Should they be?
First of all, with the Mavs’ lack of intriguing young talent, it’s far from certain that they could put together a trade proposal that would be attractive enough to persuade the Hawks to pull the trigger on shipping Smith to Dallas. However, for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that a package of veteran forward Shawn Marion and rookie center Bernard James would get the deal done.
Would that increase the Mavs’ odds of making the playoffs this season? More importantly, could it significantly improve the Mavs’ immediate future?
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Smith, 27, who will be on display at the American Airlines Center when the Hawks visit Monday night, could be considered a younger, taller version of Marion. Smith averages more points (16.9 to 11.6), rebounds (8.5 to 8.3), assists (4.0 to 2.9), blocks (2.2 to 0.7) and steals (1.3 to 0.9) but has worse shooting percentages across the board.
Despite the numbers, it’s difficult to argue that Smith would definitely be an upgrade for the remainder of the season, considering he’d have to learn the Mavs’ systems on the fly and Marion has been magnificent recently, averaging 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in Dallas’ last five games.
Plus, the Mavs would be giving up a contributor in James, a key energy source who has worked his way into the starting lineup lately. The Mavs are 3-2 when James starts.
As far as the future goes, keep in mind that the Hawks wouldn’t be shopping Smith unless he made it clear that he wants to cash in with a max contract this summer.
It’d be worth gambling on Smith if he gave the Mavs a better chance of luring his best buddy Dwight Howard to Dallas. Unfortunately, money is much more important than friendship in free agency.
And the Mavs won’t have enough cap space to make Howard and Smith happy, even if they shed Marion’s $9.3 million salary next season.
It’s a simple matter of math. Smith can make $16.4 million in the first season of a max deal. Howard can make $20.5 million (105 percent of his current salary). Dirk Nowitzki is due $22.7 million. The cap this season is $58.044 million – or less than what those three will get paid if Smith gets his wish.
Oh, and the Mavs also owe Vince Carter ($3.2 million), Jared Cunningham ($1.2 million) and Jae Crowder ($789,000) guaranteed money next season. Maybe the Mavs could pull off some cap gymnastics and dump those salaries this summer, but they aren’t going to be able to convince Smith and/or Howard to take less to come to Dallas and team up with Dirk on a depth-deprived team.
“Hey, we can bring back Mike James on a minimum deal to run the point,” isn’t much of a sales pitch.
Of course, the Mavs could make the deal for Smith and simply re-sign him, sacrificing their chance to win the Dwight sweepstakes. But Smith is a good player, not a superstar, as evidenced by the fact he’s never played in an All-Star Game. He’s not a guy worthy of Dirk passing the baton as the face of the Mavs’ franchise.
Committing max money to Smith wouldn’t make the Mavs contenders. It’d basically be an admission that letting Tyson Chandler go was a major mistake.
The Mavs would be better off keeping Marion, whose trade value will be higher next season when his contract will be expiring, and hanging on to their slim hopes of signing Howard.