While some teams head down the stretch with their eyes on the postseason, others resign themselves to the lottery. With our “Fixing” series, we will look at those teams and see what they can do to pull themselves out of the NBA cellar.
Today will be about the Dallas Mavericks. With a record of 20-45, not much has gone right for the Mavericks this year, but what can they do to change their fortunes in the offseason?
What is Working?
There isn’t much of anything one could say is working in Dallas as is. The offense is atrocious and the defense is even worse. With 17 games left in the season, the Mavericks sit at 45 losses — four off of their total losses from last season — and continue to trend downward after owner Mark Cuban said that, right now, losing is Dallas’ “best option.”
If there is one bright spot, however, it is rookie Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith hasn’t been the best rookie this season, but his incredible athletic ability has allowed him to do things some others just simply can’t. Smith has averaged 15 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5 assists on the season and has consistently flashed the upside that led Dallas to select him No. 9 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 20-year-old has also thrown down some highlight reel slams and competed in the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest over All-Star Weekend.
Harrison Barnes and Maxi Kleber could constitute working pieces as well. Barnes has averaged 18.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists on the season while the rookie Kleber has flashed when given serious playing time.
What Needs to Change?
It seems as if the Mavericks have been caught up in a youth moment since their 2011 NBA Finals run. Now the youth is here but, unfortunately, most of it just isn’t very good.
The acquisition of Nerlens Noel last season, who seldom if ever is on the floor, has been a complete bust. Other young guys, like Dwight Powell, Salah Mejri etc., have not worked out as hoped. If the Mavericks are to right the ship, they’ll need to cut the dead weight that comprises a lot of the roster and fully commit to a rebuild rather than look to retool in the twilight of Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki’s career like they have in years passed.
The coming Draft will be of major importance for Dallas as well; outside of Smith last year and swinging a trade for Nowitzki way back in 1998, the Mavericks have been, by far, one of the worst drafting franchises in the league. Their draft history is loaded with busts, players who just didn’t pan out and players that were traded before they had a chance to do anything for the team. That will need to change.
Focus Area: The Draft
While the NBA may not like it, the Mavericks have tanked their way to a top pick. Tied with the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks for the third-best odds at the No.1 pick, Dallas will likely look to lose a majority of their games that remain on the schedule.
In a draft that is seemingly loaded, it is crucial that the Mavericks hit a home run with their pick. The team needs a big to eventually succeed Nowitzki in the front court, and the 2018 Draft should be loaded with them: DeAndre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley and plenty others. Depending on where their pick falls, the Mavericks could have their selection of any one of them.
Of course, the team could also look to find a backcourt mate for Smith. Like with the bigs, there is no shortage of talent to be had on the wing or at the guard spots: Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Mikal Bridges.
The Mavericks will have plenty of option to choose from, all talented in their own ways. But whomever they choose, Dallas needs them to pan out. The team cannot afford another miss or they could risk being set back years.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The Mavericks are not competitive now, nor will they be for at least another season or two. The worst thing they could do in free agency is hand out long-term contracts to pretty much anyone.
Instead, Dallas should look to take fliers on players who are seeking playing time and looking to prove themselves a la the Memphis Grizzlies and Tyreke Evans this season. They could also sign players to big-money, but short-term contracts in order to ensure their cap flexibility in the future while also staying above the salary floor. Both the former and the latter could be flipped at next season’s Trade Deadline, either to teams in the playoff hunt or to those looking to take on expiring contracts and clear cap-space.
All eyes for the Mavericks, ideally, should be on the 2019 free agent class.
While the superstar free-agents-to-be this season — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, etc. — aren’t making their way to Dallas, a year of positive growth and development, spearheaded by Smith and whomever they choose with their upcoming draft selection, could go a long way in enticing the numerous high-caliber players who will hit the market after next season. Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and plenty others will all likely be available for the right price, and that is precisely when the Mavericks should look to strike.
The past few seasons haven’t been fun in Dallas. If they play their cards right over the next few seasons, the Mavericks should be back in the thick of things in the Western Conference. If they don’t, however, the franchise could continue to fall, even farther than they already have, which would mean disaster for the Mavericks future and their fans.
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