To be blunt, the Mavs are due to suck.
Seriously, every other team.
Powerful, historic franchises like the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks? They’ve had some years of suck since then. The current cream of the crop of the NBA, the Warriors and Cavaliers? They’ve totally sucked, like big time. Hell, the Warriors went from arguably the worst franchise in the NBA to the gold standard over the course of Dirk Nowitzki’s career.
Every team except the Mavericks and the Spurs have earned a top-10 NBA Draft pick. Think about how bananas that is — not only have the Mavericks not been really bad, they haven’t even had one off year since 2000. The Lakers not only have six titles since 2000, they have four top-10 draft picks. The Mavs and Spurs are basically the Roman empires of the league the last 16 years — and it’s well past time for Dallas to suffer the same fate as Constantinople.
So that’s OK, the Mavs are allowed to suck. They’ve earned it. There’s nothing cosmically unfair about how bad the Mavericks are right now and how bad they’re about to be. The only thing I’m worried about is that it feels like everyone is a little too eager to see the empire crumble.
Because while the Mavs suck, rebuilding really sucks. Have you watched 82 games of bad basketball? If you’re under the age of 30, you probably haven’t or if you have you blocked that part out of your brain and you’re going to have some uncomfortable therapy sessions soon.
There’s some thought — and it’s not necessarily wrong — that the Mavs could manage a quick rebuild. Harrison Barnes is already miles ahead on his development path than preseason predictors expected, Dorian Finney-Smith is found money and while Dwight Powell, Justin Anderson and Seth Curry haven’t been consistent, they’ve shown enough playing without Dirk that there’s something to them in the future. Nail the top-10 pick next year (grab one of the two or three elite point guard prospects), wrangle in a deal for a new bouncy center (Nerlens Noel maybe?) and you have a core that can compete for 40 wins again and only a player or two away from taking the next step. That doesn’t sound too bad! It’s like ripping off a band-aid!
Except. EXCEPT. That’s not typically how these rebuilds go.
For every Portland Trail Blazers slump that cashes in two bad seasons for Damian Lillard and immediate relevance, there are teams like the Wizards, Kings, Hornets/Bobcats, Bucks, Suns, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Jazz, Sixers and Magic that have enjoyed consecutive top-10 draft picks but still don’t have playoff success to show for it.
It took the Hornets years to develop Kemba Walker into the franchise player he is today. The Jazz have had tantalizing rosters stocked with first-round talent for most of this decade but are just now putting it together — and only thanks to some veteran acquisitions that have pushed them over the top. Teams like the Wizards, Kings, Pelicans and Timberwolves have been gifted with franchise changing cornerstones and they’re still trying to figure things out. Teams like the T-Wolves have brighter futures than the Mavs, no doubt, but consider how much sucky basketball that fan base had to endure only to be rewarded with the most talented young roster in the league that’s barely better than these current Mavericks.
It’s fun to want to tank when you don’t have to dig into the trenches every day. National pundits have been calling for the Mavericks to tank for years since Mark Cuban decided not to bring back the title team. It’s easy for them to call for the tank because they can tune the Mavs out — they aren’t required to watch the team much at all to do their job.
The semi-troubling part has been how much locally, around the Dallas area, are people banging the tank drum. We’ve probably been campaigning to be the tank commander the most and fans are picking up on it too. People want this misery.
I blame those scoundrels at Liberty Ballers who started the “Trust the Process” movement that turned into a religious revival. I won’t act like I’m not jealous about a fan base though that’s involved and cares — something I feel the Mavs get the short end of the stick a lot when as fans easily tune out for Cowboys time. But still, damn them.
While it’s refreshing for a fan base to understand what it takes to build a modern NBA contender, I’m not sure this fan base is fully prepared for what’s to follow. Let me be clear — the Mavericks, in the long term, need to be bad and start grabbing top-10 picks to rebuild the team when Dirk finally retires. I’m not stupid. Tanking is good as hell for the Mavs right now.
That doesn’t mean that I’m ready for it. We know the actual team isn’t. I’m not ready to watch a quarter-filled American Airlines Center golf clap after Anderson snaps a 0-for-20 slump for the next four years. I’m not ready to watch Dwight Powell be relied upon to be a 30-minute-a-night rim protector. I’m not ready for wins to be separated by weeks instead of days. I’m not ready to tune in every night and have to sift through the muck to find something about this team that’s compelling to write about or see where there is growth, if any.
I’m selfish and I think that’s OK. The ultimate point of basketball is to have fun and be entertained. Basketball is my ultimate escape. I want to see Dirk win as many games as possible before he hangs them up. I want to see Barnes shut up the haters. I don’t want to talk about Anderson’s regression or Powell’s glass ceiling. When I was in high school, every Mavs game night was a damn event. I’d get my homework done (NERD), rush through dinner and retreat to my bedroom and watch every regular season game like I gambled my family’s retirement fund. I lived and died for those games and it allowed me to forget everything horrible that had happened that day, week and month. For two and a half hours, the Mavericks and Dirk used good basketball to distract me.
The worst part of it all is that nothing is guaranteed. As already mentioned, there are teams that have been rebuilding, tanking and stockpiling lottery picks for years with not much to show for it except promise. Promise. Bleh. I’d rather be sold jars of Oxygen. The Mavs had three really good, really young, really promising players in the 90s and we all know how that turned out. And if you don’t, go to bed, you’ve got school in the morning.
Tanking doesn’t guarantee anything except terrible basketball. The Mavs have been immune for 16 years. That’s over half my existence. I know it’s time to suck, stop yelling at me. Let me be a whiny toddler who refuses to take his medicine for a couple more months — I’m not ready for the Mavericks to be bad.