Acquiring young, athletic players is the focus of the Dallas Mavericks. They’re still in "retool mode," as team president Donnie Nelson put it Thursday.
Mission accomplished at the trade deadline. They weren't thrilled to ship off a positive veteran presence such as guard Devin Harris, but did so to bring in a player they feel has upside (26-year-old Doug McDermott) and a future draft pick, likely a second-round selection from Denver by way of Portland. As part of the deal, the Nuggets sent Emmanuel Mudiay to the New York Knicks.
Mudiay played high school basketball at Arlington Grace Prep.
“Bittersweet day,” Nelson said. “[Harris] is really the epitome of what the Dallas Mavericks are all about. He’s cut from the same cloth as Dirk (Nowitzki) and Michael (Finley) and really everything we want our young guys to be.
“This was an opportunity for Devin to play for a team [the Denver Nuggets] that is fighting for the playoffs. It gives us an opportunity to take a look at a really good young player that we were high on in Doug McDermott. We really feel that he has a chance to be a nice small forward in this league for a long period of time."
Still, the Mavericks appear to face a significant uphill battle in returning to contending status.
The Western Conference is loaded with elite teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. And then a team such as the Los Angeles Lakers clears a bunch of cap space and will have the ability to make a realistic run at two elite players in free agency, namely LeBron James and Paul George.
The Mavericks used to be a playoff staple, making the postseason in 15 of 16 seasons from the 2000-01 season to the 2015-16 season. But those days are becoming more and more distant, although Nelson sees promise.
Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has flashed star potential; Harrison Barnes is a solid player at the wing; and they aren’t giving up on young injured players such as Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nerlens Noel.
Curry underwent a surgical procedure Thursday to address a stress injury to his left tibia. He is expected to return to full activity within 10 to 12 weeks.
"Look, we've got some good young building blocks," Nelson said. "I think everyone sees Dennis Smith as one of those, Harrison Barnes. We've got some really good, young building blocks that are going to be given more opportunity to show what they can do.
"Gives us again a chance to get some really good young assets that will, hopefully along with the young guys we have, pave the way for those building blocks to start the franchise going in a young, athletic direction.”
McDermott, the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft, hasn’t made a significant impact yet in his young career. He’s averaging 7.2 points, shooting 46 percent overall and 38.7 percent from 3-point range this season.
He’s in the last year of his contract and has a cap hit of $3.3 million and will become a restricted free agent in July. If the Mavericks decide to tender him an offer, the qualifying offer would be $4.5 million.
“We like Doug quite a bit,” Nelson said. “Doug is a really good, young wing player that can make shots, make plays, smart, great young man. The kind of guy that we look to put in our locker room. He’s got the right DNA. And again, he’s a young guy that’s got really good upside.”
But the big news – and toughest – of the day was Harris’ departure. He’s joining a playoff contender in Denver, which would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today.
Harris played in 44 games for the Mavericks, including one start this season. He averaged 8.5 points with 1.9 assists. He’s played in 540 career games for Mavericks and Nelson hinted that Harris could return for next season if he became available.
“He’s forever going to be part of our family,” Nelson said. “In my opinion, I think he’ll end his career here. … Devin has an opportunity to play for a playoff-bound team. In two months, he’ll probably be right back in Big D.”