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Mavs Governor Mark Cuban Speaks on Kemba Walker Signing

Dallas Mavericks Governor Mark Cuban shares the rationale behind signing Kemba Walker in free agency.

After losing Jalen Brunson in free agency, the Dallas Mavericks have faced the need to address their third ball-handler position. It was initially more or less brushed off as not being a need that required addressing. 

“I'm not really worried about us having a third ball handler," Mavs General Manager Nico Harrison said in October. "Before we got Spencer, we were rolling, and it was just the two ball-handlers, if you will”.

Frank Ntilikina was described as a potential option for the Mavs to utilize more this season. He began the season injured and has yet to earn a role in the rotation. Given the ongoing need for a third ball handler since his return, he doesn't appear on track to change that anytime soon. 

“People forget we have Frank, who will be better this year,” Cuban told in the offseason.

The Mavs signed Facundo Campazzo late in training camp after bypassing on the chance to sign Goran Dragic and Dennis Smith Jr. among other options in the summer. Campazzo displayed limitations as a spot-up option and with his size defensively that proved too much to overlook for his passing ability. 

Mavs coach Jason Kidd recently expressed the need for a third ball handler since the team has yet to identify one. After the LA Clippers were trapping Luka Doncic often, Kidd admitted "we only have two ball handlers."

"We're not built yet in the sense that we only have two ball handlers," Kidd admitted after the game. "The way that (the Clippers) play, they switch everything and their length, you have to have multiple ball handlers out there to have any success." 

With the increasing burden placed on Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie to play heavy minutes and initiate so much of the offense, elected to waive Campazzo's non-guaranteed salary to sign Kemba Walker. 

Walker shut his season down shortly after the All-Star break last season and has yet to appear in an NBA game since. He appeared in 37 games and averaged 11.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. He shot 40.3 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from 3-point range. 

The Mavs' rational behind signing Walker was largely due to adding more "flexibility" to the offense, as Mark Cuban explained to The Dallas Morning News on Monday.

“We wanted to add some flexibility to our offense," Cuban said. "Like last year at this point, we have great shot quality, particularly from the 3, but we have struggled to make enough of them. Kemba will give J-Kidd more offensive flexibility.”

On the surface, it should be concerning that a team is using a free agency signing of a player that 29 other teams have seemingly opted to not make 19 games into the season. That's especially the case after the prior framing about how a third ball handler wasn't much of a concern. 

Again, Walker hasn't played yet this season and for a player who shut his season down in late-February due to knee issues, there was lost opportunity to sign him sooner and to evaluate how his knee responds in training camp. Now, the evaluation must occur on the fly when the games have reached as high stakes as they've been all season at 9-10. 

Walker does clearly possess attributes that will help the Mavs. He's an efficient catch-and-shoot player and effectively runs high pick-and-rolls and handoffs. However, he wasn't nearly as effective as an isolation scorer last season as he was in past years. Could that change with better floor spacing with the Mavs' bench? Will the Mavs use proper personnel to ensure effective spacing? Will Walker's knee even hold up? There are more questions than answers before he suits up for his first game. 

For what it's worth, Walker expressed in October that he feels "great" as he waits for another NBA opportunity. He feels that when his knee isn't an issue, he's able to provide significant contributions to a team.

"I feel great," Walker told The Boston Globe in October. "I’m going to be honest. I’m going to have my opportunity. I’m not in any rush right now. I’m just grinding and trying to feel as good as I can. And right now, I feel great. I feel as good as I’ve felt in a long time. I’m just waiting for the opportunity."

"It’s never been basketball [performance]. It’s just been my knee. I don’t have [anything] to prove. Everybody knows what I’m about over the years, what I have done in this league."

Keep in mind, the knee issue is a real concern. The reporting that surfaced shortly after Walker joined the Knicks suggested that the stem-cell injections he underwent in his left knee was a "strong indicator" that he is suffering from arthritis. The insight was offered to the New York Post from a "leading sports orthopedic surgeon."

It's difficult to evaluate much about the Walker signing given how much of his decline has been attributed to his knee concerns. If his knee doesn't hold up, then nothing else matters. Regardless, the team can waive him without much concern if things don't work out, but again, they'd be back to where they started: needing a reliable third ball handler.

Jaden Hardy could be an option to turn to considering he's averaging a staggering 29.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists on elite efficiency in his G League appearances. He's getting it done both as a shot creator and as an off-ball threat next to McKinley Wright IV. When does Hardy's production get rewarded? Again, that remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Mavs will take their chance with Walker.

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