When Nico Harrison was named general manager of the Dallas Mavericks last summer, the organization was caught in a gray zone of ambiguity that left them without a clear path forward. Donnie Nelson, their former general manager for over 20 years, was terminated following a power struggle with Bob Voulgaris. Rick Carlisle abruptly resigned shortly after, leaving the team without the general manager and head coach that led the franchise to a title in 2011. All of this occurred in the aftermath of the Mavericks blowing a 2-0 first round series lead to the Los Angeles Clippers in which Kristaps Porzingis played like a frisky role player.
The team Harrison inherited was one without a clear identity that, after back-to-back first round exits, was staring at the prospects of being the latest team mired in the NBA’s purgatory between a team that was building and and one that was contending — even with a legit star in Luka Doncic. His job was to ensure that didn’t happen and forge a cohesive vision for how the team would be built around Doncic.
You know when you’re at a restaurant reviewing the menu and suddenly realize ordering multiple appetizers looks much better than a singular overpriced entrée? That was the Kristaps Porzingis trade. Replacing Porzingis with Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans provided fengshui to a Maverick roster that was still searching for a way to fully actualize Luka Doncic. The trade restructured roles on the Dallas roster into guard creators, 3-and-D wings, and finishing bigs. That role clarity played a big part in the Mavericks’ Western Conference Finals run this postseason, but eventually their talent deficit at the center position caught up to them.
Trading for Christian Wood fills a large offseason need for the Mavericks. Nico Harrison trimmed end of the roster fat by sending Trey Burke, Sterling Brown, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjonovic, and the 26th overall pick to Houston. None of the players Dallas sent out played a meaningful minute in the playoffs for the Mavericks — even if every minute spent with Boban is meaningful. The trade opened up a few roster spots for Dallas and provided a clear talent upgrade at the center position. Meanwhile, Houston frees up minutes for Alperen Sengun and their No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, which figures to be Duke big man Paolo Banchero. Not to mention, the city of Houston receives the beautiful vibes of Boban.
Christian Wood provides scoring dynamism at the center position for Dallas that should pair well with Luka Doncic. Dallas thrived during their playoff run by playing 5-out with Maxi Kleber at center and allowing Luka and Jalen Brunson to feast in isolation. Their strategy broke the conservative drop coverage deployed by both Utah and Phoenix, but it ran stagnant against the Golden State Warriors, because Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber lacked the juice off the dribble to supplement the three lead guards for Dallas. In the regular season, Dwight Powell’s rim running and movement caused defensive rotations that sparked the Maverick offense, but that force was notably absent during the playoffs.
The acquisition of Wood doubles down on Jason Kidd’s system by adding a big man that can both approximate Kleber’s shooting and Powell’s rim running; theoretically creating a strong pairing with Luka Doncic. Wood thrived as pick and pop big in Houston shooting 39 percent on five threes a game without a true playmaking guard to generate looks for him. He initially signed in Houston to complement James Harden, but was left to fend for himself after Harden orchestrated a trade to Brooklyn. Even mild shot creation skills from a frontcourt player will be a welcome sight for a Maverick offense that craves more creation from their non-guard rotation players.
The trade will allow Wood to be the best version of himself on offense, as he’s set to play with the best facilitator of his career. To play with Luka Doncic is to know what it feels to be free for a big man and Wood certainly needs that after wandering through the NBA wilderness for seven seasons. That is where the risk lies for the Mavericks.
This will be Wood’s seventh team in seven seasons after going undrafted in 2015 despite the obvious talent he possessed. His professionalism and commitment to defense has been questioned at every stop in his NBA career. Jason Kidd’s defensive system demands a high level of focus and effort from big man to both defend screens at the level, switch, and make quick rotations. Wood certainly has the physical tools to execute the scheme and has shown flashes of high level, but he has not shown consistent effort on defense thus far in his career. How Wood reacts to playing on a team with true championship aspirations for the first time remains to be seen.
This is a low risk move for the Mavericks to become even more of who they already are. Nico Harrison’s vision for a championship roster has slowly revealed itself over the last year and the move for Wood could be its final confirmation.