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Why didn’t the Mavericks keep Seth Curry?

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As the Mavericks search for shooting this summer, one has to wonder how Curry got away.

NBA: Preseason-Chicago Bulls at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As I watch the NBA Playoffs, I’ve been keeping one eye on the Mavericks’ off-season priorities and another on players and lineups that are doing well. The Mavericks definitely need to crawl before they can walk, in regards to just getting back to the playoffs, but nevertheless I keep looking at these playoff teams and project onto what the Mavericks need.

With the Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals, that means I’ve watched a lot of Seth Curry. You remember him! He was the deft signing in the summer of 2016, when the Mavericks plucked him after a standout April with the Sacramento Kings. Curry did beautifully in Dallas that season — he averaged career highs in just about every counting category after bouncing around the league. He averaged 30 minutes per game, shot 42.5 percent from three and was one of the bright spots in a downer year for the Mavericks.

It wasn’t just his shooting, either. Curry was a pretty good defender! While he stood just 6’2 and morphed between both guard spots while he was on the floor, Curry was a heady team defender with good hands. He was second on the team in deflections behind Wesley Matthews and generally made sure he was in the right spot at the right time. He wasn’t a lockdown type of guy, but he also wasn’t someone you had to worry about. Of the Mavericks four most played lineups that season, Curry was in three of them — and all three had postive net-ratings, which is pretty remarkable for a team that only won 33 games.

Curry’s followup season was a lost one. He never played a game dealing with a shin injury that eventually needed surgery. It stunk. However, Curry thrived in Dallas, stayed here for rehab and it was assumed he’d be back. He wasn’t.

It always seemed strange at the time and doubly so now that the Mavericks are entering a summer where shooting is their top priority.

Here’s the timeline from when last season ended, as I tried to piece together what happened:

  • The Mavericks draft Jalen Burnson in the second round, who is considered a steal. With Brunson in the fold, the Mavericks assumed backcourt is getting awfully crowded with Dennis Smith Jr., J.J. Barea and free agents Devin Harris, Yogi Ferrell and Curry.
  • On July 2, Curry signs a small deal with the Trail Blazers. Curry’s contract in Dallas was a 2-year, $6 million deal. His Portland deal is somehow smaller — 1-year for $2.8 million.
  • The Mavericks think they have a deal with Yogi Ferrell, but it falls through and he goes to the Kings on July 20.
  • Dallas brings back Devin Harris for another 1-year deal on August 8.

So, big picture, perhaps the Mavericks knew they could only keep one of Yogi and Curry and picked Yogi because of Curry’s health. Then the Yogi deal fell through and the Mavericks had scramble to bring back Harris.

Even then, that isn’t really that satisfying is it? If the Mavericks were truly concerned with Curry’s health, it feels like we would have heard something. And past that, Curry signed for such a small amount, it feels odd the Mavericks wouldn’t get there. The only thing we’ve seen reported about Curry leaving is this bit from a Mike Fisher article about Devin Harris coming back last summer:

While I predicted that Yogi would get “squeezed’’ (all the way to Sacramento, as it turns out), I also predicted that the team would want Seth Curry back. ... Which it did, but Curry made the personal choice to leave for Portland instead.

That seems pretty vague. When Curry left last summer, I always figured it would be because he would sign a richer deal than he did in Dallas and the Mavericks would punt as they wanted to maintain cap flexibility. That scenario made sense. But losing Curry to a cheap, 1-year deal? It feels like something else happened there or the Mavericks just whiffed.

It’s a shame, because it’s easy to see how Curry would have fit in here. The Mavericks were the fourth-worst three-point shooting team in the league this season, which is not good when your new young star is exceptional at feeding open shooters. How many times did Luka Doncic make a brilliant find to the corner or the wing, only for one of the Mavericks poor shooters to brick another shot? It was frustrating to see, especially so when Dallas had an ace-shooter in house that got away from them.

If you’ve been following my writing for the last year, you know this is a conundrum for me — I’ve been very loud in my belief the Mavericks need a big talent boost, with their roster feeling like it has the one and two guys (Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis) and then some end of the bench, rotation guys (Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, Brunson, Barea). Curry wouldn’t have been that big talent boost but he’d at least be a shooter. Dallas ended the season with Justin Jackson and Kleber being their best shooters, which is really not ideal. Porzingis will help, but there has to be more. Curry could have been that guy, especially since Doncic is basically the Mavericks point guard and Curry always played better in Dallas with another point guard on the floor.

So now we watch as Curry keeps getting big minutes against his brother and the Mavericks look to find more shooting. Dallas almost always nails this level of free agency — the B and C-tier level guys — but they missed on this one, for whatever reason. Maybe Curry wanted to play for a playoff team, maybe the Mavericks were spooked by his leg. Whatever the case, the Mavericks ended up losing three plus shooters in one summer (Curry, Ferrell and Doug McDermott) and they’ll have to find some others soon if they want to move forward.