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The Mavericks offseason was a big success, though questions remain

Dallas did most of their damage through the draft and trade markets, although their free agency attempts appeared a bit lackluster.

Dallas Mavericks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The offseason flew by with such speed that I’m still trying to process all that happened. Normally this period takes well over a month before the dust officially settles and instead due to the shortened season, it was compressed into less than a week.

I usually write some sort of offseason reaction column once we get a clear idea of what’s going on, but I’m going to take the cowards way out and just dump my thoughts, bullet-point style.

  • Let’s take a look at the totality of moves before we really get started: Drafted forward Josh Green with the 18th overall pick, drafted guard Tyrell Terry with the 31st overall pick, traded Seth Curry for Josh Richardson and the 36th overall pick, drafted Tyler Bey with the 36th overall pick, traded Delon Wright and Justin Jackson for James Johnson, signed Orlando Magic forward Wes Iwundu to a veterans minimum contract, retained guard Trey Burke with a 3-year, $10 million contract, retained center Willie Cauley-Stein with a 2-year, $8.2 million contract. Both the Burke and Cauley-Stein deals will be slotted into the Mavericks mid-level exception, worth around $9.3 million. There were smaller moves as well, signing undrafted free agents Nate Hinton, Freddie Gillespie and Devonte Patterson to non-guaranteed deals. Hinton and Bey are expected to take the two-way slots. Gillespie and Patterson were signed to Exhibit 10 deals, and may not be on the roster past training camp. Phew.
  • All things considered, the above moves translate to a successful Mavericks offseason and one in which I wasn’t sure the Mavericks had the ability to pull off. Entering last week only armed with the 18th and 31st picks plus the MLE, there wasn’t a ton of wiggle room for the Mavericks acquiring another starter-level talent on the wing that the team desperately needed. They pulled that off in the trade for Richardson, an ideal 3-and-D wing/guard to slot into the starting lineup to make shots, defend the perimeter, attack closeouts and maybe do a little playmaking, if Richardson’s last season in Miami is a hint of what’s left to mine out of his talent. In fact, I’d argue Richardson is a better fit and talent for the Mavericks than any of the other players that traded teams within the past week through free agency. I’m not a huge fan of Danilo Gallinari or Gordon Hayward, and Jerami Grant, while a dream fit, was too expensive with what the Mavericks had to offer. To grab Richardson and an additional solid pick in Bey is great value for Curry, who will be missed, but it needed to happen. I think Richardson’s efficiency should bounce back in a big way when paired next to Luka Doncic and think of his defense as “what we actually wanted out of Wright, except he’s bigger and longer.” When fully operational the Mavericks can project a lineup of Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis. That’s the most playoff ready lineup the Mavericks have had since 2011. I’m not joking.
  • To get Richardson and three solid NBA prospects on draft night feels like cheating. I’m not as high on Green as others, but I trust the smart people that have faith in him and he’s exactly the type of bouncy, athletic, defensive-minded wing the Mavericks need. Bey seems farther away, but fits the mold of another potential defensive badass that can guard multiple positions. Terry was considered by many draft experts to be the top shooter in the draft — he’ll be a perfect Curry replacement whenever he’s ready to play. Until then, Jalen Brunson and Burke should handle the backup guard minutes just fine. Thinking about the Mavericks draft 48 hours later still has me gobsmacked by how well the Mavericks did. This could be the type of draft we look back on four years from now when Doncic is on his big second contract and consider it busting open the championship window.
  • The first post-draft move was a home run as well. Removing the two worst rotation players from the roster is a win all in of itself, but doing so without taking back a long-term contract or giving up any draft capital is miraculous. Combine that with the fact that I think Johnson can still play and it’s well, tremendous. When the trade first hit, I wondered how much Johnson had left in the tank. He’s played just 32 and 55 games in the last two seasons, respectively. I dug into his run in Minnesota and came away pretty positive — he closed the season strong, showcasing his well-rounded and versatile game. Hell, he even played a lot of five for the Timberwolves, which you know Rick Carlisle must already be scheming about. Johnson’s toughness and ability to make plays at his size might endear him to the fans right away if he gets rotation minutes. He’s the perfect type of backup for this Mavericks team, one that had to scramble and improvise on the wing whenever Finney-Smith hit the bench. He’s also insurance for Green if he isn’t ready, which could be the case with no summer league and the short training camp the Mavericks face. He just feels like a seamless fit and the type of guy Carlisle will squeeze everything he can out of. These type of “positive-only highlight reels” are fairly deceiving, but I can’t help but get excited about a guy with this skill coming off the bench for Dallas.
