DONE DEAL: Dallas Mavericks have traded out Luka Doncic for 34.5 million….

Dallas spent trade season surrounding Luka Doncic with lob threats 

Luka Doncic had the ball on the left wing and the full attention of the Oklahoma City Thunder, drawing two help defenders. OKC guard Isaiah Joe was left as the low man, giving Gafford a size advantage of seven inches and about 70 pounds — if he acted quickly.

Gafford established position on Joe and made eye contact with Doncic, who took one dribble toward the middle of the floor and delivered a leaping lob over the top of the defense. Gafford grabbed the pass with two hands and threw it down.

Twenty-four seconds later, he dunked again off a Doncic assist, drop-stepping and finishing over Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after catching a 75-foot outlet pass.

“Right spot at the right time,” Gafford told ESPN, referring more to his fit with a new franchise rather than his positioning during the highlight plays. “I was like, ‘It’s going to be a good time being here with this team.'”

And on Dallas’ next possession, Washington scored his first bucket as a Maverick in spectacular fashion, catching an alley-oop that Doncic delivered from near half court.

Gafford and Washington’s instant collaboration with the franchise’s superstar guard was a sign of things to come for a revamped Dallas roster. The Mavs, in stark contrast to last season’s lottery team, suddenly feature a high-flying supporting cast to complement Doncic and co-star Kyrie Irving.

Dallas general manager Nico Harrison was adamant after last season’s disappointing finish that the team’s issue wasn’t the fit between Doncic and Irving — the injury-riddled duo recorded a 5-11 record when in the lineup together — but the “surrounding pieces.”

Over the course of the offseason and the trade deadline, Harrison has executed his vision of turbo-boosting the rest of the rotation by adding several dynamic players via the draft, free agency and trades: All-Rookie candidate center Dereck Lively II, guard Dante Exum, forward Derrick Jones Jr., Washington and Gafford.

The group’s impact was evident in Dallas’ win over the LA Clippers on Friday to take a 2-1 series lead heading into Sunday’s Game 4 (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). The Mavs threw down 13 dunks in Game 3, the second most in a playoff game in the past 25 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Eight of those were alley-oop finishes, more than any team had in a game this season or in the past 20 postseasons.

“Last year we could only do the layup line,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd told ESPN. “This year we could participate in a dunk contest.”

THE COST OF Dallas’ wheeling and dealing, beginning with the blockbuster February 2023 trade to acquire Irving from the Brooklyn Nets, has been significant.

The Mavs, who will finally pay off the failed Kristaps Porzingis trade by sending the New York Knicks their first-round pick in the upcoming 2024 draft, have given up control of their first-rounders from 2027 through 2030, either outright or via swap rights.

After this season’s trade deadline, one Western Conference executive told ESPN the Mavs’ future felt “very precarious.” After all, if the moves weren’t impactful enough to push the Mavs into elite status, fears of Doncic becoming frustrated enough to leave the franchise could come to fruition.

But the moves paid immediate dividends. Due in part to early injuries, Dallas was in eighth place in the West at the trade deadline. Harrison joked that Kidd had to use “tape and bubble gum” to piece together lineups for much of the season’s first few months.

The Mavs went 21-9 after the deadline, the third-best record in the NBA in that span.

Harrison, who readily acknowledges “there’s always going to be a sense of urgency” with an MVP candidate as the face of the franchise, said the Mavs made the trades with the long-term view in mind, adding a pair of 25-year-olds under reasonable contracts in Gafford and Washington.

“It wasn’t really about winning right now,” Harrison told ESPN. “It was just about continuing to build it. It’s like every step is, how do we continue to get better? And we’re not built for just right now; we’re built for the next three playoff runs.”

Doncic, who had his best season with a league-leading 33.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.8 assists per game, has enthusiastically provided input to the front office over the past two seasons and has gushed about the team’s chemistry, which he cited as a problem a year ago.

“We’re just having fun out there,” Doncic said after a March 29 win over the Sacramento Kings. “[Kyrie and I are] both happy. We’re both doing some good things on the floor, and we have great teammates. I think this team is special.”

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