Trade Analysis: Cauley-Stein to Dallas

Dallas wasted no time finding their replacement for Dwight Powell after he tore his Achilles on Tuesday night. Willie Cauley-Stein is on his way to fill in for the rest of the season (and possibly beyond) over the course of two separate trades the Mavericks made on Friday, the second of which has yet to be made official as of this writing but should be in the books on Saturday.

The full terms of Trade No. 1:
Dallas receives Justin Patton and $800,000 in cash. Patton will be waived before the completion of Trade No. 2, clearing the roster spot for Cauley-Stein.
Oklahoma City receives Isaiah Roby.

Trade No. 2:
Dallas receives Cauley-Stein.
Golden State receives Utah’s 2020 second-round pick.

Oklahoma City will get a traded player exception for the full value of Patton’s salary and Golden State will get a traded player exception for the full value of Cauley-Stein’s salary. Dallas cuts about $2.2 million out of the Harrison Barnes trade exception in taking on Cauley-Stein, which takes them out of the Robert Covington sweepstakes, though they were unlikely to make a significant dent in Minnesota’s asking price, what with their lack of young cost-controlled players and future first-round picks.

The headliner is Cauley-Stein, who might be the only NBA-level player among the four “assets” moved, counting the Utah pick. He’s an athletic big man who can be a reasonable facsimile of Powell for much, much cheaper. He’s an uber-athletic rim runner who will immediately be the Mavericks’ best lob threat in pick-and-roll, the role Powell filled with quite a bit of success. He’ll have a little less than three months before the playoffs to acclimate to the Dallas offense and get his timing with Luka Doncic figured out, but he has the athleticism, both horizontally and vertically, to put a lot of pressure on the rim and a pinpoint quarterback in Doncic to make full use of his talents.

Cauley-Stein doesn’t have the relentless energy Powell does, particularly offensively, but he’s also never played with a passer who even comes close to Doncic’s level. Picked very highly in the draft several years ago, it’s somewhat understandable that Cauley-Stein wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of rolling hard every single time in pick-and-roll, only to see his point guard ignore him. With Doncic, that will not be a problem – if he rolls hard, he’s going to get a ton of wide-open dunks and subsequently create a lot of gravity for his teammates.

Cauley-Stein is a better defender than Powell as well, with a higher effect at the basket and more lateral quickness on the perimeter. He can protect the rim well in drop coverage in pick-and-roll or they can use him in a more aggressive scheme. On the second unit, it’ll be interesting to see if Dallas traps ball handlers when they’re working against Delon Wright and Cauley-Stein. Those players’ length and activity level could pose problems for backup point guards and could generate easy offense the other way for the Mavericks.

Cauley-Stein makes $2.2 million this year, with a player option for $2.3 million next year. Perhaps the one downside for the Mavericks is that player option, but considering the very small price they paid to get him, they can be content if he plays well enough to opt out and walk away in unrestricted free agency. If he flops and opts into that $2.3 million, they’ll still have plenty of space below the tax to operate and can always cut him loose and take the dead money hit if they need the roster spot.

Patton’s contract is fully guaranteed for this season, as all contracts must be after January 10, but doesn’t tie up any of Dallas’s cap going forward. His contract is fully non-guaranteed for two more seasons after this one, with a team option for 2021-22, which could make him an interesting waiver claim candidate if a team has a traded player exception worth at least $1,520,564 or has the requisite cap space to claim him. They’d inherit his full cap hit and would owe him about $750,000 in cash for the rest of the season, but it might be worth it for a team with center depth issues going into next year.

Roby was drafted at No. 45 just last year and Dallas signed him to a four-year deal, with both 2019-20 and 2020-21 fully guaranteed for about $3.02 million total. The final two years on the deal are non-guaranteed, with a team option on 2022-23 to ensure that whichever team holds the contract can opt out and get him into restricted free agency after his third season, or let it play out and see him become unrestricted the next year.

He’s shown nothing in the way of NBA play; he has yet to make his debut and featured in just nine games for the Mavs’ G League team after recovering from a foot issue that derailed the early part of his rookie year. Drafted for his defensive upside, he’ll fit in nicely with an Oklahoma City club that loves long, defense-first, athletic wings whom they can teach to shoot (with limited success thus far). Andre Roberson, Terrance Ferguson, Darius Bazley, Deonte Burton, and Hamidou Diallo all fall in that same category among this year’s roster and none of those guys have developed a usable outside jumper yet. We’ll see if they can strike gold with Roby, who could be a solid NBA starter if he can make spot-ups and defend at the level his measurables say he should.

Oklahoma City drops to $801,067 above the tax, getting them that much closer to completely free of a luxury tax obligation this year. We’ll see if they swing another move to get completely out of the tax – they’re under no mandate to do so, if the rumors are to be believed. This move, however, made sense for them from a basketball perspective; Patton wasn’t doing anything for them and Roby gives them another shot at 3-and-D wing they could certainly use.

Golden State picks up the nearly-useless Utah second-rounder, as most picks after about No. 45 are rarely effective NBA players. Dallas also own the Warriors’ own second-rounder and could have sent it back to them, but that’s far, far too high a price for the Mavericks to pay for Cauley-Stein. That pick is projected for No. 32 and will almost certainly land in the top five of the second round, making it essentially a first-round pick with a lot more contract flexibility, since second-round picks aren’t tied to the Rookie Scale.

The Warriors also move to $2.57 million from the apron and have two open roster spots, which will allow them to sign Ky Bowman and Marquese Chriss off their two-way contracts to the full roster as soon as they’d like. Signing both as soon as the trade goes through, presumably on Saturday, would cost them about $1.5 million against the apron, leaving a very small amount of wiggle room. Odds are, though, they’ll wait a few days and see what develops on the trade market – they’ll have two weeks after the Cauley-Stein trade is made official to get back up to 14 players and can get past the deadline before that happens, if they want to keep those roster spots open for other moves. They’ll also have $3.96 million of their non-taxpayer mid-level left as of Saturday, with that amount dropping by about $30,000 each day they wait, if they’d like to sign those guys to contracts longer than two years.

The $800,000 Oklahoma City sent to Dallas is interesting but doesn’t impact the cap at all. Dallas owes Patton about $750,000 for the remainder of the season (unless he’s claimed!), so the Mavericks came out $50,000 ahead there. You could also look at it as though Oklahoma City paid back Dallas for the amount they’d paid Roby – he’d earned about $805,000 of his $1.5 million at the time of the trade. That $800,000 could also be to offset the tax savings for the Thunder. They’re in the repeater tax and dropping their team salary by $120,564 not only saves them about half of that amount in salary but cuts their luxury tax bill by another $301,410. It’s obviously the smallest possible part of this three-team, two-trade trio of transactions, but it’s interesting that they landed on $800,000.

It’s no blockbuster, but this trade is a small win for all three teams involved. Dallas gets a replacement for Powell on a very cheap contract and traded nearly nothing for him. Oklahoma City gets the sort of defensive, athletic wing they love, at the cost of $1.52 million for next year, when they won’t have space anyway and are far enough from the tax for it not to matter, though if they bring back Danilo Gallinari on a reasonable deal, it’ll move them within striking range. Golden State does right by Cauley-Stein, who will thrive in the Mavs’ system, and picks up some valuable breathing room below the apron to take care of Chriss and Bowman. Further moves are likely for all three – Dallas is still looking for a wing and has Courtney Lee’s $12.8 million to match salary, Oklahoma City might be looking to duck the tax and/or get something for Gallinari, and Golden State still has a couple of veterans in Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III who could return slightly positive value on the trade market if they wanted to move them.