DALLAS — Eventually, Jordan Hamilton or another guy taken late in the first round of this year’s NBA draft will blossom into a quality player, perhaps even an All-Star.
The Dallas Mavericks don’t want to wait.
Fresh off their first championship, the Mavericks are determined to stay on top. So they gave up the uncertainty and potential of a draft pick for a known commodity in Portland guard Rudy Fernandez.
“He’s a guy that can step right in and help us right away,” said Donnie Nelson, Dallas’ president of basketball operations. “The experience factor was the thing that brought it over the top. … There’s less risk involved. He’s NBA playoff battle-tested. It was kind of a perfect storm for us.”
At 26, Fernandez is older than a rookie but still younger than most of the Mavericks.
With three years in the NBA, he knows how the league works. Add the years the Spaniard has played internationally, and he’s even more of a veteran.
Most of all, the Mavs like that the 6-foot-6, 185-pound Fernandez is bigger and more athletic than most of their shooting guards. He’s shown he can play 20-plus minutes a game, get to the rim and make 3-pointers. He hasn’t done it consistently, though, which is why the Trail Blazers were willing to deal him for a late first-round pick.
“He’s a guy we’ve had our eye on for a while,” Nelson said. “It was kind of right place, right time.”
Fernandez has averaged 9.1 points over 24.1 minutes in his career. He made 40 percent of his 3s as a rookie, but his accuracy has dipped every season.
A change of scenery, and a new coaching scheme, could juice up his numbers. So could a change in role: starter.
DeShawn Stevenson was the primary starter at shooting guard last season and in the playoffs. He’s a free agent, though, and the Mavs have other priorities, primarily trying to keep Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler. Fernandez would have to beat out other guys already on the roster, but he will certainly be in the mix.
There’s also a catch to this starting job. The backup, Jason Terry, is likely to play more minutes, especially during crunch time. Thus, Fernandez could average about the same minutes he had in Portland, but he’d have a bigger role on a better team.
No wonder his first reaction was a tweet filled with exclamation points: “So happy to be in the best team in the nba!!!dallas!!!”
His excitement is a plus considering he was fined twice last summer for comments detrimental to the league — $25,000 in August, then $50,000 in October, all over talk about being traded, including threats of leaving the NBA and returning to Spain.
“I think young guys sometimes take a while to figure things out, certainly guys from Europe,” Nelson said. “You’ve got the American way or NBA way of doing things. So I think there’s some learning curve there. Sometimes it’s just opportunity. … We’re hopeful that it’s another case of that.”
The bottom line for Dallas was improving its roster without giving up any of the players who helped them knock off the Miami Heat in the finals. Of course, Fernandez will take up a roster spot, which could mean waving goodbye to Stevenson or Peja Stojakovic.
“Again, it’s a combination of getting our backcourt a little bit more athletic, a little bit more scoring punch,” Nelson said. “He’s an underrated defender — he’s better than you think. He’s a big-time athlete. He’s able to break defenses down. We like this over taking a young guy that might pan out and might not.”
He has a friendly contract, too.
Fernandez is signed for the upcoming season, plus there’s a team option for the following year. With Terry going into the final year of his deal, Fernandez has a year to show whether he can become a big piece of the Mavericks’ future.
Dallas also has its last two draft-day acquisitions to consider at shooting guard: Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones.
Beaubois was thought to be a key to the team’s future before being injured and ineffective this past season. Jones saw more action in the D-League than in the NBA, and wasn’t active in the playoffs.
Although the Trail Blazers recently fired their general manager, guys in the front office knew the Mavs liked Fernandez. Talks heated up in recent days, culminating in an intricate draft-day swap.
Dallas spent both its picks on players Portland said to take: Hamilton at No. 26 and Tanguy Ngombo at No. 57. However, the Blazers immediately included Hamilton in a deal with Denver, and Ngombo was believed to be on the move, too.
The Mavs also came away with the rights to Finnish guard Petteri Koponen, who is expected to play a fourth straight year in Italy. Nelson said the Mavs will ask him next summer about coming to the NBA.