Few people really stop to think about the emotions surrounding a trade.
Take the Dallas Mavericks, who, in Detroit this past Thursday, came to the realization that a blockbuster, franchise-changing deal had happened.
Dallas was sending Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews and a pair of future first-round picks to the New York Knicks in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke.
The news dropped mere hours after a team breakfast, a meal that all three former Mavs were a part of, and admittedly shocked a number of guys, including Harrison Barnes.
“When we found out, we didn’t really have a whole lot of time to process it,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “We were on the bus to the game, essentially. It was a blur in a sense because you’re getting ready for Detroit, but three of your starters aren’t gonna be there and guys are coming in.
“It was a lot of things going on there. I mean, it’s tough. Those are guys who you’ve been in the trenches with.”
Barnes had nothing but good things to say about everybody involved.
Jordan is a good friend of his and somebody he’d already been close with before he came to Dallas. Matthews is a man that Barnes has grown fond of in their three years together as teammates. The 26-year-old referred to both as “valuable vets” and “positive energy guys.”
Then, there’s Smith, a highly regarded prospect with loads of potential that the Mavs drafted two years ago, who is now heading to the Big Apple.
“Dennis, this was his only introduction to NBA basketball, you know, that we had with him as vets,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “So hopefully we taught him some good things, hopefully he learned from us a little bit. Just seeing his growth over the last year has been great. It’s tough to see those guys leave, but that’s part of the business.”
Dallas is not going to look in the rearview mirror, though. The organization didn’t go after Porzingis—an All-Star forward with the nickname “Unicorn”—for nothing. They foresee a superstar duo between their sensational rookie Luka Doncic and the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man.
Porzingis reportedly isn’t likely to step foot on an NBA floor this year as he recovers from a torn ACL injury he sustained a year ago in Milwaukee, however Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle seems to have an optimistic outlook on the situation.
“He’s got more rehab to go,” Carlisle said at Saturday morning’s shootaround in Cleveland. “The most important thing is his health and getting back to being 100 percent and actually, better than 100 percent. Guys nowadays come off ACLs and actually do better.”
While Barnes is excited to see Porzingis return to form and bolster the Dallas offense, he’s even more enthusiastic for established talents like Hardaway, Lee and Burke to join the squad.
“Three of the four can make an immediate impact right now,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “They’re gonna come in, they’re gonna help us win games.”
“It’s a huge trade,” Carlisle said. “It’s involving a lot of guys. And the excitement is understandable, but it’s not all gonna happen overnight.”
Barnes’ words don’t quite echo his coach’s sentiments and would rather things get done sooner than later.
“I mean, the biggest thing for us moving forward would be just chemistry,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Getting everyone used to the system as quickly as possible and trying to win games. We really don’t have a whole lot of time to jell and take our time. The season’s winding down here, so this is gonna have to be quick.
“Every game in the West is huge, and having help coming in is great, but it’s just a matter of…we don’t have that window that other teams have. Most times, it’s a one-for-one player. This was three-for-three, when KP gets healthy, four. So we’re gonna have to adjust quick, but I’m confident we can do that.”
At 23-28, they’re five-and-a-half games back of the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth seed in the West, so the timing of this move probably couldn’t have been better.
When J.J. Barea suffered a torn Achilles in mid-January, the Mavs lost four straight and were 0-4 without him in games previously. Sure, Jalen Brunson has a higher basketball IQ than most rookies and Devin Harris has plenty of experience to contribute, but there’s no doubt the Mavs could use extra help in the backcourt.
They’re going to get that in the form of the trio of guards they acquired.
“Can’t ever have too many playmakers,” Carlisle said. “It’s like the Indians want good left-handed pitchers, the Rangers and all these other teams. The Cowboys want a slew of really good cornerbacks. Playmakers, they’re like gold in today’s game.”
“I think what JJ brings – there’s an element off the court that is just kinda hard to replace,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “He’s a funny guy, great personality, great just for team morale. But in terms of playmaking, I mean, yeah all those guys, they can make plays. They can score. They can put the ball on the floor. So having a lot of those on the team is big.”
Since that losing streak, Dallas picked it up and has won three out of five. They’re figuring things out at the right time, and the effort has shown over the last week-and-a-half. Most importantly, Barnes has noticed his team mature over the court of the season as a whole.
“We started off really struggling and then kinda got a little rhythm there and it was kinda back and forth But the biggest thing was that resilience that we developed,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Just kinda staying with our process, sticking in games.
“Whether it was a slow start, whether it was turnovers, foul trouble, whatever – we kinda have gotten a way to just say, ‘Okay, let’s breathe. Let’s keep our poise. Let’s get through.’”
Of course, it always helps when you have a 19-year-old prodigy on the squad. Doncic has turned heads every which way. From his stepback threes to his precision passing and all-around game, his future is as bright as the sun.
And what better way to complement your talent level than with a dynamite personality?
“He’s a funny guy,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “He definitely always has a smile on his face, whether it’s in practice, games, on the bus, on the plane. Whatever it may be, always cracking jokes. I think that’s the one thing that’s been pretty consistent with him is that he has a lot of fun and he’s a funny guy.”
That’s one deadly combination. Doncic will showcase his smile and talent on Team World at the Rising Stars game to kick off NBA All-Star weekend. Dirk Nowitzki will be the honorary coach of that team that night, and afterward, he’ll take part in the All-Star Game itself thanks to a special roster spot reserved by Commissioner Silver.
Barnes won’t be in Charlotte in person, but he’ll be keeping a close eye on both.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Barnes told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, I’m hoping Dirk gets MVP at the All-Star Game. We’ll see what happens there. Him and Luka, it’ll be good for them to go out there, have some fun, represent the Mavericks and have a good time.”
Carlisle couldn’t be more excited for Dirk, either.
“Oh it’s great,” Carlisle said. “Him and Wade? It’s wonderful. The commissioner made a great call on that one. Should be some very special moments. I’m happy for the league and the game that this kinda thing is able to happen. It’s pretty cool.”
The road trip is over and four of their next six games are in Dallas in a crucial stretch before the break.
That’s coming up in a couple of weeks. For now, the Mavs have work to do. It’s all business ahead.