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?
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.