This is not a normal feeling.
Losses are piling like a bunch of dirty dishes after a busy night at the Cheesecake Factory. The effort is there, but the results don’t equal the passion. A franchise, known for the last decade-and-a-half for its winning prowess, finds itself at the bottom of the NBA standings for the first time since the Clinton Administration.
Fortunately, these Dallas Mavericks aren’t as disastrous as the 11-win club from 1993 (at least not yet). But this still isn’t fun. It’s difficult to watch the Mavericks take the court right now. They’re going to play hard. Harrison Barnes will continue to show promise as a future No. 1 option. Wesley Matthews won’t stop shooting. Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell will continue to develop no matter how agonizing their that process is at the moment.
But it’s going to result in losses, at least for the foreseeable future. And while the Mavericks are more than likely heading for their first losing season since the 1999-2000 campaign, this stretch of gut-wrenching, face-palming losses feels OK.
Seriously. The Mavericks losing is OK. No one should be mad about that.
It has nothing to do with Dallas “tanking.” We can’t even call this tanking. The Mavericks fought hard in some games that they should’ve won. It’s not like they’re channeling their inner “Trust the Process” mantra. This team literally wants to win every night, hence the close losses to the San Antonio Spurs (twice), Houston Rockets and others. That’s the kind of attitude a team should have after constant winning for the past 15 years. That attitude should come with a sense of entitlement; not in the form of championships, but with a sense that a team knows it should be better than the 3-14 mark it has posted heading into December.
But rather than spend this early part of the season being frustrated by a team’s putrid record, anyone associated with the Mavericks should look back on this long run of excellence and be proud of what this franchise accomplished. Not many others can say they had 11 straight 50-win seasons, two trips to the NBA Finals, one NBA title and 15 playoff appearances in 16 years. And after the rough string of luck in the ‘90s (again, I bring up that 11-win team 23 years ago), that’s pretty good.
They should feel happy they lived through an era where Dallas had a Big Three before having a Big Three was a thing. There should be pure jubilation while looking back at the Dirk Nowitzki Era. There needs to be much reminiscing and remembrance on the Mavericks staying competitive through a loaded Western Conference that was primarily dominated by the Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.
Realize all the fun that has happened. All the playoff moments, memorable championship plays and good times the last decade-plus brought. This has been a year of unexpected disappointment. That’s OK.
This time was coming sooner or later. The time to rebuild was going to happen eventually. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, there was supposed to be a timetable for that. When Dirk retired, that’s when the Mavericks’ plunge into NBA obscurity was supposed to happen. In some ways, with Dirk continuing to nurse his Achilles injury, this is as close to a glimpse at the post-Dirk era as the Mavericks are going to get. It’s not fun right now, but I would rather have one bad year in the last 17 than a string of 10-plus years without making the playoffs.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle put it best before Dallas played the Spurs on Nov. 30, per ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon: "Guys are learning to play in an environment that is very realistic, as opposed to the nirvana that (Dirk Nowitzki) provided here for close to two decades.”
Those words are true. Here’s another way to look at it: The Dallas Mavericks, as we know them, are done.
Dirk was going to get older. Dallas’ endless pursuits in free agency were eventually going to catch up in the worst way. The Mavericks’ inability to strike in the draft was ultimately going to be a downfall. It was coming. We all knew it. Anyone who didn’t believe it was lying to themselves. Dirk may be the almighty one in Dallas, but Father Time eventually makes his rounds, even to the Metroplex. He just happened to arrive sooner than anyone would’ve liked.
The Mavericks are allowed one bad year. Tanking may look like the smart strategy in the long run, but it doesn’t mean the Mavericks are going to stop what they’ve been doing when it comes to improving the roster. At this rate, the only thing that will change is Dallas’ chance to draft a player in the top-three who will alter the immediate future of the Mavericks, as they transition into the next half of the decade.
Things don’t look great now, but they won’t be bad forever. The last 15 years in Dallas have proven that to be true.