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Trilly Grades Your Rebuild: Dallas Mavericks Edition

Normally, there would be a tweet embedded here linking to the most recent podcast. The embed would not work for me so I’m humbly asking that you click the link to the podcast here. Will I figure out how to embed tweets again in the future? The answer may surprise you.

Welcome back,

Today we’ll be taking a look at the Mavericks. You can find past entries here but I’ll warn you now, there’s only six.

The rules are the same: I’m going to be taking a look at three things they did well, three things they failed miserably at and three things they could do this summer to stop stinking. I’ll be issuing one of two grades based on my findings: Oh hell yeah (good) or Oh no (bad). This is the internet, things are classic or trash with no in between. You wouldn’t expect nuance on Twitter so please do not expect it here. Thank you.

Dallas Mavericks (31-46, 14th place Western Conference)

Good Things

1. Luka

That’s it. That’s the good thing. I don’t think I can say anything here that you haven’t already seen. He’s good now and he has a chance to be an all-time great.

2. Great salary cap situation

The Mavs currently have the lowest payroll in the league and their two building blocks are currently on rookie deals. The best player in franchise history has been playing for room & board for the last seven seasons. They’ll have max cap space this summer and probably the next summer after that. The contract of Zach Randolph (who we all forgot was a Maverick) expires this summer, Courtney Lee the next and Tim Hardaway Jr the next. And it STILL won’t be time to pay Luka yet.

3. Porzingis, the trade

This is only regarding the actual Porzingis trade itself. More on him later.

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Dennis Smith, the expiring contracts of DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews, and two future first round picks. A point guard that probably had to go anyway because he didn’t fit with Doncic. Two rentals. And two picks that were never going to see a Mavericks uniform because they don’t do draft picks. That’s well worth rolling the dice on Porzingis and his injury risks. If he “only” gets back to what he was before the ACL tear for the 2019 season, you’ve got a 22 point a game scorer that can hit threes and defend the rim at/around elite levels. And he’ll be 24. In an ideal world, he closes games at center with three shooters and Doncic running the show. You fell ass backwards into Doncic and asser backwardser into Porzingis. Building around them is the easy part.

Bad Things

1. Porzingis, everything else

We’ve seen the allegations by now. Those are bad enough as is, and the Mavericks knowing about it and proceeding anyway is….disheartening. Mark Cuban admits he “dropped the ball in not recognizing rampant sexual harassment“. This was less than seven months ago and Cuban is already fine taking on this kind of risk.

As if that wasn’t enough, what do you pay him? Maybe Porzingis takes a little less than the max to get guaranteed money after his injury history but it’s not really in his best interests. If he proves he’s healthy, he’ll get the max from someone. Hell, maybe even if he doesn’t (as with saw with Embiid’s early extension). Playing out the year on the qualifying offer ($7.5 million) is a giant risk, one Nerlens Noel found out the hard way, but it might be worth it. Nerlens was never going to get the max. I’d be surprised if Porzingis doesn’t ask for the max, and with all the eggs they put into this basket, the Mavs will have to pay it or else you’ve traded three first round picks (DSJ+ the two in the trade) for Luka’s sidekick to go elsewhere. Don’t forget the future pick they traded for Luka as well.

Beyond the ACL, he’s battled issues with his Achilles, ankle, foot, and leg. Any one injury by itself is troublesome for a big man, but they’re really adding up for a guy that’s already fighting an uphill battle just being 7’3″. Maybe he’s Anthony Davis/Joel Embiid/hopefully Harry Giles, big men that just needed a few years to get their bodies in working order before sustained runs of solid durability. Maybe he’s Greg Oden or Yao Ming, giants that produced when they were on the court but were betrayed by their bodies.

2. Do we trust this front office?

Building around them SHOULD be the easy part, I guess I should have said. I’m not sure we have much reason to trust the men in charge here. Cuban/GM Donnie Nelson/HC Rick Carlisle were all present for the 2010-11 championship team. The Mavs haven’t been past the first round since that year. Dirk has had three All-Star game appearances (not including the gimme this season) and an All-NBA season since then so he wasn’t always the Dirk we see in 2019. He deserved better damnit. And the Mavs surrounded him with Chandler Parsons, Deron Williams and Harrison Barnes. Why do we think they can build a title team in a completely different NBA than the one they had success in?

The draft history is worse. We’ve discussed the future picks they’ve given up (2019, 2021, 2023) but the ones they’ve kept haven’t fared much better. They haven’t drafted an All-Star since Josh Howard in 2003. They traded their firsts from 2006-2008. For what? Does it matter? It didn’t get them past the first round. Let us proceed. They drafted Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk and traded both before they played for them. Their 2016 first-round pick went to Boston for the Rondo disaster. They drafted Justin Anderson and Dennis Smith and traded both before year two was finished.

Each trade made sense at the time I’m sure. And the value of those picks, on average, isn’t great. But the point is you have no young pieces to show. And no history of developing them, as Dirk did all his best work with the old guys. They won’t have first-round picks for three of the next five seasons already so they’ll have to rely on trades and free agency. Outside of Doncic/KP, what do you have to trade of value? When you have cap space, it goes to DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and Chandler Parsons because the top-tier guys go elsewhere.

