I sat watching the Mavericks get pulverized in the third quarter of their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a silent malaise -- the game just sort of washed over me as I watched Rick Carlisle challenge one of the best teams in the league with a lineup of J.J. Barea, Raymond Felton, Devin Harris, David Lee and Dirk Nowitzki.
I watched as Harris foolishly attempted to guard Kevin Durant, as Russell Westbrook was checked by a "backcourt" of Barea and Felton. I watched Lee and Nowitzki do their damnedest to impersonate the disastrous Dirk and Amare Stoudemire duo from a year ago that the Houston Rockets torched in the playoffs.
I looked over at the bench and saw Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell firmly planted there. I watched one of the few remaining Dirk 30-point games go to waste. I just had one thought:
What are we doing here?
A week ago, I applauded the Mavericks for not making a move at the deadline. The league has already been carved up and split among the NBA mob of Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Cleveland with not many other teams able to grab a slice of the pie. With such fruitless chances of moving up in the standings, I was relieved the Mavericks didn't sacrifice the young talent they have for a short term and pointless fix.
I also remarked that the team was fine. They were overachieving with a thin roster, Carlisle pulling all the right strings and winning games at a decent enough clip to take advantage of a strangely thin Western Conference. I readily admitted that the complacency that had set in with these Mavericks and the general mood -- just enjoy Dirk's final years, get into the playoffs -- was fool's gold covering up the terrible moves that have plagued the Mavs for the last decade or more. It was no more clear than on Wednesday night against the Thunder.
What are the Mavericks doing? Watching Lee take minutes away from Powell and the poo-poo platter bench guards of Barea, Felton and Harris take away minutes from Anderson is slowly draining the lifeforce from my body. Perhaps that's why I was so content to waive the white flag last week and attempt to be positive about a team that had zero chances of going anywhere back in October.
Not anymore. I'm not even sure Powell is even that good or that Anderson deserves more burn but something needs to change. I predicted on Twitter moments after the Lee signing that Carlisle would pair Lee and Dirk together -- a defensive calamity waiting to happen. Afterall, he did it with Amare and Dirk. Carlisle just can't help himself to all that veteran goodness even if those veterans aren't even that good.
The funny part is the Lee-Dirk lineup actually did OK against the Thunder, thanks to a boost by a fourth quarter run to get the game close for a moment. Carlisle had no such luck with his guard lineups.
Rick deployed two different three-guard lineups with Barea, Felton and Harris on the court at the same time. Both had catastrophic net ratings as you would typically expect lineups with those players to do. Meanwhile Anderson, an honest to God athlete at 6'7' with three-point range and defensive versatility, sits.
It's even more humorous when you look at what Carlisle said pregame, that it takes rookies two to three years to learn the NBA. Guess what, Rick, it takes even longer when they never play.
I can't even imagine how Anderson is reacting from being a big time minutes guy at Virginia to averaging less than nine minutes a game with the Mavericks. Anderson is actually averaging less minutes per game than the Spurs Kyle Anderson did as a rookie last year and the gulf between this year's Mavs and last year's Spurs is wider than the damn Grand Canyon. Yet Gregg Popovich still found some time. And this is even giving Justin Anderson the benefit of playing behind two rehabbing starters in Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons!
It's not like Anderson has lit it up when he gets his time -- far from it. In fact there were decent stretches this year where it was clear Anderson wasn't ready and wasn't deserving of time. What bothers me is not his playing time in those stretches but ones where he'd string together a couple of good outings and then one sub-par stint sends him all the way back to square one.
Consider the last two weeks: Anderson had three straight impactful/positive appearances against the Heat, Spurs and Grizzlies. He showed off his crazy defensive ability and just made plays, whether it were big rebounds or highlight reel blocks. Who else on the roster can even dream about putting together a sequence like this?
Then Anderson followed up that three-game stretch with a stinker against the Jazz before the All-Star break. He played 10 minutes, missed two of three shots and didn't do much. So what happens?
Out of the rotation. Completely.
In that three-game positive stretch Anderson got 53 minutes. After his stinker against the Jazz, he's gotten nine minutes combined in the next three games. Seems really hard to develop any sort of confidence or rhythm after that. Not like the Mavericks could have used some athletes on the floor against a Thunder team that oozes athleticism.
It's not just Anderson -- Powell has seemingly been banished in favor of Lee. It's too early to make a call on Lee but as I said when the Lee rumors started, if Powell was getting draft pick offers at the trade deadline, you rebuff them because you love Powell but then sign a player that's fallen out of the rotation on back-to-back teams to take Powell's minutes...I mean, what are we doing here?
Why are we playing Lee and Dirk together when data from the stone-age could tell you it's not going to work? Why are we playing J.J. Barea and Devin Harris together when those two have a negative 4.3 net rating when they're on the floor together? Why are we still struggling to trust Chandler Parsons when he's struggling and watching Felton play crunch time minutes?
This year's Mavs act like they're a 55-win team that doesn't have time for youthful mistakes and need a veteran buyout guy to be the missing piece. News flash -- they're two games over .500 and dangerously close to missing the playoffs. This is a mediocre team. Rookies and young players get chances on good teams across the league -- how are the Mavs, one of the best damn franchises since 2000 and with a top-three coach, still doing this?
I don't know if it's Carlisle or the front office or the pressure Carlisle feels to win now with Dirk aging -- it has to stop. The Mavericks need a dose of reality -- they aren't that good. What they're doing isn't working and something has to give between the ever-present need to win as many games as possible and developing the seemingly decent young talent they have that the team hasn't had in years.
Do something, Mavericks. This isn't working and it never was going to.