If you have Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet notifications on, then you might have let out a scream of joy in your car like I did at 12:10 AM on November 21st. This Woj Bomb stated that in addition to James Johnson, Trevor Ariza was headed to Dallas in exchange for Delon Wright. An exchange of Delon Wright for 2 veteran wings that could play impactful minutes seemed almost too good to be true. That is, of course, because it was. 11 minutes later, Woj clarified the trade by explaining that Ariza was making his way to Oklahoma City along with Justin Jackson.
For those 11 minutes, Mavericks fans everywhere rejoiced at the idea of adding a potential game-changing player before being filled with the disappointment of what could have been. Which got me thinking: this is not the first time Mavs fans have felt this way. Headlined by the Deandre Jordan fiasco in 2015, the Dallas Mavericks have had a history of almost acquiring key pieces or even a star, only to have the deals fall through in the 11th hour.
This is why I took a deep dive into Dallas’ rich history to find the best Mavericks that never were. Although some players almost came to Dallas at some point in time and ended up with the team years later, I still counted them. Some of these what-ifs may keep you awake at night.
Here are the Top 5 Almost-Mavs of All Time:
#5 Shaquille O’Neal (2004)
Now, you may be thinking to yourself: how is one of the most dominant centers in NBA history on the backside of his prime only number 5 on this list? Well, I have to admit, The Big Aristotle being this low might have been an emotional decision. However, I think it is one that any fan of the Dallas Mavericks can agree on.
Yes, it’s true, Shaq averaged 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and even led the league in field goal percentage at 60.1% in 2004-05. It’s also true that he made 4 All-Star games over the next 5 seasons. But what these stats don’t tell you is how the Mavericks would have acquired him.
Shaq wanted out of Los Angeles, and Mark Cuban even claimed that Shaq would tell him to “come and get me,” but the only way he was making his way to Dallas was if they gave up Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was 26 and unproven in the postseason, Shaq was 32 and a 3-time champion, but Mark Cuban sided with Dirk. He even said that Nowitzki was “as close to untouchable as we’d get.” No Dirk for Shaq swap was made, and the rest is history.
#4 Deandre Jordan (2015)
If you are a Mavs fan and were born anytime before 2006, you likely remember the summer of 2015. With 10 contracts expiring and loads of cap space, they were looking to add a big star. And they did. At least for a moment in time they did.
Deandre Jordan initially agreed to a 4-year, $80 million deal with the Mavericks. However, on the last day of the moratorium before contracts could officially be signed, he had a change of heart. Behind a door sealed shut with a chair, Jordan elected to return to the Clippers. In 2015-16, he averaged 12.7 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, led the league by shooting 70.3% from the field and even threw in All-NBA and All-Defensive 1st Team selections. Dallas started Zaza Pachulia that year, and made the playoffs for the final time before 2020.
Jordan would have likely extended the Mavericks’ playoff window at the time, but seeing his decline firsthand when he eventually signed with Dallas in 2018, a once unthinkable nightmare is now water under the bridge in Dallas Mavericks history.
#3 Dwight Howard (2013)
When things didn’t work out for the (then) 7-time All-Star in LA, he looked to Texas for his next home. The Mavericks needed defense and Howard was 1 year removed from 3-peating Defensive Player of the Year. A dominant Dwight Howard in his prime alongside Dirk, who was still playing at an All-Star level, could have given the Mavericks what they needed to make another title run. Superman ultimately decided to take his talents to Houston, a move Mark Cuban called a “mistake in judgement.”
This what-if is particularly fun to think about. In 2013-14, Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game. He made his final All-Star game that year and the Houston Rockets finished with 54 wins. Dallas pushed the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to 7 games that postseason, before exiting the playoffs alongside Houston in the first round. The Mavericks started Samuel Dalembert at center for the majority of the year and got that close to making a surprise run at the championship. It may be torture to fantasize about the possibility that Dwight Howard could have helped bring Dirk back to the promised land.
#2 Paul Pierce (2005)
Yes, the 9th and 10th picks of the 1998 NBA Draft almost played together. In the summer of 2005, Paul Pierce was almost traded to the Portland Trailblazers, but the Celtics All-Star had another destination in mind.
“I think back then, I was telling my agent, you know, if you can get me to Dallas, you know, that’s where I wanted to go at the time,” Pierce said on The Vertical podcast in 2016. “Because I was like, ‘I think Dallas is, you know, a player like me away from winning (a title).’”
The future ESPN analyst said it himself, the Mavericks were a player like him away from winning a championship. He averaged 26.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 2005-06, and every Mavs fan remembers how that season ended for Dallas. If only the Mavericks had another star…
#1 Kobe Bryant (2007)
In a 2019 interview on Fair Game with Kristine Leahy, Mark Cuban went into detail on a trade that nearly brought the Black Mamba to Dallas.
“I thought we had a trade done,” Cuban said. The trade involved Jason Terry, Josh Howard and picks. Cuban continued, “(Jerry Buss) took one last shot at talking Kobe out of it; (the trade) didn’t happen.”
This last ditch effort by Buss paid off for the Lakers in a big way, as Bryant averaged 28.3 points, made 1st Team All-NBA and All-Defense, and won league MVP in 2007-08. The Lakers then won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010. To think that MVP Kobe would have been added to a team with MVP Dirk is a thought that will haunt Mavs fans forever. Although, 2011 would not have been nearly as sweet if this deal had gone through.