Zoom out on the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks 2018 draft-day trade and the results appear positive. Both franchises made a trip to the conference finals and were competitive against the eventual NBA Champion. Trae Young is a two-time NBA All-Star and was named third-team All-NBA last season. Luka Dončić averaged 32.4 points per game this season and might be named first-team All-NBA for a fourth-consecutive season.
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Zoom back in for a tight look, and it becomes clear that both franchises are currently in disarray. The Hawks fired a head coach midseason for the second time in three seasons, and both times, the reports were that the head coach was not getting along with Young. The Hawks are in the play-in tournament for the second-consecutive season after a big offseason trade in which they spent a lot of draft capital to acquire 2021-22 all-star Dejounte Murray.
The Mavericks gutted their roster at the trade deadline to acquire Kyrie Irving and ended up missing the postseason entirely. Jason Kidd might be out of a job, which would put the Mavericks on their third head coach since drafting Dončić.
‘Green light’ to clean house in ATL
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connell is reporting — one day out from Atlanta’s play-in game against the Miami Heat — that the Hawks’ front office has been given the “green light” from team ownership to do whatever is necessary to improve the roster. No player is off-limits. ESPN reported that the Mavericks’ front office is worried that Dončić might want out by 2024. Dončić said to the media that there is no reason to “worry,” that he would want to leave. However, he also said that changes are necessary.
When the Hawks traded Dončić to the Mavericks for Young and an extra first-round pick, the deal was regarded as one of the more boneheaded draft-day moves in recent memory. Dončić was viewed as a player with future MVP potential while Young was looked at as diet Stephen Curry. Dončić played as well as expected almost immediately, while Young took a couple of months to get rolling.
Three seasons later both teams are wholly disappointing. Neither one is stout defensively and the offenses both revolve around these top-five backcourt draft picks from 2018. Even with the Hawks and Mavericks adding a second ball handler, too often late in games it’s Dončić and Young playing hero ball. The main difference is that Dončić doesn’t put on a poor Curry impersonation by regularly missing logo 3-pointers while never having shot 40 percent from behind the arc for a season in his career.
For either franchise to move on from their star player, it would make their last five years a colossal failure. Yet it’s beginning to make more and more sense for both the Mavericks and Hawks, because how much worse could life be without their respective stars?
Young is reportedly getting on everyone’s bad side with the Hawks, and Dončić will likely not be satisfied with a team that ends up fighting for a play-in tournament berth again next season. If the Mavericks aren’t able to re-sign Kyrie Irving that might even be a lofty expectation.
A trade the magnitude of Dončić for Young usually does not result in both franchises’ futures unfolding in a parallel way. There was a time when the Kawhi Leonard and George Hill draft day trade was seen as a win for both the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. Then Leonard became arguably the best player in the NBA in 2016-17.
While Dončić has always outperformed Young, it appeared that both franchises came out of that 2019 deal with a win. The Hawks were more nationally relevant than they had been since 2015, and the Mavericks appeared to be a team on the rise with one of the league’s best players.
Instead, the Mavericks and Hawks are staring down some different consequences of a major trade — both could be forced to jettison their prize acquisitions only a few years later and start over from scratch.