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The Best Thing About the Rockets' Plan, the Worst Thing About the Mavericks'

Let’s be clear about three things. The first is that if anyone the Mavericks really coveted had fallen to 17, the Mavericks would have stayed at 17.

The second is that no one on Earth can actually say right now whether Tyler Zeller is going to have a better career than Jared Cunningham, Bernard James and Jae Crowder.

The third is that despite the truth of the previous statement, yesterday was a disappointing day in Mavs world. Even if the only difference between the Zeller and the other three is that Zeller wasn’t available in the 20+ range, that’s kind of the point. This was the highest Mavs pick in years and they turned it into a fairly typical Mavs mid-twenties pick—despite a tremendous amount of experience as to how players available in that range usually turn out.

A much less disappointing day was had by the Houston Rockets, who drafted Jeremy Lamb, Royce White and Terrence Jones, three terrific talents, all of whom could have excellent careers.

And yet at the end of the day what you can say is, the Mavericks are on track to execute their big plan and it would seem that the Rockets are not. The question of which team is proceeding more intelligently may be settled very soon—or it may not be settled for a long time.

We are all, as we always are, willing to get excited about our draft picks. It’s not that a lower pick never turns into anything, but, obviously, in our overscouted world, it doesn’t happen as often as it used to.

. Last year Reggie Jackson was drafted 24th, Kyle Singler and Shelvin Mack 33 and 34, while Iman Shumpert went 17th. Two years ago it was Damion Jones at 24, Hassan Whiteside and Armon Johnson at 33 and 34 while Kevin Seraphin went 17. In 2009, Byron Mullens went 24. Dante Cunningham and Sergio LLull went 33 and 34, while Jrue Holliday went 17.

This doesn’t mean 17 = NBA player, 24, 33, 34 = don’t get attached, but it’s neither coincidence nor surprising. But here’s the simple truth:

The Mavericks did what they had to do to keep their plan intact. They didn’t see anyone they liked at 17. In fact, Jeff Caplan reported that if either of Houston’s two higher picks, Lamb or White, had fallen to the Mavericks, they probably would have stayed at 17 and taken them. We’ll never know, obviously. But the difference between where they were going to pick and where they did pick is a not insignificant 500 k and, more importantly, in the case of the 2nd round picks, non-guaranteed contracts.

Since they also traded Kelenna Azubuike in the Zeller trade, they chopped 1.5 mil off their cap number and gave themselves an opportunity to clear more if necessary. If they’re serious about Dirk + Deron + something, or just Dirk + damage (FA edition), it’s what they had to do to keep the dream alive.

The Rockets, on the other hand, have probably already failed in their ambition which was, first, to stock pile draft picks to trade for a very high draft pick, second, to use some combination of those things to trade for Dwight Howard. I’m not at all saying they can’t turn the very fine talents they drafted into trade assets, I’m just saying it’s likely that if the Magic were willing, they would have wanted to pick their own guys.

And yet. The Rockets ended the day with three excellent talents, and the Mavericks with three guys who probably will not be significant factors in the NBA, just going on percentages for players picked where they were picked, and by evaluations of the players who were picked --at no time did the Mavericks pick a player who was Ford’s Best Available, or top 2 or 3 Best Available, for whatever that’s worth.

So again, let me be perfectly clear. There is no certainty whatsoever that Zeller will be superior to the Mavericks’ trio of picks. There is no certainty that Zeller was worth picking period. There is no doubt that if the Mavericks want to make the kind of free agent splash they envision—with Deron Williams, if not Deron with Steve Nash, and the ability to make interesting offers for some RFAs, and the ability to try to load up again in a year—they had to do exactly what they’re doing. And they've been doing, in fact, an exemplary, in some ways an unparalleled job, of getting to the cap space point they want to get to while remaining competitive.

And yet, again, this simple fact remains: When the Rockets’ plan failed, they ended up with three exciting young players. If the Mavericks’ plan fails there’s going to be a lot more hell to pay than that.

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