Editor's Note: This was written on Saturday. Shane Larkin has since been recalled after a two day stint in the NBA Developmental league.
When news broke Friday night that first round rookie Shane Larkin was being sent to the D-League, my initial thought was "well, he wasn't getting any time out on the floor anyway, maybe it'll do him some good." In the last four games, Larkin has averaged just under three minutes per game, including two "Did Not Play-Coach's Decision." He's not getting any better on the bench so sending somewhere where he can actually play basketball is a good thing...right?
With regard to his specific situation, yes, without question. But it highlights the fact that when it comes to team building, Dallas' plan has essentially been "throw everything at the wall to see what sticks." Let's revisit some key decisions since the end of last season, shall we?
- Attempted to make the playoffs in 2013, finishing 41-41 and securing the 13th over all pick in the June 2013 NBA Draft. The Mavericks finished seven games better than the next worst team. Had they picked 11th, the Mavericks would've had a chance to draft probably rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams.
- Moved back in the draft twice: first in a trade with Boston for a 2nd round pick in the 2014 draft and the rights to Lucas Nogueira (selected 16th), then Dallas flipped Nogueira and 2012 first round pick Jared Cunningham for the rights to the 18th pick (owned by Atlanta) where the Mavericks selected Shane Larkin.
- On July 1st, the first day of free agency, the Mavericks signed guard Gal Mekel to a multi-year deal.
- On July 6th, Dwight Howard announces he will sign with the Houston Rockets, leaving Dallas scrambling to build a team.
- Later on the 6th, Dallas announces the signing of Jose Calderon. It's later revealed that his deal is for 4 years at $28 million dollars (which is just half a million less per season than near-All Star Goran Dragic, a player owner Mark Cuban publicly dissed last season).
- By July 12th, it became clear that Monta Ellis would sign a 3 year deal with the Mavericks, giving Dallas yet another guard.
- On July 31st, once and future Maverick Devin Harris signed a one year offer from the Mavericks, though he'd be sidelined for weeks as he was dealing with a toe injury.
To recap, the Mavericks traded back twice in an attempt to sign a rookie at pick 18 who would have a smaller salary than the pick at slot 13, because it was necessary to free open as much space as possible to make an offer to Dwight Howard. The Mavericks missed a chance at Giannis Antetokounmpo, the aforementioned Nogueira (who is ridiculously athletic and huge), and Dennis Schroder. Passing on Giannis is going to hurt for years. He's a seven foot tall small forward who is under 20 years old.
Then they reacted to Dwight signing elsewhere by bringing in four other lead-guard type players who would get minutes ahead of Larkin. This was all inevitable. Oh, and the front office basically threw the 2012 first rounder in Cunningham out with the trash (and he is really, really bad at basketball, begging the question of how in the hell did he get drafted at all).
I'm not saying that I wanted Larkin to play more than the 12 or so minutes he's averaged this season; his minutes have been all over the map from game to game. That he's been put in a situation where he's literally the fifth wheel is increasingly disappointing. As an undersized guard, he's probably a rotation player at best. I understand the goal is to build a team that Dirk can get at least some wins with, but every short sighted move the Mavericks make is only going to make the rebuilding process harder once he's gone.
Though Shane's minutes have been limited, he's had flashes of great play. The win over the Suns on January 17th stands out in particular, as Larkin hung 18 points and 5 assists on a playoff level squad. Shane Larkin is not some scrub by any stretch; we're talking about a former Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year (which he was as a freaking sophomore). After the repeated whiffing on massive free agents, the general narrative shifted from "Dallas has cap space!" to "the Mavericks need assets in addition to cap space!". Larkin, if he's used in a consistent manner befitting his skills could be a great asset. But with a log jam in front of him, that's probably not going to happen.
Dallas didn't have a plan beyond Dwight Howard. What the front office cobbled together has at least been entertaining, but I can't help but feel that they're mortgaging the future.
We all know Dallas has a massive problem drafting: heck, only two first rounders in the Mark Cuban era have been offered a second contract past their rookie deal. But this is starting to get worrisome. Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder, and now Shane Larkin...at least one of these guys HAS to be a functional rotation player for Dallas to stay relevant. So far, the Mavs are 0-for-3 with two undecideds.
In the end, I expect Larkin to get a few reps in the D-League and be back up with the main squad after the All-Star break, if not earlier. That he's earned minutes at times within the main rotation shows just how hard a worker he is. But it's on the front office that they've created this kind of log jam. And it's on the front office to figure something out soon. It feels like the ship is sinking (very slowly) and they're out trying to plug the holes with duct tape.