The Dallas Mavericks Problem
In a star driven league, it’s easy to assess the ceilings/floors of the NBA franchises based solely on the capacity of each team’s central star. The stars of each team serve to epitomize the identity of their respective teams, and the teams win loss output immediately becomes a knock or testament to the performance of that stud player. Intricacies and nuances are often ignored as internet trolls continue to be further poisoned by an obsession with individual legacy. In turn the standing of the NBA as a team sport, continues to waver, overwhelmed by insight that fail to go past how many rings a player lays claim over. Amidst this pandemic of simplification, an increased version of player power (forcing moves using conspicuous media tactics, one year mega deals, teaming up with other stars) is also partially responsible for the breakdown in thorough analysis.
So you came here to hear about the Mavericks I’m assuming…so why the first paragraph?? Fair question. The answer is that the Dallas Mavericks plan and process are a microcosm of this omnipresent NBA ideology. Though it’s been a decade since their inspiring championship run over Miami’s big three in the Dirk era, the Mavericks are still widely considered an admirable NBA franchise. With beloved billionaire Mark Cuban at the helm and Rick Carlisle still pulling the strings from the bench, the Mavericks project an identity of stability and doing the right things. This only was compounded when the Mavericks swapped draft positions in the 2018 draft with the Hawks to take Luka Doncic rather than Trae Young. And while Trae has been nothing short of fabulous in his blossoming career, several NBA GM’s believe Doncic has an undefinable ceiling. So ya they got it very right.
All this is to say the Mavericks have the legacy, draft resume (Doncic) and ownership that serves as an effective shield from the ranks of critics. This is before you take a deeper dive into one of the poorest roster constructions in the entire sport and what might soon be a devastating waste of an otherworldly talent. It begins with the hangover from the championship run. As the veteran leadership that fortuitously took this team to the top of the totem pole in 2011 began to deplete and wash up (Dirk, Kidd, Marion, Terry) the Mavericks have found themselves in NBA no mans land. They have finished 7th, 10th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 11th, 13th, 14th and 7th since that time. This is understandable, but not entirely forgivable. In an NBA climate which bears no rewards for the mediocre the Mavericks have found themselves firmly entrenched among the NBA’s most mediocre teams and while teams such as the Sixers, Hawks and Warriors have engaged with fully committed draft rebuilds the Mavs have only middled.
Feeling the pressures of early playoff exits and a lack of ascension, the Mavericks pulled the trigger on a deal for Kristaps Porzingis. The deal sent Porzingis, along with guards Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and Courtney Lee, in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, and a 2021 (unprotected) and 2023 (protected) first round pick. In doing so the Mavericks basically admitted that the Dennis Smith Jr. Pick and the veteran acquisitions of Matthews and Jordan were not elevating them to their standard and pulled the trigger on a trade that would further cripple them, driving them into cap hell and the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture. Porzingis’ injury past has only followed him to Dallas and despite the draft gold that is future league MVP Luka Doncic, they have pulled the wrong strings everywhere else.
This year, with expectations running higher after pushing the Clippers to 6 games, behind Doncic’s iconic bubble buzzer beater, the team has been pitiful. A slow start? “They are sure to turn it around” say their biggest believers. But this is beyond wishful thinking. Since Dirk (1998) the Mavericks, have never came drafted/traded for on draft night an NBA All-Star. According to SB Nation’s Kris Kramer, as of 2016 “Dallas, since 2000, has drafted 15 players, who have gone on to play 2,303 games. A quick glance at this chart shows that Dallas is last in the league in both games and players by a pretty sizable margin.” That is telling. They have even traded the likes of solid NBA players such as Kelly Olynyk and Shake Milton on draft night immediately following their selections. Since 2016, things have gotten no better with aforementioned #9 overall Dennis Smith Jr. and this year’s #18 overall Josh Green who is struggling mightily out of the gate, though at age 20 there is obviously time for that to be amended. The Mavericks have instead banked on landing FA’s but the names they desire have never came along. Constantly mentioned in the Giannis sweepstakes, his new deal would signal that this is another unfulfilled dream.
This offseason, they doubled down on deconstructing the roster, shipping career 45% 3p shooter Seth Curry out for a struggling Josh Richardson and sending Delon Wright and Justin Jackson for 33 year old bruiser James Johnson. The moves have continued to not make sense and backfire. The 11-14 record the Mavericks maintain is not a reflection of Luka’s shortcomings, or poor coaching, it is a reflection of poor draft execution, failed free agent pursuits, and indigestible trades that have put them in this position. While Luka will continue to grow, the team won’t. The receipts are out there and the Mavericks are what they are.