performance was a far cry from the player that showed up in last year’s first-round series against the Clippers when he averaged 23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and shot 52.5 percent on 3-pointers. Clearly, years of major injuries have sapped some of his athleticism.

The toughest part about Porzingis’ underperformance was that it more or less flushed a legendary showing from Doncic down the proverbial toilet. Doncic looked like the best player in the NBA for stretches of this series, averaging 35.7 points, 10.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds on 49.0 percent shooting from the floor and 40.8 percent shooting on 3-pointers. He dominated every facet of the game offensively; he made countless step-back 3-pointers, hunted mismatches in the pick and roll with the savvy of a ten-year NBA veteran, and bullied weaker defenders like Patrick Beverley at the rim every chance he got. Doncic’s brilliance afforded the Mavericks a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead to begin the series, but Kawhi Leonard and company came storming back to win in seven games. Once they realized that Dallas had nobody else that consistently beat them, they just decided to weather the Doncic storm for three quarters every game until he (understandably) became exhausted from shouldering such an immense offensive load. Heliocentric offenses rarely beget deep playoff runs (unless you are LeBron James).

With a gut-wrenching playoff series defeat behind them and cleaning house with General Manager Donnie Nelson being fired and head coach Rick Carlisle stepping down, the Mavericks have to figure out a solution to their Porzingis problem; and it’s a big one. There is not a huge trade market for a 7-foot-3 power forward with a severely limited skillset springing from a worrisome injury history. To make matters worse, there is widespread speculation that Porzingis is frustrated by his role in Dallas and the amount of attention that Luka receives. As if the situation was not already bleak, he has over $100 million left on his contract. If Dallas does not remedy the situation soon, they could find themselves wasting the cheap rookie contract years of Luka before he signs the supermax, and might see him take his talents elsewhere if they are not able to provide him with an adequate co-star. The series against the Clippers made it clear that Luka is ready to be the best player on a championship-caliber team right now, and they need to hold up their end of the bargain.

So what does Dallas do? They can, and may have to, ride with Porzingis for another year, and hope that a full summer to get healthy helps restores some of his lateral quickness and athleticism. And to be honest, this may be the most practical way to proceed. The Mavericks have failed to attract any marquee free agents the last few offseasons despite having the cap space to sign one, and their intention of re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely make adding major supplementary talent even more difficult.
So, it appears that the bitter marriage of Porzingis and Doncic will continue, at least for another season. Dallas will likely look to add complementary defenders and ballhandlers that can help and alleviate some of the playmaking duties from Doncic and provide some defensive intensity without adding any expensive major pieces. With no picks in this year’s draft and minimal cap space, newly minted general manager Nico Harrison has his work cut out for him. Here’s to hoping he has some creative ideas to improve their situation.

All stats courtesy of Pro Basketball-Reference and ESPN

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