Saturday, June 3 2023
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The Dallas Mavericks took a massive swing in trading for Kyrie Irving, who requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets just two days ago. Dallas sent Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, a 2029 first-round pick and two future second-round picks in exchange for Irving and Markieff Morris. While Irving’s offensive talents are undeniable, the fit next to Luka Doncic is questionable, and something Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd will have to figure out if this team wants to succeed. 

However, the bigger questions come on the defensive side of the ball, where Dallas already ranked near the bottom of the league prior to this deal. After trading away their best defender in Finney-Smith to land Irving, the Mavericks are going to be even more porous on defense. The good news is there are still four days until the 2023 NBA trade deadline, so the Mavericks still have time to address the glaring need for defensive-minded players. With that in mind, here are three players Dallas could target to improve its defense before the Feb. 9 deadline. 

This is wishful thinking for the Mavericks primarily because every contending team in the league would love to have Anunoby on their roster. Anunoby is the ideal wing defender to slide in next to Luka Doncic and Irving, capable of guarding multiple positions, and knocking down 3s on the other end. He’s a better version of Finney-Smith, who can dribble, shoot and pass the ball, as well as defend. He would thrive off passes from Doncic, who would feed him relentlessly in the corner for spot-up 3s, where he’s knocking them down at a 44 percent clip this season. His 2.1 steals per game is tied for first in the league, which would ignite a Dallas transition offense that ranks 29th in the league in points per possession. 

The downside in all of this is that the Raptors already turned down a reported deal for Anunoby that would’ve landed them three first-round picks. If Toronto is willing to turn that deal down, then Dallas may not even be in the ballpark of pulling off a trade to land him. It’s also unclear how Toronto plans to attack the trade deadline. The Raptors are sitting on the outside of the play-in picture, and a treasure trove of talent that would yield them a wealth of future assets. If the Raptors do plan on being sellers, then the Mavericks will be just one of several teams trying to work a deal to get Anunoby. They could offer both of their 2025 and 2027 first-round picks, and young guys like Josh Green or Jaden Hardy, but there’s other teams in the league that could offer something better, so it would take a lot for the Mavericks to land him.

The Bulls are another team that no one really knows what they plan on doing at the trade deadline. They’ve underachieved this season after a surprisingly successful one a year ago. Caruso has been mentioned in trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s deadline, but it’s unclear what the Bulls want in return for him, or if they even want to shop him. If Chicago does trade Caruso, Dallas could certainly be in the mix to land him. The Mavs have the 2025 and 2027 first-round picks to dangle, and could attach the likes of Hardy or Green to sweeten the pot for the Bulls. 

Caruso is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, and he’s done so while primarily serving a bench role in each of the last three seasons with the Lakers and Bulls. He would come off the bench for the Mavericks, but he’s averaging starter minutes so it won’t matter much. His minutes could be staggered with Doncic and Irving so that there’s at least one plus-defender in the backcourt, and his defensive intensity on the floor makes his teammates want to play up to his level. Caruso’s also knocking down 3s at a 40.2 percent clip, making him a great fit next to Doncic in a heliocentric offense. 

The Washington Wizards have maintained that Kuzma isn’t available and that they intend on trying to re-sign him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. But maybe they could be swayed to take both of Dallas’ future first-round picks in 2025 and 2027 if they feel like they won’t be able to retain Kuzma this summer. If Kuzma is available then the Mavericks should certainly explore this as a possibility. Kuzma is having a career year in D.C. on offense, and is a major plus on the defensive side of the floor. He can dribble, score off the bounce or in spot-up situations, and pass the ball. He’s also capable of guarding both forward positions, something that after trading Finney-Smith the Mavericks are sorely lacking in.

He could thrive in pick-and-pop situations with both Doncic and Irving, and elevate Dallas’ defense on the other end of the floor. If Dallas were to land Kuzma it would also almost certainly move Christian Wood back to the bench when he returns from his fractured thumb injury. Though Wood was successful as a starter, he would provide the second unit with a scoring jolt, and Dallas wouldn’t need Wood to be a stout defender if Kuzma is starting. But similar to the other guys on this list, Kuzma will be in high demand if he’s made available.

The trade to land Irving certainly gives Dallas that secondary shot creator it so desperately needed, but in doing so it got even worse on defense. If the Mavericks intend on making a deep run in the playoffs this season, and this trade certainly indicated that is the plan, then they will have to address their defense ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline. 



NBA odds: Kyrie Irving traded to Mavericks from Nets; NBA title odds on move


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