Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Would You Trade Dirk For KG? And Vice Versa?

Today on The Painted Area:
Video: J-Rich vs. Booze's Face | Analysis: Jazz-Warriors Game 2


As we touched upon in our wrapup of the Warriors-Mavs series, this has immediately (and shockingly, since it was fairly unimaginable two weeks ago) become the most fascinating offseason question in the league to us:

If you were Dallas, would you trade Dirk (age 28) for KG (age 30)?
If you were Minnesota, would you trade KG for Dirk?

Which team would get the better of a Dirk-KG trade?

Now we're going to explore this topic a little more in depth, after Bill Simmons and Marc Stein bounced it around briefly in the debut edition of Eye of the Sports Guy - a new podcast from Simmons that was a good listen - and Sam Smith, who's never met a trade that he wouldn't propose, also mentioned it in a recent column.

First of all, let's make it clear that the Dallas leadership - Mark Cuban, Donnnnnn Nelson and Avery Johnson - have all been strongly supportive of Dirk, and Cubes has indicated that he will not be blowing the team up this summer.

But I must say that I agree with the (mildly disturbing) analogy which Simmons offered, that Dallas has experienced the basketball equivalent of a comfortable suburban family experiencing a home invasion, something so traumatic that you can't live in the same house anymore, because the memories are too difficult to handle.

I've always been someone who believes strongly that teams should not overreact to playoff failure in making their personnel decisions - suffering through playoff heartbreak is often part of the essential growing pains of becoming an NBA champion.

But that's the thing: Dallas has gotten through its playoff growing pains. This was their moment in NBA time - they have been the best team in basketball each of the last two seasons; they should have one championship under their belts, and should be rolling along towards another decisive matchup vs. the Spurs. After not being tough enough to win in consecutive years, I think they have to make a significant move.

I really hate to pile on Dirk - he embodies so many things that are right with the league - but I have to defer to what I love most about the NBA Playoffs: it is Basketball Darwinism. If I may borrow some Hubie-style second person, the question is simply this: Are you mentally and physically tough enough to endure four 7-game series to the end?

And Dirk has proven not to be. A 90% foul shooter, he missed two game-tyers at the end of Game 3 of the Finals, when Dallas could have gone up 3-0. He was awful in Games 4 and 5 (18 ppg on 10-33 FG, 1-9 3PT) last year. And then last week he was not able to provide the leadership and mental toughness that his team so desperately needed, culminating in the pathetic 8-point performance on 2-13 FG in Game 6 in Oakland.

Certainly I think a disproportionate share of the blame has fallen on Dirk - other players underperformed and I thought Avery had a terrible series. And I would normally say, "Absolutely not" regarding a Dirk trade, but that's because superstars inevitably seem to get traded for 50 cents on the dollar.

That's the thing: KG offers the chance to get the full $1.00 back. Dallas could slide him into the team fairly easily - they wouldn't have to worry about breaking up their 67-win nucleus at all. While KG is not as potent of a scorer, his unselfish style would fit well on a team with multiple scoring options, and of course, he would bring an infusion of defense and never-say-die toughness.

Stein, an avowed Nowitzki guy, trotted out the obvious counterargument: do you really want a guy who couldn't even make the playoffs the last three years? See, this is where I think people take the "winning is everything" sentiment too far in terms of evaluating individual players. The Mavs have the deepest roster in basketball and the T-Wolves have crap.

Do you really think that if you switch Dirk and KG, Dallas would have been worse off this season? And do you really think that Minnesota would have been a playoff team? On both counts, I do not.

Simmons has often wondered whether KG is too much of a "second banana" type to be able to carry his team to playoff success. That's another thing with Dallas - they have enough talent that they don't need an "alpha dog" scoring talent like a Jordan or a Kobe as much as an "alpha dog" mentality.

From the Minnesota perspective, a KG-for-Dirk trade offers one of the same benefits that Dallas would get: you wouldn't be trading a superstar for 50 cents on the dollar. And of course, you'd get one of the most admirable players in the league and - oh yeah - one of the best players in the world. The toughest matchup in the league, and two years younger to boot.

But the problem in Minnesota right now is a talent deficiency. Switch KG and Dirk and you're probably in the same place. My personal feeling is that they should a) send McHale ice fishing somewhere outside of Duluth and b) continue to try to build around KG until he asks out. But strangely, if they had to make a trade, it seems like they'd be better off trying to add multiple young players and draft picks, even though so many teams get burned that way.

It's weird enough to me that I think it would be a no-brainer for Dallas to trade a reigning MVP, and a bad deal for Minnesota to acquire one. But it's even weirder that I somehow feel like Minnesota would be willing to pull the trigger on this deal, but Dallas wouldn't.

Again, I go back to this point: the NBA Playoffs, the greatest sporting event in the world, are Basketball Darwinism. Only 1 team out of 30 is left standing at the end.

I think back to the summer of 2003 when Joe Dumars had Rick Carlisle, who I think is an underrated, quality NBA coach. Joe D did not hesitate to unceremoniously dump Carlisle after two straight overachieving seasons and a trip to the 2003 Eastern Conference Finals when Larry Brown came on the market. It was a move that Joe had to make (even though he suffered for it later!) to get his team closer to a championship.

I admire Mark Cuban immensely for his loyalty to Dirk during the most disappointing times for his franchise. But a Dirk-for-KG trade is one he has to make right now to get his team closer to a championship.


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous ronaldinho said...

look how much playoff games nowitzki won, than compare it too garnett. both had different crews at different times. but nowitzki failed this year for the first time, kg failed everytime but once and didn't even made playoffs every year.
nowitzki was really bad in these years pläyoffs. but what's about avery johnson changing the starting 5 in the first match. this just helped golden state. terry had one good game, howard was not as good as many think he is. the rest of the mavericks was just ugly. blame nowitzki that they blamed themselves this year, but be fair in recognize what he did in the last couple of years without much help. he has no amare for example.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Ronaldinho: I still think KG is the better all-around player, but these are all very fair and valid points.

I'm actually surprised that the poll above was so much in favor of KG - I thought it would be closer to 50-50 b/c of the points you raised.

I guess we'll see next year - maybe Dirk will lead the Mavs to the title once and for all and prove me wrong....

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Paul Niemeyer said...

I really like this article, and i have to approve your arguments about KG-Dirk. Totaly new for me was this "Darwinism"-Playoff thing. But all in all: Dirk is the better Playoffguy - and that is what counts being in the playoffs.

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

KG doesn't even get much of a chance to show anybody his playoff ability, so how can you judge him like that? Everytime he got a shot, KG stepped up. His teams may not have won, but he did his part. There was only two series in which his team was even favored to win the series, and they won both of them in '04. Other than that, KG has always been the underdog cause his teams just weren't that good.

At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin Garnett is a superstar. Not to take anything away from Dirk, but I think if this trade were to go down Dallas would get the better end of the deal. The biggest difference is KG's ability to bring mental toughness and outstanding defense skills. KG is a superstar and he needs a supporting cast.

At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Garnett is like Chris Webber. Pretty much useless without the Mike Bibbys and Sam Cassells of the world.

Dirk is like Iverson and Lebron. Can take a team with no other legit all stars to the finals, but can't deliver.

Dirk has beaten Tim Duncan in a 7 game series with SA having home court.

Garnett has beaten Tim Duncan in fantasy basketball stats - well... unless you count postseason fantasy bball stats.

Umm, I'll take Dirk.

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