Mark Cuban was asked point blank if there was any chance that Kristaps Porzingis will play in the final 30 games of the season.
He could not have been more crystal clear.
“I don’t see it,” Cuban said. “I don’t see it at all. There’s no reason to risk it. We want to do the right thing for him because we want him to be here a long, long time. These last 30 games are not going to make or break his future with the Mavs. So we just felt like it’s the right thing to do.”
That’s smart. The high stakes that the Mavericks hope to play for won’t happen until a year or three down the road.
In the meantime, meet Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, the three players in the blockbuster trade that actually will be in uniform when the Mavericks get back to work Wednesday against Charlotte.
They are not blind to the situation. They know the Mavericks have one eye (at least) on the future with Porzingis partnering with Luka Doncic and whatever free-agent talent might join the roster this summer.
But in the meantime, they figure they have work to do.
“To do what we’ve been doing our whole careers – come out and compete and help the team as much as possible,” Lee said Monday at the news conference introducing the newcomers. “The future is in the future. Right now is the present and so our job is to go out there and lead by example and help develop these guys for the future.”
So, after coming from a 10-win team in New York, do these guys feel like the 24-28 Mavericks have a playoff run in them, even without Porzingis?
“100 percent” Lee said. “That’s the goal, to compete for the playoffs and win big.”
To which Hardaway quickly interjected: “No doubt.”
As Cuban said: “We’re certainly going to try. I couldn’t care less about the draft pick (top-five protected in 2019). We’re going to try to make a run for the playoffs. Absolutely.”
And so, coach Rick Carlisle is ready to go to battle with Hardaway, Lee and Burke. And he summed up their prospects succinctly.
“These guys are all proven vets, terrific players,” Carlisle said. “They bring energy and competitiveness to the situation, which I like.”
In Hardaway, the Mavericks are getting a good offensive player who can shoot the 3-pointer and was averaging 19 points per game before the trade. He will likely have to step into one of the starting spots that was vacated by Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. or DeAndre Jordan.
He won’t have to be the volume shooter in Dallas that he was with the Knicks, where he averaged almost 16 shots per game. But he’s appreciative to be in a situation that includes playing for something now other than a deep lottery pick.
“We all have one goal in mind now,” he said matter of factly, “and that’s to make the playoffs.”
Lee did not play a lot in New York this season, but that was due in part to the fact that the Knicks didn’t have any intention of winning a whole lot of games.
Last season, Lee averaged 12 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists, as well as 1.1 steals in 30 minutes per game. He’s had a very productive career and has had extensive playoff experience, including 2009 when he was a starter for Orlando’s team that lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.
The Mavericks also could benefit from a strong season that Burke has going. He has had an up-and-down career that started in Utah, went through a forgettable season in Washington and landed him in New York the last two seasons, in which he’s averaged 12.3 points and 3.8 assists in only 21 minutes per game (69 games).
While Hardaway and Lee are under contract for another season, Burke is a free agent at the end of this season and he should get ample opportunity to showcase his skills with J.J. Barea out with his Achilles injury.
“It kind of caught me a little off guard,” Burke said of the trade. “I was coming home from practice and my agent called me and I was excited, very excited. I’ve never gotten traded during the season. It was new to me.
“Like Courtney said, we’re taking it day by day. But playoffs are our No. 1 goal right now. It’s just good to be in a winning culture, part of the championship pedigree of the organization.”
When you’re coming from a Knicks franchise that has been out of the playoffs for six seasons, the Mavericks’ situation now looks pretty darn good to the newcomers.