Something weird happened last week. After long speculation of what would happen to the team’s two most attractive trade assets in Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams, one was a part of a package that netted Nerlens Noel, while the other was waived (after rumored buyout negotiations failed).
With all of the excitement around Noel, it seems as if no one has given serious consideration as to why the Dallas Mavericks would give up their starting point guard as they gear up for the home stretch of a push for playoff berth.
I’ll be completely honest: while I do not know the inner workings of the Dallas front office, I do not agree with this move. I’ve tried to make sense of it, and I can’t. Many posit that the move is the ultimate classy, good will gesture; the front office equivalent of putting good karma into the NBA universe hoping that it’ll come back for Mavericks fruition in the future. The thinking is that by letting Deron out of his contract and allowing him to join a contender like Cleveland, that agents and players around the league will take notice and think of the Mavericks fondly as a future landing destination.
While I question the logic behind giving up something tangible in the present for the hope of a future intangible benefit, I also acknowledge that there is probably more than meets the eye that went into the decision. My guess is that waiving Deron Williams is at its worst, the team hoping to stay competitive but miss the playoffs under the guise of commitment to the youth movement, and at its best, a front office concession that even if this team makes the playoffs, that another first round exit awaits them.
Deron Williams is a better player than Yogi Ferrell. Despite Yogi-mania, this shouldn’t be a controversial statement, as Rick Carlisle said as much before Deron’s return from injury against the Orlando Magic. When asked if and why D-Will would be reclaiming his starting spot, Carlisle was candid and clear: “Because D-Will is a better player. Let’s not forget how well he was playing before the injury. He was playing at close to All-Star caliber.”
While Yogi has been a revelation, going from the D-League to outplaying Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard in his first week, he isn’t yet able to match Deron’s production and value to this team. You can see it when he gets bullied by bigger guards like Jrue Holiday, when he comes off of a screen and misses an opportunity to immediately hit an open Dirk, or hesitates to pull up when a defender goes under a screen.
All of this can be distilled to the following question: why would a team be willing to get worse in the current season in exchange for future good will?
As mentioned above, the likeliest possibility is that as Dallas remains within striking distance of the 8th seed, the braintrust would rather miss the dance and increase the odds at drafting their point guard of the future. As great as Yogi has been, don’t think the team would hesitate to draft Lonzo Ball or Markelle Fultz.
But if Dallas was fully committed to making the playoffs this season, the commitment to the youth movement at this juncture simply doesn’t make sense when there are less than 30 games left in the season. Would Yogi’s progression as a player be notably expedited as the starter rather than being the primary back-up for Deron over this final stretch of games?
It is also possible that this move was made with the remainder of Dirk’s career in mind, rather than just this season. For the first time in a decade, Dallas has a legitimately promising and young core including Harrison Barnes, Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry, and Dorian Finney-Smith. With 30 year old Wesley Matthews holding down the shooting guard position for the foreseeable future, Barnes at small forward, and Noel at center, perhaps Dallas recognizes the premium on the opportunity to draft a star point guard as the team’s best chance at making some noise in the playoffs before Dirk retires, while simultaneously transitioning into a post-Dirk future. Too proud to openly tank, perhaps letting Williams walk was the team’s way of covertly tipping the scale in favor of the team’s future.
Looking at this situation from another angle, it is also possible that Dallas was willing to let Deron walk with the recognition that even if the team had made the playoffs with the former Olympian at the helm, that he wouldn’t effect the inevitable outcome of a first round exit against the Golden State Warriors. When viewed through this lens, the one of giving the reins to Yogi for the remainder of the season at the increased risk of missing the playoffs, the decision makes more sense: at best, Yogi gets a slight head start as a full time starter, at worst, Dallas plays 4-7 fewer games.
As I reflect, I think the reason that I’m unhappy with the decision to let D-Will go is because as a fan, I selfishly want to see the team make the playoffs. I want to see a healthy D-Will team up with Dirk, Barnes, Matthews and Noel in a valiant but unlikely attempt to upset the Warriors the way the Warriors did the Mavericks 10 years ago. When I think of this Dallas Mavericks team, this is what I would’ve wanted to see. But when I think of the Dallas Mavericks as a franchise, I get it. Sort of.
Nonetheless, goodbye and good luck to D-Will. At the very least, maybe we’ll get to see Deron Williams beat the Warriors this year in the playoffs — just not in a Dallas jersey.