The news of J.J. Barea’s season-ending surgery after an Achilles rupture was heartbreaking. He’s been a fan favorite ever since he worked his way into the Mavs rotation as an undrafted free agent signing over a decade ago. While he’s had his share of injuries to make him miss games before, he has never had an injury of this magnitude and unfortunately, it happened when he was 34 and in a contract year.
With his absence, there is a large hole to fill in Rick Carlisle’s rotation. Sunday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors saw rookie Jalen Brunson play an effective 30 minutes (his highest total since 33 minutes logged in Portland on December 23rd) and Devin Harris played 9 minutes after being a healthy DNP on Friday night in Minnesota. Sophomore guard Dennis Smith Jr. will eventually return from injury (if he’s not traded before then) and should see his minutes raised from the 28 per game he is averaging so far this season.
On Monday afternoon it began to be reported that Dallas had applied for the Injured Player Exception to potentially help them replace Barea with him being out for the remainder of this season. For those unfamiliar with the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement lingo, a detailed explanation of the Injured Player Exception can be found here.
Deadline to apply is tomorrow. If granted, it would be for approx $1.85 million (half of JJ's salary). Can use it until March 10 to sign a player for rest of the season. https://t.co/p6bvVrpI74
— Mark Followill (@MFollowill) January 14, 2019
The Mavericks will be granted this exception based on the severity of Barea’s injury leaving him more or less no chance of returning this season. Is this something they applied for just to have in their back pocket for a trade? Will they wait until that March 10th deadline to use it? For the sake of this article, we are going to assume Dallas applied for this to use it in the near future as their playoff hopes slip with every loss in the incredibly competitive Western Conference.
As previously stated, their guard rotation seems more or less set even without Barea. Don’t overthink the term “guard” and not include Luka Doncic. If it makes you more comfortable, we can just say they are set on ball handlers with Luka, Smith Jr., Harris, Brunson and even the occasional Harrison Barnes or Wes Matthews playmaker set.
In the frontcourt, the minutes distribution has obviously been controversial since franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki made his return from injury about a month ago. Maxi Kleber’s minutes had been slipping severely before Smith Jr. missed the last three games, but that should more or less be a non-issue now with Barea being out. DeAndre Jordan will play at least 30 minutes every night and Dwight Powell will get his 15-20 as well.
That leaves one area of the roster that could use some help with depth: on the wings. While Barnes and Matthews frustrate fans to no end, they are solid players who do what they’re asked to do. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dorian Finney-Smith is loved by all fans and goes beyond what anyone ever expects of him. While Ryan Broekhoff’s 15 point performance in Philadelphia earlier this month was nice, it’s unlikely that he will be a part of this conversation too much. The Mavericks could use what every team in this league can never have enough of: a 3-and-D wing.
The amount alluring players that the Mavs could acquire via trade is limited due to the small salary that the exception will be granted for: $1.85 million. So the free agent path seems more likely if the Mavericks were to use this in the next couple of weeks. At this point in the season, any free agent would take the veteran’s minimum of about $1.5 million, so don’t scoff at anyone accepting a low salary.
Height: 6-5 Age: 33
2017-2018: 3.4 PPG, .386% 3P, 12.9 MPG
How would you like a version of Wesley Matthews that is three years older than the current edition that you constantly complain about on Twitter? Doesn’t excite you? Well, at least consider it.
It has been several years since the best days of Afflalo’s career but he was one of the most solid, dependable wings in the league for a good while. He went unsigned last summer and is yet to find an NBA gig this season. While his age will likely mean his individual defense will be a step-below others, he can still be effective with some of the other younger, athletic Mavericks on this team.
The bottom line is the guy can shoot and he wouldn’t demand the ball for anything besides that. He is a career 39% shooter from deep and has five different seasons where he shot comfortably above the heralded 40% mark from that range. A likely low-risk, moderate reward move that would be just about this season and nothing more, Afflalo would be a relatively painless addition.
Height: 6-6 Age: 26
2017-2018: 5.0 PPG, .259% 3P%, 9.7 MPG
On a riskier note, the former lottery pick from the infamous 2013 draft currently finds himself playing in China. Not great, buddy. He’s never been a good three point shooter. His frame at 6-6 and over 220 pounds is a little bit of a red flag more than any indication of any toughness or edge he might have.
The reason I bring this up as a possibility is the success the Mavericks coaching staff had in revitalizing Al-Farouq Aminu’s career during his 2014-2015 season in Dallas. Aminu arrived in Dallas as a former lottery pick as well and signed on a one year deal/minimum contract (there was a team option on a second year that Dallas would not exercise because of cap space for… ?) as a way of re-establishing his value in the NBA. His overall stats for that season were not particularly impressive, but any Mavs fan from that time remembers loving the energy that Aminu brought to the table. He had a strong postseason showing in the five game Mavs/Rockets first round series that is most remembered for Rajon Rondo just saying “nah” to the final three and a half games of it. Yes, that is worthy of bringing up anytime there is an excuse to do so.
Muhammad is a couple years older than Aminu was at that point, but the idea remains the same: take a chance on this kid who has disappointed thus far and see if you can help him turn it around. You’re not signing him to be a future All-Star or even a starter. Just see if you can get his NBA career headed back in the right direction while filling a light area of your roster.
Height: 6-7 Age: 33
2017-2018: 7.3 PPG, .377 3P%, 17.4 MPG
Let’s get funky here. Swaggy P is a polarizing player, but the guy did well in his limited role for the champions last season. He did play four games for the Nuggets this season before being waived on December 30th. Young was signed using the Injured Player Exception since the Nuggets went through a slew of injuries to key players like Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. When those players were ready to return, there was no room to keep Young on board. So no, he was not waived because of some bad impact he had on the locker room or anything.
Young would be similar to Afflalo in that it’d be a move purely based on pushing for the playoffs immediately. All you’d really expect him to do is step in and make spot up three pointers and that isn’t something that would take long to build towards in limited practice sessions during the middle of the season.
On a lighter note, Young’s personality would seem to be a good replacement for J.J. Barea’s always-smiling persona. Barea always had great locker room banter with DeAndre Jordan and other team clowns like Dirk Nowitzki and Salah Mejri. Based on what we’ve seen of Young from a distance, the guy likes to have fun. If we’re going to push some chips in to chase a playoff spot in Luka Doncic’s rookie season, why not make it for someone who would at least be interesting even if he’s not on the court?
With the reports late tonight that the Mavericks have escalated trade talks around Dennis Smith Jr., the team could shift their need to another creator based on the return in any deal involving Smith Jr. As the roster stands now, the wings need help and these three seem to be reasonable fits with varying areas of effectiveness.
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