The Mavericks are in a strange place. They're in a place neither Dirk Nowitzki nor Rick Carlisle nor Mark Cuban has been in quite some time. For the first time since the Y2K scare, the Dallas Mavericks are a bad basketball team. There is no cavalry around the corner nor savior riding through the night. Not even an uprise of playoff beards can salvage this season. The Mavericks are bad, and the sooner that becomes an accepted reality, the sooner this franchise can retool for the future.
It's been five rather eventful years since the 2011 title, but the Dirk window has closed, the latches have locked, and rust has set in. Cuban's plan, while inventive and well-meaning, meandered through the vast desert of max cap space for four offseasons before landing Harrison Barnes. Responsibility for the current roster composition cannot entirely be laid at the feet of the front office. Between the fickle nature of Chandler Parsons' knee cartilage and DeAndre Jordan's affinity for late night poker games, the Mavericks were dealt a series of unfortunate events. The Rondo trade stands as the lynchpin of the Dirk era's demise, with that tumultuous final three months and undignified ending standing as one of the most bizarre developments of the era.
The continual loss of assets combined with utter disregard for the draft have placed an increasing stress on Dirk to carry this franchise, and the team has finally fractured. At 2-7, the Mavericks have looked overmatched in many of their losses. They currently have a net rating of -4.8, which ranks 25th in the league. Without Dirk, their offense has been a tire without tread hydroplaning around the arc. Their lack of dynamic guard play has shackled Rick Carlisle's offensive genius. A dozen of their possessions in any given game will involve a guard dribbling around for 10 seconds, then feeding Bogut in the high post, leaving the Aussie on an island with cutters who can't create separation.
The buoyancy of their offense is entirely dependent on a 32 year old 5'8" point guard, which y'know, isn't great. But funny enough, without Barea, this team would be an unmitigated disaster. His dribble penetration, uncanny shot making, and the magic elixir that turned him into an elite three-point shooter have been the lifeblood of this offense with or without Dirk. Fortunately Barea, and this franchise, have found a lifeline in the Harrison Barnes renaissance.
Barnes looks like a borderline all-star while playing the power forward position. The team's two wins have come as a result of Barnes carrying the load with isolation after isolation, much like the tall German who has manned the power forward position here for two decades. The quick ascension of Barnes should change the calculus for the front office. Dallas is not making a playoff push in the western conference this season. Put those .500 beards away. They're currently 2-7 with games against the Celtics, Grizzlies, Spurs, Clippers and Cavaliers before the month ends. It's very likely they end November with a 4-13 record. That's not a hole they're likely to climb out of with the talent level on this roster.
The revelation of Harrison Barnes as a foundation piece, not a complementary one, changes the trajectory of this franchise. Barnes has put up the best isolation stats in the league thus far, but he needs stable guard play to diversify his game. Dallas desperately needs a guard on their roster with legitimate size and athleticism to give Barnes easier looks and lessen the scoring burden on him. That guard doesn't exist in this year's free agency class, unless you want to give Jrue Holiday over $100 million or you fancy the Tyreke Evans reclamation project.
The only surefire way to a dynamic guard is through this year's draft. The 2017 class has at least five legitimate starting point guards in the first round, and it is imperative that the Mavericks nab one of those studs. Most likely, Carlisle won't allow this team to fall into the bottom five, but the fickle nature of the guard situation and Dirk's health may have this team looking at a top 10 pick.
If the Mavericks can grab a guy like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball to pair with Barnes, their post-Dirk rebuild can bypass the dark ages. With Dirk on this roster, the word tank won't even be uttered in the deep underbelly of the AAC. However, while the Mavericks won't tank this year, they will be bad. It's not a common sight in this town to see a bad basketball team, but every organization—beside those robot Spurs—will go through a losing season at some point. Dallas has won more regular season games than any other team outside of San Antonio since the year 2000. Dirk will suffer, but ultimately, this franchise will be in a better position for it.
The Dirk era ended quite some time ago, but the future is not as bleak as it once was.