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3. Let’s talk about Rick Carlisle

I think Rick Carlisle is a fine coach. As mentioned above, he’s been failed by his front office and as long ago as it was, he was the architect of a defense that legit stymied Lebron in his peak physical form. He consistently gets good minutes out of the end of the bench guys, the JJ Barea/Dwight Powell/Maxi Kleber types, and there’s real value in that.

Having said that Skippard Bayless, the man hasn’t seen the second round of the postseason since Obama’s first term. His front office fails to get him talent and he fights with all the talent they trade picks for (Rondo, Nerlens). He just had his whatever the hell he just had with DSJ. As we continue to see, he’s not the kind of coach that top-tier talent is dying to play for in free agency. I’m not saying he should be fired because he’s not the lone problem, but I do think he has a hand in the subpar run Dallas has had over the last eight seasons. Is he the coach that’s going to bring the best out of Luka for the next 10+ seasons?

Trilly’s Summer Prescription

1. Let Jalen Brunson cook.

Please. There are rumors of Dallas chasing Kemba Walker or Goran Dragic to finish their big 3 and I’m asking politely that they use that money elsewhere and let Jalen Bruson cook. He’s not a good defender and may never get there. If he does, his size pretty much limits him to defending PGs. He fell to the second round for a reason and I won’t pretend he’s a perfect prospect or fit.

But he’s looked promising next to Doncic since the DSJ trade. In the 25 games since the trade, Brunson is playing 29 MPG and averaging a 14/3/4 on 51/37/75 shooting. Brunson was a Mr. Basketball/McDonalds AA in high school. He made Big East All-Freshman team for a championship winning Villanova team. He made first-team All-Big East his sophomore season. He closed his career with another ring and National Player of the Year trophy. He’s having a great rookie year for a promising team. He’s the son of a former NBA role player too. Do you know who else was? Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jaren Jackson Jr, LeBron James Jr MAYBE YOU’VE HEARD OF THEM.

Brunson is the exact type of piece Dallas is going to need to contend. He’s young, cheap and can play off Luka. Check, check and check. I can’t wait for the Mavericks to sign Kemba and trade Brunson for an unprotected second rounder.

2. Everything depends on Luka

Every part of whatever plan they have depends on him. And that’s fine. That’s what you do when you have a golden ticket. But the Pelicans have/had one and made it past the first round once in seven seasons. It figures to change this season, but it’s year six for Giannis and he hasn’t been past the first round yet. Towns is doing historic numbers to no avail. Rose won an MVP in year three before injuries robbed him. Hell, Cleveland had Lebron James in uniform for 11 seasons and have one ring to show for it. The Lakers had him this year and didn’t make the playoffs. A golden ticket just isn’t enough. Maybe Luka is different but we have years of evidence to show otherwise.

He currently has 43/33/71 shooting splits which aren’t awful, but what if he projects as a meh shooter instead of a plus one? His last season in Real Madrid he shot 31% from 3P. In 2015, he hit 40% of his threes but on only 1.3 attempts per game. He hasn’t topped 35% from three in a season since. His body will change a lot in the coming years, is he willing to put in the work to take it where it needs to be? The Mavs are banking on using boatloads of cap space to get the third star, but are established guys clamoring to come be second (or third) fiddle to a 20-year-old? *extremely Mike Lupica in The Sports Reporters voice* Even golden tickets come with fine print.

3. Please don’t rush this

If the Mavs land in the top five of the draft lottery and keep their pick, I’m not sure which way they’d go. I would imagine that if they keep their pick, it’s going in a trade package for someone (AD?). If they somehow hold off on trading it, Zion at 1 is a lock but it gets hazy after that. They just traded poor man’s Ja Morant to get the ball in Luka’s hands so I can’t see them taking the real Ja Morant. Barrett or Reddish? Meh. I like Jarrett Culver, DeAndre Hunter and Brandon Clarke for them but that may be a little high for them.

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I’m not sure what kind of deals even work or what stars would potentially be available but I can’t see the Mavs sitting on their hands. Maybe you ask Washington if the #4 pick/stuff is enough for Bradley Beal? Try the Pelicans to put Jrue with Luka?

I imagine the Mavs will try to be aggressive both ways, ie going for Kawhi and also trading the pick for Jrue, or whomstever. That’s the best case. Realistically? Maybe you sign a Tobias Harris and draft Culver. But worst case is what I’m afraid of, and you should be too with what we’ve seen from the Mavs front office. They sign Jimmy Butler to the max and take RJ Barrett if he falls to them. Luka never sees the ball again and I’d hate to see Jimmy breakdown another young star. Not content to stop there, Butler begs Dirk to come back only to embarrass him in practice daily and slap his homecooked meals to the ground. Butler soon starts wearing a cowboy hat on the court during practices and shoots finger guns at anyone who tries to take it off. 38-44. But for now:

Rebuild status: Oh hell yea