Last night, Jeff Green hit a buzzer beater over LeBron James to win a game the Celts, one of the least talented teams in the NBA right now, had no business winning. They got 15 points from Jordan Crawford, 16 from Avery Bradley, but the star was Green whose 24 on 8-16 shooting is something he's starting to do with some regularity. 22 on 12 shots against Memphis, 18 on 13 against Utah. He averaged 20 points in the playoffs last year.
What this means, of course, is that the pats on the back are coming. Danny Ainge has done it again. He turned a decent team into a perennial Finals contender in one offseason, and in another turned it from an aging, expensive squad to an exciting young squad. Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, and some extremely solid role players is quite enough to be going on with, especially for a team that should walk into the offseason with some very pretty cap space numbers.
All around the NBA a similar scenario is playing out. The Orlando Magic won the blockbusting Howard-Bynum-Iggy trade by default, of course, but it's not default people are talking about, it's Nikola Vucevic, Arron Afflalo and Moe Harkless to go along with Victor Oladipo. The Philadelphia 76ers shot off to a quick 3-0 start, before losing three of their last four, and with Michael Carter-Williams performing well above what could possibly have been expected (19 points, 8 assists, 6 boards, 2.5 steals), the Sixers potential seems unlimited.
Same with the Pelicans, where Anthony Davis has morphed into a higher-scoring Kevin Garnett, and Eric Gordon is scoring, and Jrue Holiday is proving last year wasn't a fluke. Same in Washington where John Wall and Bradley Beal keep getting better, and Nene and Gortat are packing a very interesting two-way punch.
In Utah, where they've turned it over to the kids, the results might not be pretty but the play of their four core guys, Hayward, Kanter, Burks and Favors, hasn't disappointed in the slightest. In Detroit, as 'Dre Drummond improves, and Greg Monroe and Josh Smith continue to score, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is starting to get his feet under him, they've got a lot of intriguing two way talent. Even the lowly Kings could hardly ask for more from DeMarcus Cousins (23.5-9.7) or Isaiah Thomas (18-4.5), while Ben McLemore is already sporting a 42% shooting percentage from deep.
With young, cheap talent, draft picks, and time, there are lots of teams out there with nearly unlimited potential. And that's sort of the problem. Obviously, all of those teams aren't gong to win a championship. Most of them aren't going to. Ever.
At this stage, the honeymoon stage, everybody could. And we, as the news media, are practically handing out medals for getting to that point, to the "could", to teams that haven't overspent, whose draft picks have not yet busted, whose core could still improve. It's understandable.
But it's also why the Mavericks will not rebuild until they have to, and why they're probably right to do so. Right now, in the NBA, there's as long a line of "could be" teams as there maybe ever has been. If you follow basketball on twitter, the number of "League Pass Alerts" you're receiving for players on bad teams feels like it's at an all time high. The Mavs may not be able to compete with the very best, but believe it or not, they're a lot closer to that than they would be at competing to be the very worst.
If the Mavericks blew it up tomorrow, they wouldn't be worrying about competing with LeBron and Wade, they'd have a long way to go before they could compete with Beal and Wall, Vic and Vuc, Davis, Gordon, and Jrue, Green and Rondo. And those teams, because the rest of the NBA is so stacked, barely have a winning record among them. In fact, those particular teams don't, though for now the 76ers are still 4-3.
I may not have agreed with the Mavericks' plan the last two years, but I certainly agree with Mark Cuban's point that the market inefficiency right now is more with spending money to try to be good than it is with trying to be bad, something lots of teams have cornered the market on. So they signed Calderon and Ellis to sizable chunks of change, for a sizable amount of time. It sends a clear message.
The Mavericks now will make the most of last of the the Dirk years. They will sign guys like Monta Ellis, they won't trade guys like Marion and Vince just for draft picks. And though it may not be sexy, and though it may not be right for everybody, it is right for this Mavericks team, for now.