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In rebuilding mode, the Mavericks need to value the draft more than ever

The Mavs Moneyball staff took to our email thread for a discussion of recent draft misses and how Dallas should learn from their past.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This week, rather than ask the staff a question, we had a great back-and-forth conversation in our staff email thread that I am going to post instead. For those who don’t know, our email thread is mainly a place where we discuss scheduling, news and story ideas, but occasionally a conversation develops organically.

We got to talking after that especially great Giannis Antetokounmpo game this past week about the Mavericks and draft strategy. It felt especially pertinent this year.

The discussion below has been lightly edited for readability and language. Enjoy!

Josh (@Boweman55):

I may write a short light-hearted column on why Mavs fans shouldn't feel bad about Giannis that I can have that ready to roll whenever.

Bailey (@BRogers789):

Josh, you can write a million of the best words ever (literally, I know you can), but I still won't feel any less angry about Giannis.

Doyle (@TheKobeBeef):

I think I'm the only one that doesn't care about not signing Giannis. It sucks. Whatever. Can't change the past. Moving on.

Ian (@SmitheeMMB):

On a meaner, even more cynical note, the idea of having Giannis also requires you take Donnie at his word when he says (well after the fact) that he was going to be his draft pick. The same guy who claims Dallas received multiple first round pick offers for Powell and Justin Anderson.


And would Giannis even have had the opportunity to develop in Dallas? Or would he have been riding the bench for numerous mistakes?

Ian: Not to go all Jason Garrett [Dallas Cowboys head coach] on everyone, but I'll judge the process, not the result. Trading back twice from their initial spot -- and giving up a second rounder just to jettison Jared Cunningham with the second trade-back -- was awful. Just awful. Clearly awful then and still clearly awful now. The fact that they blew it once they actually did draft somebody is really secondary in my eyes.


The Larkin draft was the pinnacle of pinching pennies for cap space. They saved like what, $900,000? It was the height of "if we have cap space, they will come" mentality, which is not how it works at all. Woo the superstar and you can create the cap space later. It was so backward and infuriating. Even if Donnie was lying about Giannis, I'm sure they like Schroder at 13. But nah, we need $900,000 to sign Dwight Howard so he can play with Dirk and a bunch of random guys.


I agree with Ian that the much larger complaint should be the overall handling of that draft, not just Donnie's claim that he wanted to draft Giannis. Donnie very well could've been fibbing about that or overselling it. But honestly, I really enjoy watching Giannis play basketball, so I will continue needling the Mavs about that possibility every chance I get.


Plenty of teams missed on Giannis, and you can play the "who instead" game up and down any draft, especially outside the top 10. The really frustrating thing for me has just been what I perceive to be an organizational de-valuing of the draft pick, when you look at actions rather than rhetoric. The idea that rookie contracts can "cost" you a chance at a superstar is nonsensical, because rookie contracts are designed and negotiated by the CBA to cost you next to nothing. Most good teams exhibit a greater appreciation for how true that is.

Kirk (@KirkSeriousFace):

The cap space saved was whatever the rookie salary contract was moving from 13 to 17, which I believe is under a half million.


That's the most galling part. If the "saving cap space for big free agents" argument by Cuban is to be taken at face value, then his interpretation of the CBA was just bafflingly wrong. Like Ian said, the CBA intentionally added value to the draft in that if you do it well, you can stock your roster with competent, cheap players to surround the stars you have or hope to have. The moves in that particular draft were doubly bad, because in addition to misreading the CBA, the actual money saved by moving back and drafting subpar players who never contributed was so negligible that it wouldn't have helped make room for Dwight anyway.


Ian's point about devaluing a draft pick is the crux of my concerns (and how I process those concerns on social media, haha). The new CBA essentially restricts movement of the cream of the crop for over a decade, so if you draft a super star, he's on your team for a long time unless he wants to leave a ton of money on the table. As Dallas goes about team building, they have to actually value the draft, whether it's the first pick or the 15th. We've seen great players come out of the middle and back end of the draft (Giannis, Paul George, most of Utah's team, etc.) it's just that none of those players are ever drafted by the Mavericks. Some of that is luck, but after a decade plus of making it a secondary option, I have a lot of questions about the Mavericks’ ability to assess talent in the draft.

Bailey's also right about Cuban's assessment of this past CBA. He assured us that the Mavericks would be ahead of the curve because they have the smartest people. The reality is that Cuban's best asset, his willingness to spend spend spend, was knee capped by the previous and current CBA and that the Mavericks are just as able as most NBA front offices.


It was really dumb, especially when teams like the Warriors were inventing cap space on the fly once they realized they could get a guy like Andre Iguodala. So saying they needed that microscopic amount of cap space was an absolute joke. they could have easily traded/waived someone if they actually managed to woo someone to Dallas and they needed that room.

What drives me crazy is if they just stood pat and relied on their talent evaluations, they probably would have hit in one of the drafts in the last five years. They pluck undervalued and under-appreciated dudes in free agency every year (Wright, Aminu, Mejri, Seth Curry). Imagine what they could do if their off-season mandate over the last five years was "save money literally in any shape possible."


The Mavericks missed on drafting Charles Barkley in 1984. Look, you miss guys in the draft. It happens. It will continue to happen. Dwelling on it will only drive you insane and make you #madonline. Don't be that person.

What I'd like to see from the organization moving forward is a reevaluation of how they perceive the draft. There's value to be had if they take the time to care rather than pinch pennies and chase ghosts. They selected Josh Howard 29th.

I think the team has turned the corner from its previous mentality. Justin Anderson still has promise despite his sophomore slump. They took a chance on Dorian Finney-Smith after he went undrafted that has panned out better than anyone outside of the organization could have predicted. They're starting to make savvy moves.

I hope this trend continues no matter where they end up in the draft this June.