By David Mullen
Let’s look back at the Dallas Mavericks marvelous 2021-22 season. They made watching basketball fun again. Remember that this team was 15-17 on Christmas Day. They were able to trade the talented but oft injured Kristaps Porzingis to Washington for Spence Dinwiddie and Davis Bertrans on March 21. It was as if Christmas came late. The Mavericks got on a roll and finished the season 52-30.
They entered the NBA playoffs with a daunting task, having not won a playoff series since 2011 or when Luka Doncic was 12. Yet they beat the Utah Jazz in the first round, shocked the No. 1 seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round capped off by total domination in Game 7 and made the Western Conference Finals after experts had predicted another early playoff exit.
Long suffering Mavericks fans were proud of this team. In many ways, Dallas became America’s basketball darlings, and the NBA fans got to see the once-in-a-generation talents of Doncic. When Doncic went down, Jalen Brunson and Dinwiddie answered the call. And Jason Kidd proved to skeptics that he could coach at the highest level. There are so many good things about the season to relish.
OK. Enough pondering. The relishing is over. Time to muster up changes that can take the Dallas Mavericks to the next level, which is nothing short of an NBA Championship.
In losing to the Golden State Warriors 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals, pundits were quick to say that the Mavericks flaws inside were exposed. They were intimidated in the paint. ESPN wrote that one Eastern Conference executive said the Mavericks are “one player away” from being a championship team with their need being to add an “impact center” like the Suns’ Deandre Ayton or the Jazz’ free agent to be Rudy Gobert.
No and hell no.
Mavs forward Dorien Finney-Smith said it best when he spoke to ESPN. “We’ve definitely got enough in this locker room to do something special. We’re here,” Smith said. “We’re a top-four team in the NBA. You can try to find another star, but you never know how that’s going to mesh with Luka or the other personnel. It’s an adjustment to play with Luka, too, and I feel like [Brunson] adjusted well and [Dinwiddie], too.
“This bunch-of-stars [expletive for feces] don’t even work anymore. Fit matters.”
Exactly. Truer words have never been spoken, even though Finney-Smith could have spared us from the improper contraction and the guano reference. There may be children present.
Ask the Philadelphia 76ers if they are better with a mopey and self-centered James Harden. He’s paid more than $44 million a year to make a team worse. Or Ben Simmons, who can’t decide if he wants to play basketball in Brooklyn despite making $29 million annually in New York money. Or New Orleans center Zion Williamson, who instead of heading to the basket to dunk, looks like he heads to Café du Monde to dunk.
Ayton and Gobert appear to be those kind of players. Great talent and drainers of great talent. Dallas doesn’t need the drama.
Some are calling for center Dwight Powell’s head. He is not the problem. He does not cost the Mavs a lot of money (relative to other NBA salaries), is a great locker room guy and he hustles.
Here is what the Dallas Mavericks should do in the offseason. First, re-sign Brunson. Without getting into cap details, Mark Cuban can afford it and Brunson has become an invaluable part of the overall puzzle. You don’t build the team around a player like Brunson but know that he will be ready to excel if needed.
He seems excited about staying in Dallas, although his father, former NBA player Rick Brunson said: “We’ve got to figure out if Dallas wants him. Not words. Ain’t no discount. So, don’t put it on us. Don’t tell me you love me. Show me.” Sounds like the elder Brunson has been talking to LaVar Ball, another NBA father turned contract negotiator.
Assuming the return of Brunson, the Mavericks backcourt becomes one of the league’s best when Tim Hardaway Jr. returns from injury. His 14 points per game were missed when he fractured his foot on January 25.
Next is find a power forward/center that can defend the middle and rebound. Someone that is a lesser version of a Bam Adabayo or a Draymond Green without the personal foul propensity. Maybe the player will be there with the 26th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. This is for the Mavs brass to figure out.
Finally, it is time to sit down with Doncic and have that difficult heart-to-heart talk. Doncic is an amazing player. He now must learn to become an amazing team player. The Mavericks can’t have the entire offensive scheme built around Doncic, and they realize that. That became crystal clear against Golden State.
Opposing defenses load up on Doncic. If he is double-teamed, another player should be open. Unless he is willing to give up the ball with confidence, the Mavs won’t improve. The Warriors have Steph Curry. Anyone would love Curry to take every shot. Yet Golden State moves the ball around on offense better than any team, and it makes younger players like Jordan Poole, James Weisman and Moses Moody better. All three players are younger than Doncic.
And Doncic needs to improve his defense. He needs to get in better shape to increase his stamina. His offseason should be spent in the training room every day, not at a Slovenian Gostlina. At 23, he is at the perfect age to reshape his frame to become NBA strong.
The future of the Dallas Mavericks is bright. They had a wonderful season and the prospects ahead are glowing. The young core of players got invaluable playoff experience. Doncic is awesome, but it is the time to sit down and talk candidly with their brightest star. That could be worth more than acquiring any overpriced NBA center like Rudy Gobert.