At 33-49, the Dallas Mavericks recorded their first losing record in 17 years last season. They also missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 campaign, which starred such notable players as O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Darren Collison. With Dirk Nowitzki nearing the end of a legendary career, the Mavs would like him to have a couple more cracks at the playoffs. After all, playoff Dirk is the best Dirk.
However, it’s going to be hard for Dallas to claim one of the West’s eight playoff spots — several other teams in the West either have more potential or flat out got better this offseason. It’s not impossible; it’s just going to be difficult. Dallas very likely needs to make another move or two if it wants any chance to make the playoffs this season.
We asked our staff: what do you think the Mavs need to do between the remainder of this offseason and the 2017-2018 trade deadline to assure themselves a playoff spot?
In order to make the playoffs, Dallas absolutely has to move to the Eastern Conference by the trade deadline. That's it, that's what will do it. Not to be a killjoy, but barring a ton of injuries suffered by better teams, I don't see Dallas making the playoffs. If Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry each take another huge step in development AND if Dirk is still Dirk AND if Wes suddenly becomes pre-injury Wes AND if Dennis Smith Jr. is immediately the obvious front runner for Rookie of the Year, then maybe the Mavs have a shot. Still a huge maybe in my mind.
Because here's the thing - Dallas needs to improve its wing depth. I don't think they're making the playoffs, but that is what I want to see them do with this offseason. Right now, you've got Barnes splitting time between the 3 and 4, Wes splitting time between the 2 and 3, and a single bench wing in Dorian Finney-Smith. That is not a playoff-caliber wing rotation. It's nowhere close to one. That is the glaring hole in the roster than must be fixed, playoffs or no.
On paper, I don't think the Mavs have a bad team at all, assuming they eventually strike a deal with Nerlens Noel. Cap space around the NBA has shriveled up, and the Noel signing should happen soon in my opinion. Even though Dallas has a fun roster with a lot of young talent, I think they'd need to make a big, probably unexpected trade to assure themselves a playoff spot.
The Kyrie Irving situation comes to mind here. As much as I'd hate to see Dennis Smith Jr. be traded away (probably with some 1st round picks), a move like this would, in my mind, assure the Mavs a playoff spot, probably somewhere between the five and seven seeds. Irving is a champion, averages 25 points and 6 assists per game and is still only 25 years old with two years left on his contract.
Right now there are five or six teams that are near-locks for playoff spots in the West. Altogether there are at least ten Western Conference teams that are as good or better than the Mavs. While they have a couple of really intriguing pieces, it's still a mix of veteran staples, young guns and several unknowns.
More than anything they have almost zero bench depth - so that's one realistic move. But adding a wing depends on outside factors coming in to play. Then Barnes, Curry, Noel and Smith Jr. would all have to make big strides. And Matthews would have to find his shot. And the entire roster would have to stay healthy. And even STILL they'd have to make a sizable midseason trade to assure themselves a spot. And since a move like that would likely compromise their future, I'm not on board.
There seems to be three paths to a Dallas Mavericks playoff bid in 2017-2018. One involves a DeLorean going 88 mph, and the second involves Dennis Smith Jr. becoming an All-Star in his rookie season, which hasn't happened since Jordan did it in the 1984-85 season. That is honestly how difficult things are in the Western Conference now.
Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are obviously the top four in the West right now, with Minnesota right on their heels. Then there are three spots to spare for Portland, Memphis, Los Angeles (I'll let you decide which one), Denver, Utah, New Orleans, and Dallas. Whew. That is a murders’ row of fairly average NBA rosters. The third path relies on Dallas getting into that mix and hoping for a few injuries along the way. Then they could sneak in with a Rookie-of-the-Year-level Dennis Smith Jr., All-Defensive Team Candidate Nerlens Noel, Portland-throwback-Wesley Matthews, Improved Playmaking Harrison Barnes, and Dirk being Dirk. Some of those seem improbable, but injuries to Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and others seem more likely than not. Basically, the Mavericks do not control their own playoff destiny this season. If they aim to have any chance in the playoff race then they must rely on outside circumstances - now back to that DeLorean idea...