In a sign of the times around the NBA, there hasn’t been much chatter this season about Shawn Marion. He’s a 35-year-old complementary player on an expiring contract who plays for a middle-of-the-pack team, just the sort of guy who used to be prime trade bait. Expiring deals aren’t as valuable as they used to be, now that shorter contracts have allowed more teams to be able to clear significant cap room each summer. Executives around the league nonetheless believe Marion is a candidate for a trade, and his name emerged Monday in connection with the Mavs’ interest in Evan Turner.
Marion is about to return from a minor shoulder ailment that’s kept him out the past few days, but his performance gives no signs that his body has gone into an accelerated decline. He’s no longer the dynamic weapon who made four All-Star Games and twice averaged more than 20 points per game for the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, but he remains a cagey and versatile defender, capable of guarding both forward positions. He’s also rediscovered a three-point stroke that’s been dormant for more than a decade. He’s canning 36% of his three-pointers, a rate he hasn’t seen since making 38.7% of his threes in 2002/03. Perhaps buoyed by his success, he’s taking 2.3 shots from behind the arc every night, his most since 2007/08.
The Mavericks are a better per-possession defensive team when he’s off the floor, per NBA.com, but that’s been the case for four seasons running. This year, it probably has as much to do with having to share the floor with fellow starters Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, notorious defensive sieves, as it does with any slippage on Marion’s part.
The Sixers are looking for a first-round pick in exchange for Turner, and as Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out in his mailbag column, the Mavs have their hands tied because of the pick they owe the Thunder. Dallas might not convey that pick until 2018, but because of the Stepien Rule, the Mavs can’t trade any first-rounder before 2020, since doing so might result in the team losing its first-rounder in back-to-back years. This complicates any deal the Mavs consider for Marion, since they can’t attach him to an attractive pick to entice youth-focused teams to take him on.
Still, the Celtics, with plenty of draft picks already in tow and the desire to unload Jeff Green and Avery Bradley, could present an opportunity. The Mavs once more have their eyes set on pursuing a marquee free agent this summer, so Green’s long-term deal probably isn’t of interest, but Bradley, a restricted free agent this summer, could shore up the club’s perimeter defense. Dallas would have the right to match offers if it wants to retain Bradley, and the flexibility to let him go in the pursuit of a splashier name. The issue with this scenario is that the Celtics would have to include more salary to make the deal work, and with few expiring contracts to spare, Dallas might be unwilling to take on a lengthy commitment to anyone signed beyond this season. Perhaps the Mavs and Celtics could pursue a one-for-one swap of Marion and Kris Humphries, a free agent at season’s end. That would allow the Mavs to preserve their flexibility and free the Celtics from their tight squeeze under the luxury tax line, allowing them to make other moves. Still, such a deal is just my speculation.
Another idea would put Marion back in Phoenix. The Mavs could facilitate their free agent push if they managed to get a hold of Emeka Okafor‘s bloated expiring deal, though it would require Dallas to send extra salary along with Marion. If the Suns were willing to take on Wayne Ellington, who’s guaranteed $2.77MM for next season, the deal would be feasible. Dallas would give itself extra room for this summer, and Phoenix would have a proven veteran who could be an upgrade over untested P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris at the forward positions. Plus, the Mavs could probably command a late first-round pick.
Yet even if the teams were actually considering it, that deal still might not pass muster with the Mavs, since they’d like to make the playoffs this season. Sacrificing a still-useful Marion for someone who probably won’t see the court at all this season won’t help Dallas accomplish its short-term goal. Still, the Mavs likely aren’t content to merely make the postseason and get knocked out in the first or second round, and that’s probably their ceiling this year. A championship is a long-term goal for this franchise, and moving Marion in a deal that can help the club sign a top-tier free agent capable of delivering another title to Dallas might be the wisest decision.