Since Kristaps Porzingis joined the Dallas Mavericks his team has played 142 games, including the playoffs, of which the talented human giraffe has appeared in 77.
That fact alone merits trade speculation.
He did not play on Thursday night in the Mavericks’ game against the East-leading Philadelphia 76ers in Philly. He has played in 17 of the team’s 31 games this season, and Thursday was his third straight game he’s been held out with tightness in his lower back.
This scenario was not unexpected, but it’s a problem.
The NBA’s trade deadline is March 25, and the speculation spinner has started with an anonymous report that the Mavs are quietly looking to deal the second-best player on their team.
The Mavs, naturally, denied it. Because it’s not true.
Are the Mavs looking to deal KP? No.
Would the Mavs deal KP? Yes.
Should the Mavs deal KP? Not no but hell no.
In this current era of the NBA there are maybe 10 players who are untradeable, of which the Mavericks have one but not two.
Trading Porzingis right now would be essentially be a salary dump, and a white flag to a season more unpredictable than the local weather forecast. The Mavs may win the NBA title, or finish 15th in the West.
Porzingis has proven he is a top tier NBA scorer, and player. Together with Luka Doncic, this pair has demonstrated they can play off each other, and are a matchup from basketball hell.
But it’s hard to be great on the bench.
Until KP proves he can stay healthy, or healthier, it makes a fraction of trade speculation plausible, even if ultimately it’s not true.
Since agreeing to a franchise record five-year, $158 million contract in the summer of ‘19, KP has averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. You don’t trade those numbers unless you are giving up, the player wants out, or you just hate the player.
By all accounts, KP loves the Mavs and the Mavs love him — when he’s playing. This is not a case of some guy ducking games.
He wants to play.
The Mavs are on the hook to pay KP $29 million this season, and, in successive seasons, $31 million, $33 million and $36 million before he would be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of ‘24.
This is a fully guaranteed contract that has zero escape clauses.
As it’s currently constructed, those figures should make KP not entirely appetizing to a prospective NBA team. If anyone can trade a bad contract, however, it is Mavs president Donnie Nelson.
This is the man who managed to trade Raef LaFrentz, one of the most underappreciated feats by an NBA executive in league history.
(That was in 2003, when Raef was in the second year of his seven-year, $69 million deal; that’s what the 13th man on an NBA roster makes in 2021).
The best course for the Mavs currently isn’t to trade Porzingis, but to see this out.
He’s 25, and while he’s had one major injury it was not the dreaded micro-fracture that derails careers.
The last injury was a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, and he’s essentially still recovering from that surgery, which was completed in October of last year.
When I asked Mavs coach Rick Carlisle if he thinks the team brought KP back too early, for the 10th game of the regular season, he said no; that there was no way to avoid stretches when KP was going to sit.
Looking at the NBA’s second half of the schedule it released this week, there is no foreseeable way KP doesn’t have more stretches of missed games.
The team has 10 back-to-back games on a remaining schedule that is the equivalent of a trash compactor. Go ahead and plan on KP missing at least 10 more games of the season.
“(The schedule) is something all teams are looking at,” Carlisle said Thursday afternoon on a media Zoom call. “We’re going to have to manage it. Are there concerns? Of course. It’s going to have to be managed with strategic rest, managing minutes. Quality practices are going to be few and far between.”
Given the nature of today’s NBA, trading KP may eventually happen, but it won’t be this season.
The only path is to let this play out, and see if it can work the way they originally planned.