This isn’t a good season for the Dallas Mavericks. Dealing with numerous injuries, the team continues to string together loss after loss. It’s certainly not what the organization was hoping for in what will likely be one of Dirk Nowitzki’s final seasons. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Mavs — that is, if you’re looking long term. The team’s short-term struggles mean younger players are getting minutes they otherwise wouldn’t have. If this allows them to grow and develop, it’s a positive going forward.
“We’ve got to see the opportunity here, guys that are having the opportunity to step up into greater responsibility,” coach Rick Carlisle said Friday night. “They’ve got to be put in good positions. They’ve got to learn from this, and this is part of it.”
Carlisle, unfortunately, really hasn’t had a choice whether to play his younger players. Injuries to four of the team’s key players has necessitated it. Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, and now J.J. Barea remain sidelined.
Fortunately, some of the players filling in for the ailing veterans, like Dorian Finney-Smith, have excelled in their new roles. Finney-Smith has found himself in the starting lineup, and his play has been lauded by both his coach and owner Mark Cuban. Others, though, are still adjusting to the increased workload.
This is a tough transition for the Mavs. Being forced to rely on so many unproven players has put a strain on the team, at least in terms of their win-loss record. But it’s something that Carlisle has dealt with before, and he won’t let that get the team down.
“I’ve been through tough stretches with multiple key personnel out before,” Carlisle said after a 80-64 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. “It’s very difficult. As a guy in a key leadership position, it’s very important for me to stay positive and keep coaching these guys and keep talking about ways to put us in a position to win.
“It’s nothing easy about this,” he continued. “If you’re looking for me to make some kind of a crazy statement about how bad things are, that’s not how I do business. That’s not. I’m going to keep coaching these guys the same way. I’m going to keep stressing the positives. We’re going to keep working to get them better.”
While this season so far may be a jolt to the organization and fans alike, it’s something that inevitably had to happen. The Mavericks needed to invest in younger players in order to build toward the future. They’ve put it off for far too long, and Cuban recently acknowledged it.
“We knew we had to get younger,” he said. “It wasn’t working just bringing in 30, 35 year old guys all the time. And so we did it. We think we created a foundation, bringing in Wes, who struggled some until last game, and obviously bringing in Harrison who’s had a chance really to blossom.
“All the young guys are really showing something. It’s not like we’ve got these wasted spots at the end of the bench and we don’t see any future for them. We’re not winning games like we want but we’re hoping it will pay off dividends because the young guys are getting minutes.”
It might not pay off this season, but in a season or two it could be worth it, Cuban said.
Right now, it’s up to everyone to pitch in and help the young players keep their heads on straight. And even though he’s only 24, Harrison Barnes has become a mentor to them.
“I just let them know that this season, every play matters,” Barnes said after the loss to Memphis. “Even though we get down, even though the game was out of reach, I told the young guys ‘still keep playing hard.’ That energy can play over into tomorrow night and that’s how you start some momentum. Right now, with the way this has gone so far, it’s been a struggle. Any type of encouragement I can try and give these guys and just tell them to continue to play hard throughout this adversity is what I try and do.”
Unfortunately, it looks as though the team will continue to face adversity. Injuries have decimated the backcourt, forcing the Mavs to move Seth Curry into a starting role. The team also brought in Jonathan Gibson to try and alleviate their guard woes. They did what they could against the Grizzlies, but it wasn’t enough.
Dallas’ offense might not get any better anytime soon. Not unless one of the young guys is able to steal the abilities of one of the league’s elite players a la the Monstars in Space Jam. Right now, though, they’re all the Mavs have. But they’re on the team for a reason.
“Those guys are all competitors by nature,” Carlisle said. “And one of the big reasons that they are here is because of that. Those guys don’t have any give in them. We knew that ahead of time.”
Now, the team needs to know if they can turn the corner and help the Mavs climb out of the NBA’s basement.