As most of you probably know, the 14 teams that don't make the playoffs end up in the draft lottery. The other spots are determined by record. If the season ended today, the Mavs would have the 10th best record in the league, better than six other playoff teams, which means they would be picking 21st.
Which means they would not be picking, since they owe their first pick in the 20s, whenever it happens, between now and like 2018, to the Thunder. This is more or less the hilarious scenario we've been predicting for a while, where the Mavs currently are eighth in the West but nevertheless have a better record than six East playoff teams. I don't know if they'll make the playoffs, I personally hope they do, but I also think that if they do it's not overly likely they'll give the Thunder or the Spurs much trouble.
And there probably isn't a situation that, on its face, screams "treadmill of mediocrity" more loudly than first round sweep, trade pick for crummy later picks, miss playoffs, trade pick for TBD, miss playoffs or lose pick.
But I don't actually feel that way.
First of all, the Mavs aren't REALLY mediocre. They may be eighth in the West, but as it turns out 8 of the top 10 teams in the league are in the West. They're a top 10 team and lately they've been playing even better than that.
And second of all, the entire point of front office transactions is to put yourself in a position where one or two non-LeBron moves can really move you into that NBA stratosphere. As long as Dirk is still kicking, the Mavs are better served keeping the team good enough around him so that one of those moves could happen.
This off-season, the Mavericks made their first two actually impactful off-season free agent signings in some time (Vince was a mid-season signing, and Vince is in general a whole other kettle of fish). After dreaming with the front office about Dwight Howard and Deron Williams and hearing them dismiss guys like Goran Dragic out of hand, Jose Calderon and the then nearly universally maligned Monta Ellis took some getting used to.
Since I'd never liked the Mavs' get rich quick strategy, it was easy for me to get into this new strategy, but it's not like I wasn't sympathetic. The level of liquid in the glass oscillates wildly. Calderon is a superb game-manager, with the best three-point shot in the game who somehow has the distinction of being the only guy in history to average seven ssists and 1.7 turnovers a game and still make otherwise very smart people argue that somehow this is perfectly possible for every NBA player to do if they were just as careful as Caldy.
And again, I'll just point out how insane this is. Caldy is on the verge of once again finishing second only to Chris Paul in assist to turnover ration (well, Pablo Prigioni is between them but he only plays 20 minutes a game). This will be the fourth straight season that he's finished in the top two and the seventh straight he's finished in the top three, including first place finishes in 2007-2008, 2008-2009, in 2011-2012.
And somehow this is something anyone can do they just, you know, they don't. They've got other stuff to do. They have to let the cat out.
Then you have Monta. I love Monta. When they signed him I spent about five minutes being uncertain and then I added up the points per game of every other player on the Mavs roster last year and warmed up real quick.
And then there's Wright, and Dirk. Vince and Marion are probably gone, but that's more of a life cycle event than hugely impactful at this point. Or maybe ‘Trix, who, after all, is only 35 and shooting 48% from the field this season, re-signs for cheap. I would love it if Devin Harris signed on for a few more years, and given that he was willing to sign for the NBA equivalent of five dollars, I bet he would if they asked him to.
Sometimes mediocrity does become an endemic state, something you can't shake because you can't compete for the really good guys, there's no point in getting pretty good guys and not bad enough to get there through the draft.
But sometimes mediocre is just really good in waiting.
Daryl Morey may think he'll have more leverage to trade Omer Asik on draft day than he did at the deadline, but guys don't usually get much for super expensive expiring players they're playing less than 20 minutes a game. What if the Mavs can add Deng or Stephenson and Asik next year? What if they get Deng AND Stephenson and make do with another year of Dalembert?
How would you feel about a Caldy-Lance-Deng-Dirk-Dalembert front five, with Devin, Monta, Wright off the bench, or a Monta-Lance-Deng-Dirk-Dalembert front five with Caldy, Devin and Wright? What about Caldy-Monta-Lance/Deng-Dirk-Asik? If the current Mavs are a match for Portland, the Suns and the Grizz, what would those Mavs be? And if they do get, say, Stephenson, wouldn't somebody be interested in Monta, at least, at this point? I'd hate to see him go, but that's kind of the point of having redundant talent.
Obviously, they're not the only guys in the running for some of the top guys on the market next year, and they never will be. They won't be the only good team with cap space, either.
But, after a couple of whiffs in the instant turnaround game, the Mavs have done what they had to do, put themselves in a position where one or two additions can put them right back where they belong.
There are no guarantees in the NBA no matter what you do. But the Mavs are a good team this year with as much chance to become a great team next year as anybody in a similar situation. Can't ask for much more than that.