DALLAS — The NBA playoffs are in full swing and the Dallas Mavericks are watching at home like the rest of us. It wasn’t the season that anyone expected for the Mavs. Injuries devastated the veteran core they assembled early on, signaling a season lost before it even began.
“Not fun,” is how Mavs owner Mark Cuban described the season. “But we were on the Titanic going down and the life rafts worked. That’s about the only way you can say it. It’s not what we expected but you guys know from talking to me early that I thought we had a chance to have a good squad. But with injuries, we just couldn’t get it all together – something was always going on – that start just killed us.”
Dallas dropped 16 of their first 20 games and saw Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut, and J.J. Barea sit due to injury for much of the early going. Nothing was going as planned.
“This has been a disappointing year from a record stand point, there’s no question about that,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “There have been a lot of positives…but we’re not trying to hide the fact that this is not what we’re all about, losing 49 or 50 games, that’s just not how the Mavericks function.”
19 consecutive winning seasons at home isn’t a consolation prize when the season goes so awry. But there are some positives that can be gleaned from the season. The amount of injuries the team sustained forced their hand to play the young talent they assembled over the summer and through trades.
Players like Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell, Nerlens Noel, and Dorian Finney-Smith saw a combined 118 starts, establishing themselves as core players going forward alongside Nowitzki, Harrison Barnes, and Wesley Matthews. The Mavs also had quality minutes from Nicolas Brussino and Jarrod Uthoff late in the season. Then there’s also A.J. Hammons, who spent most of the year in Frisco playing for the Texas Legends.
Curry is the oldest of the group at 26. They rest are 24 and under. Developing these players is now the priority, making this summer all the more important.
“We’re going to have a lot of work over the summer,” Carlisle said. “There are going to be a lot of things to do with free agency and getting our young guys better. And as you can see, our young guys are pretty good but they got a ways to go too. Taking hits like we’ve taken this year is all part of developing a young team.”
So mark your calendars. Summer League begins July 7. Don’t be surprised if some of the rookies that saw major minutes (Ferrell, Finney-Smith) join the likes of Brussino, Hammons, Uthoff, and their first round draft pick in Las Vegas.
Watching the playoffs on television was not how the Mavericks envisioned their season when it started back in October. But because of their diligence and commitment to getting quality young talent, they have built a core for the future.
“We’ve been trying to get better and younger developing players,” Cuban said. “And the development side just got accelerated.”
Because of this, we may look back on this season as the catalyst for another decade-long playoff appearance streak. Perhaps it isn’t lost after all.