'Freed' Kristaps Porzingis Trade Talks Denied – But Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavs Still Have 'Maybes' – Sports Illustrated






"Freedom'' for Kristaps Porzingis? Many thought it might need to have to come via trade. Instead, as Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban insists the club never considered such a thing, KP has found a different way to freedom.
"I'm just feeling free,'' Porzingis says of his recent performances. "Just feeling free to play my game.''
Following a difficult three-game losing streak, Luka Doncic, who had been out that entire time with a knee and ankle sprain, finally returned to action on Tuesday night and helped the Mavericks right the ship with a gritty overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers. If Doncic's ankle or knee was still giving him any trouble, it certainly didn't show on the court, as he went on to drop 26 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and a steal in 41 minutes played. 
Porzinigis, who is currently in the midst of arguably the best seven-game stretch of his career, continued his hot play with Doncic back and led the Mavs against the Clippers with 30 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
For at least one night, all was good for the now 10-7 Mavs, but … Luka's health and KP's play and the high from this latest triumph shouldn't keep the Dallas front office from looking at ways to improve this current roster if they want it to be a true title contender this season and beyond.
During Doncic's absence, Dallas went 0-3 with two close losses to the reigning Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns and one close loss to the Clippers. Are there silver linings for those losses? Sure there are. When you're missing a player of Doncic's magnitude and going up against well-established teams, it's going to be tough sledding.
On the flip side of that, though, there are also some hard truths. The Mavs are now 2-7 in the last two seasons when Doncic doesn't suit up, and those two wins came against lowly tanking opponents in the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons. The Clippers, who are missing their No. 1 superstar Kawhi Leonard for the majority, if not all, of this season, have already amassed 10 wins without him and are still firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture thanks to Paul George and the rest of his supporting staff.
Could we really say the same thing about this Mavs team if Luka Doncic was out for an extended amount of time? Or would this team be lottery-bound? The small-sample-sized regular season results and the Mavs' role players' postseason performances over the last two years point towards the latter.
“I’ve always believed that (Porzingis) hasn’t played his best basketball yet," said Cuban to NBA.com after this recent tear KP has been on. "Now you’re seeing why we didn’t trade him. He’s a great player. He’s a good dude. All of my experiences with him have been positive. So why would we do that? But that’s NBA Twitter and that’s Mavs Twitter. That’s what they do. They’re probably trying to trade Luka right now.”
On the contrary, Mavs faithful would never even think of hypothetically trading Doncic, but they do thirst for him to have more consistent help over the course of a season and in the playoffs, and rightfully so. If Porzingis can continue playing at the level he has been for the rest of this regular season and postseason without having anymore injury issues, that would be amazing for Dallas, and Cuban would be able to make a lot of people eat crow. But trying to take victory laps after a seven-game stretch seems a bit premature, no matter how well Porzingis has played. 
And although coaching had some say in the matter last season, especially in the playoffs, the criticisms KP received during that time were warranted, if we're being completely fair about it. That's just the nature of the beast when you have a player making $30 million per season.
"I'm just feeling free,'' Porzingis says of his recent performances. "Just feeling free to play my game.''
Tuesday's night's contest featuring the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers provided the drama as expected. Following the game, Clippers' forward Marcus Morris Sr. made a comment suggesting there is no rivalry. The stats suggest otherwise.
Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic made his return to the lineup for the team's win over the LA Clippers. He explained the decision to play.
Aside from Doncic and Porzingis, though, there are still other ways where Cuban and general manager Nico Harrison could improve the roster. First and foremost, it couldn't hurt for Dallas to be a little more pressing with the Goran Dragic situation in Toronto. Dragic has received 14 DNP-CDs (Did Not Play – Coach's Decision) in the Raptors last 15 games. It has become a "hoops hostage situation,'' and Toronto GM Masai Ujiri should be ashamed of how his franchise is treating the 35-year-old vet's situation at this point.
Even if it's not Dragic, though, the Mavs could greatly benefit from flipping one of their many big men and maybe even Josh Green, who still can't get playing time in Year 2, into a secondary distributor or another wing for depth who can shoot the ball.
*Maybe a transaction like this does get worked out in due time. After all, there should be a lot more trade buzz around the NBA on December 15th when players who were recently signed in the offseason become trade eligible again.
*Maybe the Mavs' main two free agency additions of Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown will start shooting better than 28 percent and 23 percent from deep, respectively. 
*Maybe Doncic and Porzingis newfound chemistry and hot play can overcome the upcoming absence of Jalen Brunson, who has been great for the Mavs this season and should arguably be a full-time starter going forward.
*Maybe head coach Jason Kidd, who played Porzingis at the 5 and Dorian Finney-Smith as the 'small-ball' 4 in the Mavs' crunch-time lineup against the Clippers on Tuesday, can do the same with the actual starting lineup going forward for spacing reasons … instead of forcing big men like Dwight Powell and Willie Cauley-Stein next to him. 
If KP is playing like this, he is capable of manning the center position.
*Maybe those hard-fought losses in the three games before Doncic's return will turn out to be more meaningful down the stretch of this season and result in Doncic (and Porzingis, if still playing the way he is) getting the help he needs from this current group.
If all those 'maybes' end up happening, then we will all be saying that this Mavs team is exactly what the front office, as well as many of us in the media in preseason, thought it was.
And if not? Well, then all of a sudden these hopeful 'silver linings' quickly turn into 'hard truths', and if it comes to that, "NBA Twitter and Mavs Twitter" won't be able to be blamed for it at that point.
Editor and writer for DallasBasketball.com. Founder and lead-host for the Mavs Step Back Podcast.


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