The year 2020 has been like a see-saw for Trey Burke. In other words, a lot of ups and downs.
In February, Burke lost his job as a backup guard with Philadelphia after the 76ers released him. Then, after signing with the Dallas Mavericks in time to join them in the bubble in Orlando this past summer, Burke caught the coronavirus, delaying his arrival in Central Florida.
But once he got to Orlando, Burke tore through opponents in the bubble, averaging 12 points and 3.8 assists in only 23.9 minutes per game. The eight-year veteran administered more of the same medicine to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night as he poured in 17 points in just 24 minutes.
Before tearing through the Lakers, Burke re-traced his journey over the past 11 months. A journey that ended with him eventually inking a three-year, $9.45 million contract with the Mavs.
After the Sixers released him, Burke remained in New Jersey and worked out with his personal trainer, Johnny Clark.
“We would work out two and three times a day, and I would kind of still treat every day like it was (an NBA) practice day – as if I was still on the team, because I still believed that I belonged in the league and could produce at a high level,” Burke said. “I just stayed prepared right before the bubble.
“Everyone knows about the corona situation – me coming down with corona and getting through that and getting to Orlando and helping the team produce, and now landing a three-year contract.”
As the Mavs scanned the list of available players before they went to Orlando, they were searching for an impact player of Burke’s ilk. After all, backup point guard Jalen Brunson and center/forward Dwight Powell were unavailable to play in Orlando due to surgeries, and their absence left a gaping hole on the Mavs’ roster.
“When we were preparing to go down to Orlando, Brunson wasn’t going to be unavailable because of the shoulder injury,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We knew we weren’t going to have Dwight, but we looked at the group of players that were available and there weren’t any big guys that we were really excited about.
“Trey Burke was the best player on the board. The thinking was let’s get a guy that can replace some of what Brunson can do as a ballhandler, attacker, scorer, a guy that can defend 94 feet.”
That guy was none other than Trey Burke.
In Burke’s first game inside the bubble, he came off the bench to tally 31 points in 30 minutes against Houston. That included handing out six assists and going 11-of-16 from the floor and 8-of-10 from beyond the 3-point arc.
And when the Mavs traded Seth Curry to the Sixers for Josh Richardson on Nov. 18, they were convinced that they had to find a way to re-sign Burke, who was a free agent at the time. That signing came on Dec. 1.
“(Burke) made a big splash in Orlando,” Carlisle said. “He had (31 points) in the first game and he had a real solid run for us.
“When we traded Seth to Philadelphia there was a real void for a perimeter scorer and a shooter, and we thought Trey was a really good answer. And so here he is. He’s aggressive, he loves Dallas, he loves playing with these guys, and he does a lot of good things for us.”
Even before he was sacked by being released by the Sixers and the coronavirus, Burke leaned on his faith to help get him through the difficult days.
“It helps your day when you start your day right with God himself,” said Burke, who was 4-of-7 from the field on 3-pointers against the Lakers. “I’m a believer. I try to start my day the right way before I come to the court, and it helps me.
“It helps me mentally, it helps me physically, it helps me emotionally — prayers and spending time with my kid before I come here. I think sometimes fans forget we’re humans as well, and we share the same emotions as other people who work regular jobs. We have to stay spiritually grounded and mentally grounded as well, and there’s a lot of things that I do on a daily basis to keep me there.”
Another thing that was kept Burke grounded is the way he and Brunson always seem to work their magic and compliment each other when they’re on the court together.
“I think me and Jalen are a great one-two punch when we’re on the court,” Burke said. “We know each other’s spots. I think with our skill sets, we compliment each other.
“He has the ability to be able to penetrate, get to the free throw line — he’s very fundamentally sound and he knows how to make the right play. My ability to put pressure on the ball on the defensive end and break down the defense (is solid). I think we’re just going to have to be aggressive when we’re out there and we can make a lot of good things happen.”
Burke averaged just 5.9 points and 2.1 assists while playing only 13.2 minutes per game in 25 contests for the Sixers last season. So, when they released him on Feb. 6, he admits there was a lot of uncertainty as far as his basketball future was concerned.
“I didn’t know what was next,” Burke said. “I had interest – small interest from other teams — but I wasn’t playing much in Philly at the time, so I didn’t really have much value at the time.”
That’s why Burke said he owes a great deal of gratitude to Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle for getting him out of a stressful situation.
Burke was the No. 9 overall pick of the 2013 draft and has played for five teams – including twice for the Mavs – and his NBA career hasn’t gone as he had envisioned after he was the national college Player of the Year while playing for Michigan.
But now, things have taken an upward spiral for the Columbus, Ohio, native.
“I just thank Mark and coach Carlisle and God and my family members, my wife, my mother and father and all of my support system,” Burke said. “I don’t think I lived up to my expectations at first, and I think now I’m getting to a point in my career where I am starting to find who I am as a player and where I can be most effective.”
Another tough Los Angeles opponent: Just as they did in facing Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis on Friday night, the Mavs will square off against another pair of LA All-Stars on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. when they battle Clippers’ All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Leonard, however, is questionable for Sunday’s game after requiring eight stitches to treat a mouth laceration during a collision in Friday’s win over the Denver Nuggets.
Meanwhile, how do the two Los Angeles teams compare?
“Both are part of the handful of championship contending teams, both very deep, both very talented, both physical and with veterans that understand the importance of each game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s going to be a heckuva challenge for us, but we need every challenge that can come our way. That’s how we’re going to get better.
“Tomorrow’s another big challenge and we’re looking forward to it. Like I said, this is good for us. We need as much of this as we can get. It’s going to come fast and furious.”
And when it comes to rebounding, Carlisle said the Mavs must “block out and pursue” the basketball. That’s an area the Mavs discussed in Saturday’s practice after the Lakers beat them on the boards, 53-27, including 17-3 on the offensive end of the court. That ineffectiveness by the Mavs on the boards led to their 138-115 loss to a Laker team that also outscored them 35-0 on second-chance points.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Carlisle said. “The Lakers have great rebounding, but 35 points on second-chance (opportunities) is too many.”
Center/forward Dwight Powell agree.
“We just got to do a better job boxing out, identifying guy. . .controlling the neutral zone,” Powell said. “We’ve got to just be more aggressive on that front, more physical and more aware. Finding guys, locating crashers, having our wings controlling the neutral zone, our bigs getting bodies on bodies and creating those opportunities for us to get the rebound and move in transition.”
Powell responds: Although center/forward Dwight Powell insists: “If I’m playing, I’m 100 percent,” coach Rick Carlisle knows his seven-year veteran isn’t 100 percent just yet.
Carlisle said Powell is “somewhere in the 90’s” when it comes to his health. Then again, Powell is trying to work his way back into the fold after undergoing season-ending surgery on Jan. 27 to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon
“I just know that for a 6-10 guy that went through that situation, he’s done a remarkable job with rehab and all those kinds of things,” Carlisle said. “Look, he’s only got two real games under his belt.
“He played in three exhibitions, he moved well, he did well. He’s an amazing guy, he’s an incredible worker, he loves his teammates and he really took on the challenge of this rehab at a higher level and we’re all real happy for him that he’s back on the floor and playing well.”
In 24 minutes against the Lakers on Friday, Powell tallied 11 points, grabbed three rebounds, recorded three steals and was 4-of-4 from the field and 1-of-1 from 3-point territory.