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Lamenting the timing of the Mavericks sudden rebuild

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Dallas is on the right path now, but it’s hard not to think about how the twilight of Dirk Nowitzki’s career could have gone.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting at my desk, pounding my head against the wall after another NBA blockbuster scrolled across my Twitter timeline, I took a break to see this.

That’s five All-Stars (some All-NBAers) all switching teams within just one off-season after the stunning Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade of Monday night. A dream scenario for any Mavericks fan that froze themselves in carbonite after the 2011 title victory.


Confused person emerges from melted liquid, squinting against the now suddenly bright light.

RECENTLY THAWED MAVERICKS FAN: “Oh boy, it’s been six years! How many titles have the Mavs added to their collection?”

ME: “None.”

RECENTLY THAWED MAVERICKS FAN: “Hmm, okay. It’s hard to win in the NBA, I get it. How many All-Stars have we acquired since?”

ME, BROW FURROWING: “None.”

RECENTLY THAWED MAVERICKS FAN: “Oh.”

ME: “Yeah.”

RECENTLY THAWED MAVERICKS FAN: “So all that posturing to save money to sign a big fish...?”

Me: “Nothing.”

RECENTLY THAWED MAVERICKS FAN: “Neat.”

Recently thawed Mavericks fan proceeds to freeze himself again


Let me be clear: right now, the Mavericks are fine. They’re on the right path and have, at least, an entertaining future ahead of them. Dennis Smith Jr, Harrison Barnes and (eventually) Nerlens Noel should at the very minimum be a trio that produces fun basketball to watch even after Dirk Nowitkzi retires. It’s more than anyone could have hoped even 12 months ago.

Yet I can’t help but feel a small pit form in the bottom of my gut, seeing such a flurry of giant, landscape-shifting NBA moves made in such a short amount of time. When the Mavericks let Tyson Chandler walk (twice), they made it clear that their plan was to game the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement and land a star that would make Dirk the second-best player. As Dirk declined (as ever slow as that process has thankfully proved to be), the team would stay afloat with another star to ease his burden. Hell, it was supposed to happen.

It didn’t happen. Instead we got a Mark Cuban blog post (and a...CyberDust message).

Instead of watching Dirk compete deep into the playoffs as his career winded down, he was met with the first-round failures that ironically enough plagued the team right before the 2011 breakthrough. Unlike those teams though, most of the first-round exits since the title have been so thoroughly unsurprising that just making the playoffs appeared to be more of the achievement than anything else. It is not the way his career should be ending. There was a brief glimpse of hope when Tyson Chandler returned, but it barely lasted a full-year before the Mavericks cashed in their chips on the wrong All-Star. Now Dirk will quietly help a rebuilding team.

That sucks. Even with the Mavericks’ younger tide washing in, it sucks that we didn’t get more Playoff Dirk. Playoff Dirk is the absolute best.

Instead of dragging the dreck of the free agency barrel to the playoffs, Dirk was supposed to be basking in the post-free-agency-coital glow of a secondary role and multiple playoff runs.

That’s why looking at that tweet hurts. It should be Paul George coming to Dallas to give Dirk his final stand. It should be Chris Paul running point and pick and pops with Dirk to breakthrough his second-round curse. The Mavs should have been the ones to slyly pluck Isaiah Thomas for cheap and turn him into an MVP-candidate. Dwight Howard is now on his third team since 2013 — none of them are the Mavs.

Dirk deserved better. The future is exponentially brighter than ever before in Dallas, but it’s hard not to think about how much better the recent past could have been.