Two years. Six months. One week. Two days.
922 days in all.
Yes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and the Dallas Mavericks have been stepping for the last two and a half years to get back to a winning record. Monday night against the Chicago Bulls, they finally did it.
But honestly, as the Mavericks wrapped up that 2015-2016 regular season on that mid-April night, who could have predicted the path to winning would have been like this?
The Beginning of the End
If you can believe it, a 42-40 Dallas Mavericks squad was able to grab the 6th seed in the Western Conference in April of 2016, marking their most recent playoff appearance. To put that win total in perspective and affirm what a juggernaut the conference has turned into, 42 wins in either of the last two seasons would get you the 8th seed in 2017, and the 10th seed in 2018 in the West.
Nevertheless, Rick Carlisle got that group into the playoffs, wrapping up the regular season starting a unit of Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Justin Anderson, Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia — an average age of 30. After being eliminated in five games by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs hit the offseason, and took the first in many steps to accepting the reality they were facing as a franchise.
It began with using their only pick in that summer’s NBA Draft, a second rounder, on center A.J. Hammons, then focusing on making major free agency decisions. That meant letting Mark Cuban’s’ injured bestie Chandler Parsons walk for astronomical money. It also meant the Mavs continuing their summer tradition of striking out on other top tier targets like Mike Conley and Nicolas Batum.
Ultimately they went big and invested in Harrison Barnes, traded for his teammate Andrew Bogut, trying to make some semblance of a competitive team for living legend Dirk Nowitzki. A valiant effort, staving off the inevitable.
The Winter of our Discontent
It soon became clear that this Mavericks squad could do little to be competitive in 2017. The roster was littered with injuries and veterans that couldn’t collectively keep up with the pace of the league. Cuban’s and Donnie Nelson’s hand were being forced, and in January they made a small-slash-major move: signing ultimate diamond in the rough Yogi Ferrell. It was that move that fully ushered in a youth movement in Dallas. They soon released and shipped off vets, took a flier on Nerlens Noel, and prepared for a rebuild.
It was a long winter. A winter that made a pit stop to pick up Dennis Smith Jr., and then continued another full season. Often ugly, but always necessary. It felt like an organization and a fanbase was getting to relearn how to grow up again, watching Dennis Smith Jr. operate as a rookie. There were growing pains, but a fresh energy. And it was that path that allowed the Mavs to find some daylight.
Our Son of York
For the Mavericks, it always had to be about getting a player like Luka Doncic. In three games it’s already clear. He’s simply a cut above most rookies. Without trying to get too far ahead of ourselves (but really who cares), it feels like teams are willing to tank for years and years to find a player of Doncic’s ability.
Oh and, of course, signing the Maverick’s White Whale in center DeAndre Jordan doesn’t hurt. In 2018, the Mavericks are starting a group of Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Dorian Finney-Smith (for now), Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan — an average age just above 25. And when it comes to the new additions, the chemistry that Doncic and Jordan have found offensively already is enough to want to lock them in to contracts for eternity.
But let eternity wait. The tragedy and beauty of being a sports fan is knowing the journey has to be as fun as the destination — often because the destination everyone desires is so hard to get to. So just being content with being above .500, a simple 2-1 record, should be enough.
50 players. 52 different starting lineups. 167 games. A winning record. And maybe it all goes away quickly. It’ll be a battle of a season, no doubt. But for now, we’ll enjoy.