Perspective is everything. And sometimes you get so locked into your point of view that you don’t see things clearly anymore. This is especially true in sports, and if you follow a team closely you might lose sight of the big picture. You start to love certain players more than you should, and hate other players more than is rational.
So I wanted to step outside of my Dallas Mavericks bubble and get the perspective of some people who cover other teams in the Southwest Division. Today I’m talking to Armin Khansari and Xiane of The Dreamshake, SB Nation’s Houston Rockets community.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Besides Luka, who is the most intriguing player on the Mavericks’ roster?
Armin Khansari: I think it has to be the newly-signed Reggie Bullock. We know how the other pieces fit around Luka Doncic, but Bullock brings Dallas another wing shooter to go with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith. The Mavericks can now run a lineup with all three of them with Kristaps Porzingis spaced out to give Doncic more room to drive. If those shooters can space the floor well and hit their open threes, Dallas can finally put their fourth quarter bugaboo to bed. Dallas has an elite offense in quarters 1-3, but it’s average when the game slows down. So Bullock could be the final piece to that puzzle.
Xiane: The obvious choice is Porzingis. Given what he’s paid, he absolutely needs to be a second star for the Mavericks, rather than a sort of siege engine that stands in corners and doesn’t defend. At this point in his career it seems we’re more at “if” it is going to happen for him, rather than “when.”
A second intriguing thing that I haven’t heard much about is new Mavericks coach, Jason Kidd. Kidd’s history as a coach isn’t inspiring. Maybe there’s some thought he’s a players’ coach, and ex-Mav, and that he can unlock even more point forward stuff from Luka. But I wonder. Rick Carlisle got great offense out of guys no one else in the league especially coveted. Will Kidd?
Are you worried about the Mavericks unlocking Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, or do you what we’ve seen out of Porzingis is who he is?
Armin Khansari: It’s easy to dump on Porzingis because he was poor in the postseason, but I don’t see him as a lost cause. A lot of people see the Kidd hire similarly to Houston’s hiring of Mike D’Antoni for James Harden: a way to take a superstar to the next level. In reality, Kidd’s tallest task is finding a way to incorporate Porzingis more into the game plan. That’s especially true in the fourth quarter when the game slows down and turns into Luka iso-ball. Rockets fans saw it for the last few years in Houston with Harden. When your team relies so much on one player to create, it becomes difficult for the others to make plays or make big shots. The Mavericks are going to have trouble trading Porzingis, so the only option is to move forward.
Xiane: Porzingis better not be a lost cause, if Dallas has hopes of making a conference finals.
What is the Mavericks’ biggest weakness?
Armin Khansari: It’s probably the lack of a second elite ballhandling creator. Look at the two teams in last year’s Finals: the Suns had two (Chris Paul and Devin Booker) and Bucks had three (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton) guys who could create for themselves or others at any time. Another creator would eliminate the anxiety that comes when Doncic heads to the bench. It also allows Doncic to get rid of some of the pressure of running the offense. I know that “Get another creator” is easy to say and hard to accomplish, but that has to be a big part of Dallas’s plan in the coming year or two. I know the cap situation seems dire, but star players seem to become available all the time. If a big name shakes loose, everyone outside of Luka has to be on the table. Dallas has a really good rotation, but Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. aren’t striking fear into the heart of contenders.
Xiane: Defense and secondary playmaking. Tied for first.
What’s a realistic trade you’d like to see between the Mavericks and the Rockets?
Armin Khansari: Houston is in full-on rebuild mode. So any trade from Houston would have to either A) make them younger, B) deliver them some picks, or C) get John Wall off the books. I doubt the Mavericks are interested in Wall, and Houston isn’t interested in Porzingis. Any deal would probably be a back-end deal. Something like DJ Augustin for Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Burke. If Dallas finds themselves in need of another 3-and-D wing, Danuel House Jr. or David Nwaba could be interesting, and Cauley-Stein makes the money work. Honestly, these two teams aren’t great trade partners because Dallas doesn’t have much that Houston would find useful at this point in their rebuild, and Dallas wouldn’t want to trade a first round pick (or two) to Houston to nab a needle-mover like Christian Wood or Eric Gordon.
Xiane: Gordon would do a ton for the Mavericks. Even if he’s in a down period, as long as he’s on the court, the defense has to respect him, and he’d instantly be the Mavericks best off ball scorer. Good Eric Gordon is one of the more fearsome shooters in the league. He worked really well with Harden, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t work well with Luka.
What’s the best case scenario for the Mavericks this season?
Armin Khansari: An NBA Finals appearance. The West is once again wide open. The Suns are still good but got some lucky breaks in the playoffs last season. A healthy Denver is scary. Utah knows this is a make-or-break year for their core. In Los Angeles, the Lakers are going to rely on Russell Westbrook in the playoffs (trust me, not a great idea) and the Clippers are going to rely on staying healthy. Portland doesn’t scare anyone beyond a potential first round upset and Golden State isn’t the same team that won 73 games with their Big 3. Dallas should run away with the Southwest Division since only Memphis poses a threat. The Mavs can definitely win 55 games with their talent, which should put them in line for homecourt advantage. Then in the playoffs, they match up pretty well against every team besides the Clippers. If they can get some good luck with the bracket, there’s absolutely no reason they cannot eye a Western Conference title. A Finals victory might be too much an ask, but stranger things have happened.
Xiane: Western Conference Finals, with health and improved play from Porzingis.