With Christian Wood trade, Mavs ditch draft, fill major need before offseason even starts

The Mavericks have made their 2022 draft-night decision — more than a week before the June 23 event.

Dallas will trade its first-round pick (No. 26 overall) and reserves Boban Marjanovic, Trey Burke, Sterling Brown and Marquese Chriss to the Houston Rockets for center Christian Wood, a source confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday night.

The deal meets one of the Mavericks’ major goals this offseason — to upgrade their frontcourt production and depth — and offloads the expiring contract of several little-used players.

Dallas and Houston cannot officially complete the trade until draft night because the Mavericks owe the New York Knicks a top-10 protected pick in 2023, and the NBA prohibits teams from trading first rounders in consecutive years.

But fans didn’t wait to praise general manager Nico Harrison and the Mavericks’ move.

The 26-year-old Wood started 67 of 68 games for the Rockets last season and averaged 17.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and one block per game while shooting 50% from the field and 39% from three.

The 6-10, 214-pound big man is set to make $14.3 million for the 2022-23 season — the final year of the three-year, $41 million deal he signed before the 2020-21 season.

Then, the Mavericks previous front-office regime had interest in acquiring a player whose talent hadn’t always translated to consistency while playing for five teams — Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Detroit — in his first four NBA years.

But in the last two with Houston, Wood has averaged 19.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while improving his 3-point shooting percentage to a career-high 39% in 2021-22 in a career-best 68-game season.

That’s the kind of production the Mavericks wished for during their run to the Western Conference finals.

Starting guard tandem Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson and 3-and-D wings Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock exceeded expectations during the franchise’s first multi-round playoff appearance since the 2011 championship, but contributions from the center spot lacked.

Dwight Powell remained a starter throughout — and played in all 100 of the Mavericks games during the season.

But his playing time decreased significantly in matchups against the Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors when the Mavericks turned to small-ball lineups and looked for more 3-point shooting production.

That left coach Jason Kidd to run power forward Maxi Kleber at center — when he wasn’t in foul trouble — or turn ultra-small with Finney-Smith as the five.

Harrison and Kidd also pointed to the team’s rebounding struggles as reasons Dallas lost the conference finals in five games.

“If you look back at the series, we lost some games on the boards,” Harrison said in his exit interview May 27. “That’s important. We need to get somebody that can help us on the rebounds, be a rim protector. I think we need to figure that out, for sure.”

Wood immediately slots in as a potential starter — with little disruption to the rotation.

Marjanovic ($3.5 million), Burke ($3.3 million), Brown ($3 million) and Chriss ($2.2 million) are all entering the final year of their deals. They ranked as the Mavericks’ four least-used players in the postseason. None logged more than 3.8 minutes per game — and often at the end of blowout results.

Coupled with the No. 26 overall pick’s rookie scale contract (projected to be about $1.9 million in 2022-23), the contract math matches Wood’s salary, and the Mavericks fortified their biggest roster hole before the league’s offseason begins in earnest.

In: Wood, who will be eligible for a four-year, $77 million extension six months after the trade is conveyed, according to ESPN.

Out: Expiring assets to a rebuilding franchise that wants to give its young frontcourt prospects more playing time anyway.

The only concern?

Marjanovic and Doncic had formed an especially close friendship during their three overlapping seasons in Dallas.

They bonded over their Balkan roots, Serbian language and goofy personalities.

Won’t the franchise superstar be upset to see his good buddy leave?

Harrison made clear he would consult and update Doncic on all roster moves.

“We’re going to have a million things up on the board, and we’re going to throw ideas back and forth,” Harrison said during his exit interview. “You look at Luka, as great as he is, he has a different point of view than maybe I would and maybe [assistant general manager Michael Finley] would and maybe even JKidd would, so we want to embrace that.

“And then we might have a different point of view than he does, and we want him to understand that, as well. I think it’s a two-way street. I think you’re crazy to try to build a roster and not include your best player. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Barring another trade, Dallas will not add a player via draft for a second consecutive year because Harrison and Co. traded their 2022 second rounder to Washington in the Kristaps Porzingis-Spencer Dinwiddie-Davis Bertans deal last February.

But the Mavericks won’t stand pat during free agency.

Harrison has highlighted re-signing Brunson — the Mavericks’ lone free agent on the 15-man roster this offseason — as the team’s No. 1 priority.

They’ll also have a $10.9 million trade exception (set to expire June 29 from last year’s Josh Richardson deal) and a luxury-taxpayer mid-level exception available.

Luxury, indeed, because Wood’s arrival will render their biggest position of need no longer.

Twitter: @CallieCaplan

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