The Dallas Mavericks loss to the Houston Rockets sent many fans — including myself — into a whirlwind of anger, disappointment, and angst. Despite a four month layoff, the Mavericks brought their fourth quarter antics with them to Orlando. A seven point lead vanishing within just 45 seconds should’ve made you upset, like it did for so many of us on staff.
But maybe it’s time we ask ourselves an important and overdue question: what was really the expectation heading into this season? Luka Doncic was heading into just his second season in the league, and it would be his first leading a team that was actually expected to be competitive. Kristaps Porzingis was coming off a serious injury and the expectations around him were optimistic yet cautious. This team, along with it’s many question marks, wouldn’t have been considered a disappointment if it had not reached the playoffs. In preseason predictions, ESPN and Bleacher Report both rated the Mavericks outside their top ten, while FiveThirtyEight gave them only a 59 percent chance to make the playoffs. So while our heads may hang low watching this team fold in the fourth quarter, it’s important to remember just how special of company this team is about to enter.
The NBA is calculated, deliberate, and often predictable. Creating a championship season takes years of planning and constructing an elite roster. Teams are willing to do whatever it takes to assemble a competitive team, going through years of misery to accumulate draft picks. The Dallas Mavericks are a unique story to be where they are. As Dirk faced the undefeated war against time, the Mavericks understood it was time to build a new roster and begin the rebuild. A roster that featured experience in Harrison Barnes and incoming rookie Dennis Smith Jr. entered the 2017-18 NBA season with mild expectations, and it’s good they were. The Mavericks quite frankly sucked that season, going 24-58 and finishing second to last in the Western Conference.
I bring up this horribly disappointing season for one reason: to show just how different this roster is now. Only four players on that 2016-17 roster are still in Dallas today. Of those four, J.J. Barea and Dwight Powell are the only two that were top ten scorers. This is surprising because contention teams typically don’t suffer a lot of turnover on their rosters. The 2018-19 championship Toronto Raptors roster retained seven of their players from two years prior while adding the leagues best two-way player in Kawhi Leonard. Of those seven returners, four were top ten scorers two years prior. The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors won a championship bringing back five of their players from two seasons prior and adding Kevin Durant. Among those five were the core of the Warriors in Stephen Curry, Klay Thomspon, and Draymond Green.
While the Dallas Mavericks may not be at the caliber of these teams just yet, they still own the third best odds to win the Western Conference heading into the restart. This is incredible when you think that the Mavericks two leading scorers have only played 42 games together. The Mavericks had every excuse to spend this season gelling, not winning. But here they are. Despite the injuries, very different roster, young pieces, and new system, the Mavericks are a playoff team.
While the headaches of this season may continue to sting, a look into the future shows promise. The Mavericks have two good draft picks in a class full of role players ready to contribute. They could also use one of those picks in a trade package to obtain a third core piece. They’re heading into a free agency period with plenty of high-level role players, and also a couple of stars. Eight of the current Mavericks are under contract through the 2021-22 season. All but three players on the roster are under 30 years old. Most importantly, their two stars are under 25.
As Luka Doncic and Kristpas Porzingis continue to develop and play together, this team will get better. There is plenty of promise as they are led by a coach who has won a championship before. The growing pains will be obvious this season, but through them remember what the future holds.