  • It’s a good thing the Mavericks pulled all this off, because free agency was another lackluster slog. Here is where everyone yells at me that the Mavericks only had the MLE, so there wasn’t much they could do. That is true, and I agree! I wasn’t expecting much from the Mavericks free agency this offseason, but I was hoping for a new acquisition with the MLE. Instead the Mavericks used it for bringing back two bench players, one in Cauley-Stein who might be out of the rotation by January when Porzingis returns. I am glad the Mavericks ended up spending their money, because that money spent is far more valuable than not, if nothing else for contracts that can be used to grease trades. What really grinds me are the reports about the Mavericks chasing Marc Gasol, who then went to the Lakers once the Lakers opened up their cap space and losing out on Jae Crowder, who went to Phoenix for the same amount of money the Mavericks could afford, although we don’t know how many years the Mavericks dangled. There weren’t a ton of options with the MLE, but here are some additional players aside from Gasol and Crowder that could have fit that slot and helped next season: Derrick Jones Jr., Serge Ibaka, Tristan Thompson, De’Anthony Melton (RFA), JaMychal Green, Aron Baynes, Justin Holiday, Kris Dunn, Garrett Temple, Maurice Harkless, Patrick Patterson, and Harry Giles. At this point, my main qualm with Mavericks free agency is: when does it work? What’s the process? While nobody should have expected anything major, the fact that the Mavericks couldn’t do better than Wes Iwundu/Burke/Cauley-Stein when they had a $9.3 million mid-level exception is weird. The Mavericks just came off a successful season where they had Doncic take the MVP leap and make an All-NBA team at 21-years-old. They have one of the best coaches in the league and a well-respected organization in terms of the basketball side. They have a proven track record of getting the most out of all their players, improving their worth even if that contract doesn’t come from Dallas. When do these advantages start to pay off? Why is it a constant state of “well, next year is the year!” I applaud the Mavericks for creating a good team while still maintaining cap flexibility, but we all know how much cap space is worth at the end of the day. The 2021 class is stocked with talent the Mavericks pine for, but I really hope the plan isn’t to sell them on Luka and a bunch of cap holds, since Richardson, Hardaway and Johnson are all expiring. To sum this up in one question: why does it feel so hard for the Mavericks to get players to take their money? I’m not even sure who to blame for it anymore. Are the Mavericks not realistic to the market value of these players? Are they not selling what these guys want to hear? Do NBA players not really care for playing with Doncic, a foreign-born player most of them have no prior relationship with thanks to no AAU or college? Are the Mavericks inflexible and ridged in terms of who they target and what kind of contracts they offer? Do they really loved to be used as leverage all the time (Danny Green last summer, Marc Gasol on Sunday)? I just wish there was an answer to this, other than me twiddling thumbs and hoping for the best. There are three main avenues to roster-building in the NBA: draft, free agency, trades. The Mavericks have a track record of not being able to produce with one of those in a big way, yet the plan for 2021 appears to be cashing in on cap space. Hopefully they can do that with a trade, because history isn’t kind to free agency, no matter what the expectations are. This is an undisputable fact that I can’t get out of my head: in the two offseasons since the Mavericks drafted Luka Doncic, the two biggest free agency acquisitions in each of those offseasons were Delon Wright in 2019 and Wes Iwundu this offseason. That’s weird. It will continue to be weird to me until the Mavericks finally cash in.
  • Just going to put a reminder here as everyone tells me to go to hell: the Mavericks had a great offseason!
  • I’m not going to blow smoke with Iwundu — he’s a raw project and grabbing the Orlando Magic’s eighth man isn’t a wow move. Still, for some reason despite my inability to watch a ton of non-Mavericks basketball over the last two years, I’ve managed to somehow watch a decent amount of Iwundu, whether it was the rare national TV game or some playoff games. The dude can play. He was in the rotation for both Magic playoff runs the last two seasons, albeit just barely. That’s more than you can say about Wright or Jackson, and it matters that Iwundu has played 136 playoff minutes over the last two years. There are some really good looking on/off defensive numbers with Iwundu and his three point shot seems to be salvageable. He’s not even a guarantee to make the roster after training camp, since the Mavericks need to make a cut or two, but I like the low-risk move, especially if the Mavericks get spicy at the trade deadline and need some depth after a major shakeup. Iwundu feels like one of those Mavericks signings where the entire league five months later looks back and goes “how did we miss that?” Think Al-Farouq Aminu back in 2015, but on a smaller scale.
  • The next month or so will be interesting, with the lightening fast training camp and the looming deadline for Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his super max extension. If he doesn’t, oh boy does 2021 become both very exciting and extremely nerve-wracking. In a way, I almost hope Giannis signs the extension, if only so the Mavericks can move to plan B in December, rather than next year. Maybe that will force them into being more aggressive at the trade deadline and abandon the need to carry massive cap space into the offseason of 2021. That’s for another time though. The Mavericks are about to start playing real basketball very, very soon and they have a roster that’s a major upgrade from the one they ended the bubble with in August. Dallas went from having one 3-and-D wing to potentially six (6)! That’s all anyone could have asked for after they watched how the Mavericks ended the season against the Clippers. Dallas has the horses on the perimeter now, let’s see what happens.