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The problem with Mavericks going all in on P.J. Washington at NBA trade deadline

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In just the last two weeks, Charlotte’s P.J. Washington scored 22 points against the Indiana Pacers, 26 against the Chicago Bulls and (good grief) 43 against the Utah Jazz. If the Dallas Mavericks actually get that kind of production after Thursday’s trade deadline deal, then Mark Cuban and GM Nico Harrison have finally discovered the Holy Grail… or at least the third segment of the Luka-Kyrie love triangle.

The problem is that after going all in — sending Charlotte Grant Williams (remember when he, too, was going to be a difference maker?), what’s left of Seth Curry and a first-round pick they discovered lying around in a basement closet — the Mavs aren’t likely getting that production from Washington. To score those points, Washington took 16 shots against Indiana, 17 against Chicago and 22 against Utah. If the idea is that Washington adds favorably to this team at full strength, those shot totals are not available when Doncic, Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. are taking aim.

Is Washington an upgrade over Williams? I would think he would have to be. It seemed disturbing and misguided this summer when Harrison praised the value of a player who was forever failing to keep his playing time in Boston. I was a little more concerned the first time I saw him play live this season and, standing beside James Harden on a free throw, the Clippers guard was clearly taller. That’s what Cuban thinks a “power forward” looks like?

Regardless, Williams has been a bust playing declining minutes, and yet even with that in mind, he’s a better 3-point shooter than Washington. In that 43-point outburst against Utah, Washington went 7-for-9 from long range. But for the season, he’s averaging 32.4%, well below the league average and the worst of his five-year career.

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His 13.6 points per game average feels like it falls into the scary category of “Someone Has to Score for Bad Teams,” and maybe that‘s true with Daniel Gafford as well, but I honestly feel like the center the Mavs got from Washington for next to nothing (by that I mean Richaun Holmes and a draft pick obtained from Oklahoma City) is a better deal.

Gafford gets you — or at least he got the godawful Wizards — 10.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2 blocks a night, and no, he won’t be taking the ball back from Luka on any pick-and-pops to launch threes. He has tried one in six years. He missed. Gafford is a center of the old school, and given that the Mavs really can’t count on running rookie Dereck Lively into the ground, Gafford’s presence has a chance to have some value immediately.

At the very least, I think Gafford will give Mavericks fans greater hope in the pivot than the begoggled Dwight Powell, a tireless hard worker who just can’t play important minutes on a high quality team. Not that I believe Dallas has reached that level, but that at least has to be the goal.

This has the sense of being an end product that just doesn’t mix. The Mavericks ran out of things to trade Thursday and they certainly haven’t much left in the way of future first-round picks. The wins at Philly (without Joel Embiid) and Brooklyn are just the type of fool’s gold that allows Cuban to tell fans Dallas is close, if it can only stay healthy.

But a team pledged to Kyrie Irving for the next three seasons won’t stay healthy. History tells us that much, and it’s not as though Luka is made of elastic that never loses its shape. The Mavericks probably won’t miss the play-in games again, but they definitely don’t look like a team that can rise above that group to finish in the West’s top six. Even without doing anything at the deadline, the Lakers will most likely leap Dallas in the standings and the Mavericks are already sitting in the eighth spot.

For the Mavericks to suggest that “all in” meant adding Washington’s erratic shooting, it sounds too much like the promise of better defense and more rebounds from that Celtics power forward who was really just one-third of the package Dallas shipped off to Charlotte on Thursday.

The Mavs are becoming the truly modern team, one that can fill up social media with spectacular Luka and Kyrie highlights that taken together add up to precious little. Dallas fans were told this team would be better defensively, but it remains shockingly bad on too many nights and it’s certainly not going to be emphasized by its perimeter superstars.

Maybe the Mavs get lucky with one of those 7-for-9 3-point nights from Washington someday soon, but be careful what you ask for. He’s 2-for-19 in his last four games.

Find more Mavericks coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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