With the NBA regular season coming to a close, the Dallas Mavericks are struggling to stay alive in the Western Conference. This year has definitely had its ups and downs, with no positive end in sight. This team has struggled, since winning the championship in 2011, to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Over the past five seasons, this team has been built by adding one-year rentals to a roster centered around an aging franchise player (Dirk Nowitzki). Although, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews are key pieces to the core, they are not worth the max money that they are being paid. So when will the Mavericks be true contenders again? Unfortunately, there is no clearly defined answer to this question.
One possibility to becoming a true contender again, is to start over in the NBA draft and not waiting on the big fish to come via free agency. Since 2011, the Mavericks have tried to land multiple big-name free agents and have failed each time. From Dwight Howard to Chris Paul to LaMarcus Alridge to DeAndre Jordan, none have chosen to sign with Dallas. Now, to the Mavericks credit, that did add Deron Williams, however it’s been almost four years since he was a true superstar and releveant. Free agency, in and of itself, is not the answer. A team needs a balanced combination of free agents and the draft. The NBA draft is the first step in developing a contender, and the Mavericks have been unsuccessful in their attempts in recent years. The last good player the Mavericks selected was Josh Howard, back in 2003. Wow, it’s been 13 years! The Mavericks cannot ignore the draft any longer and must do better moving forward. Regrettably, for the Mavericks they only have one pick in this year’s upcoming draft, and it’s in the second round. (Their first round pick was lost, to Boston, in the Rajon Rondo trade in 2014).
Another way for a team to become a contender is signing, and playing, young(er) players. Over the past few years, the Mavericks have been an older team, by NBA standards, and have not played younger draft picks or players. This year, the Mavericks are the 4th oldest team, with an average age of 29.6 years. Being an old team is not the problem by itself. The problem is the philosophy of not rotating young players into an aging lineup and giving them opportunities to play and improve. This falls back on (head coach) Rick Carlisle. A prime example of this, is that the Mavericks drafted a “NBA ready” player in Justin Anderson and have played him sparingly throughout the year. Other examples of Carlisle’s coaching philosophies are forwards Dwight Powell and Jeremy Evans, both of whom have lacked consistent and meaningful playing time. When it comes down to it, the Mavericks need to start playing young players and bring their older players off of the bench. Many teams use this formula and have been successful with it.
Two teams in particular that have used the above-referenced formula are the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. Both teams do an excellent job of rotating their younger players in alongside their veteran players. They are not afraid to bring aging stars off of the bench (i.e. Manu Ginobili, David West, Andre Iguodala). This is something that the Mavericks need to incorporate, which probably will not happen overnight. Even though Dirk (Nowitzki) can still put up 40 pts, he needs to come off of the bench starting next season. One final thought is, this offseason don’t settle for old veterans, instead opting to sign young up-and-coming players that might not require the maximum contracts that veteran players will expect.
For the Mavericks to be contenders again there has to be a change in mindset. From the top of the chain of command, all the way down. Are you listening Mark Cuban?