Exploring whether the Mavericks should chase a high draft pick this year or try and make the playoffs in the loaded West.
It's finally here. Basketball is Back. The first games tip tonight, and in most years I would be jittery with anticipation. However, with the chaotic summer of free agency and trades we experienced this year, it almost seems as if the 2016-17 season never ended, and it instead simply bled directly into the new season to form a single organism. It used to be a common expression on any blacktop in the country that "basketball never stops," but the phrase has never rung so true as it does today. Part of it is the season starting roughly two weeks before it normally would, and part of it is the increased media attention and coverage of summer league and preseason. What used to amount to sideshows barely given attention by all but the most rabid of basketball fans now gives us even more opportunities to scrutinize the league with our every waking hour.
The Mavericks start their season at home against the Hawks, a game even the most pessimistic fan should have the hope of winning. And after that, they host the Sacramento Queens (yea that's right, Shaq and me are never letting it die) on Friday and could be staring straight down the barrel of a 2-0 start. Fun, right?
Maybe it's good they're getting the warm-up in. The Mavericks then travel to Houston, host Golden State, and have a home-and-home with Memphis before hosting Philadelphia and traveling to Utah. It would appear there are two auto-losses in that slate, but perhaps they come out of it with a 4-4 record to close October. It would be a respectable start to the year and would have fans believing the team will be competitive enough to stay in the playoff race. But alas, November is the next month on the calendar, and November is legitimately frightening. The only "break" is probably a home game against New Orleans on November 3, and to call having Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins in town a break is saying something about the rest of the schedule.
The Mavericks play at the Clippers, Minnesota, Washington, Oklahoma City, Memphis (again) and San Antonio in November. Excluding the home game against New Orleans and a home game against Brooklyn on November 29, the Mavericks host Cleveland, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Boston and Oklahoma City. I'm just not seeing where the wins are going to come from in this brutal slate. It's realistic to think the Mavericks will be around 7-15 after November and starting to come to terms with whether they should tank or not. And that is the pertinent question here: should they?
As a fan, it's difficult to root for any of my teams to lose, even if I know the pragmatic approach is to set the team up for better success in years to come. With Dennis Smith Jr. on board, though, the youth movement has finally become an approach I think I can get behind, and I hope Mark Cuban and GM Donnie Nelson can get behind it as well. I honestly hate the idea of Dirk not being in the playoffs for his final year, but the way I get past that emotional twang is by believing fully that he is not playing his final year, and will indeed come back for one more year to finish his career with a team better positioned to make the playoffs and perhaps even advance. I'm not delusional enough to think the Mavericks could possibly be capable of competing with Golden State next year, and probably not the year after that, but with that reality in mind, the team has every incentive to look forward.
This is the final year that the draft lottery will be set up to incentivize tanking to its maximum potential, and Dallas should keep that in mind even though their collective organizational pride is DEFINITELY going to get in the way. There's no chance that Cuban, Carlisle, and Dirk will be satisfied with mediocrity this year no matter the odds against them. In that way, they're like Jon Snow fighting for the North, staring wide-eyed at an unbeatable foe and yet charging directly towards its charging cavalry on foot by themselves (yes, there will literally always be a Game of Thrones reference in everything I write). Is it foolish? Yes. Is it brave? Probably. Is it smart? Absolutely not.
Doing the smart thing in life often involves making sacrifices and being patient. Dallas has what appears to be a blue-chip prospect, and there are several more lurking at the top of this next year's draft. If they could improve their odds at one of those top 3 ping-pong balls and draft another franchise centerpiece for the future, they should gallop towards the opportunity to lose every game they can while letting Dennis Smith Jr. rack up minutes and numbers in a quest for the Rookie of the Year award. It will give Mavs fans a reason to remain interested despite not being in the mix for what would be a comically doomed playoff run if they somehow slipped into a top-8 seed.
Mavs fans aren't used to losing. Mark Cuban isn't used to losing. And Dirk damn sure isn't used to losing. But that is just what they should do if they want to win anytime in the near future.