If you’re a regular reader or listener of Mavs Moneyball, you know one of our longtime complaints, going back to the off-season of 2019, is that the Dallas Mavericks as a front office aren’t doing enough to build a title contender right now. Our stable of writers doesn’t agree on much but we all agree that when you have a top five player, and make no mistake Luka Doncic is absolutely a top five player, a team should build a title team around that player by whatever means necessary as quickly as possible.
While Dallas has been limited in options due to the draft picks they owed for the Kristaps Porzingis-Tim Hardaway trade, that’s simply not our problem. The best front offices succeed due to a healthy combination of hard work, creativity, and luck. Every year they’ve sold us something big, then re-arranged the roster pieces just so, then told us to be grateful.
But for now, that’s fine. It’s led to where we are now, with the Mavericks at 10-7. That’s good for fourth in the West! If you’d have told me after nearly a quarter of the season the Mavericks would be fourth, you’d think I’d be pretty excited. I am excited! I swear!
The numbers surrounding the Mavericks are bad to bizarre at points, depending on how you want to interpret or disregard the data (after all, we’re not at 20 games yet, which is when things stabilize over a season and both Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have missed time). At the moment though, I’m choosing to regard all points of concern (point differential, offensive rating, etc.) as areas for potential improvement.
This is all preamble though: the Mavericks should really consider going for it and making a run for the Finals this year. Of course, you’re probably thinking “Kirk, they try this every year, it’s the whole point.” I disagree. I’ve felt like the Mavericks are waiting for something, whether it’s a sign of increased maturity in how Luka Doncic approaches the game or Porzingis rounding into some form of sustainable health or a third star angling to come to Dallas. Whatever they’re waiting for, it’s might be time to stop waiting. The Western Conference is right there for the taking.
A team can build and plan to make a run for greatness, but it’s remarkable and often frustrating how luck can play a factor. Take a look at the Denver Nuggets, for example. They’ve been devastated by injuries, from Jamal Murray’s ACL tear, Michael Porter Jr’s alarming nerve pain in his back, and now PJ Dozier’s season ending ACL tear. The Clippers are working through missing all multiverse forward Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers are old and poorly constructed with a rough schedule ahead. The Blazers are simply not good enough and likely won’t be. The Grizzlies are too young and despite their talent, might not figure it out yet.
Of course, the Golden State Warriors sit atop the West, looking locked and loaded with Klay Thompson waiting in the wings. The Phoenix Suns have had the Mavericks’ number for years. The Jazz are an amazing regular season team, year after year.
Are the Mavericks better than any of these teams? They can certainly hang with the Suns, though they don’t beat them very often the last several years. The Jazz I just don’t take seriously in a seven game series; I just have faith that Luka Doncic would figure out their defensive schemes. The Warriors and Steph Curry cast a long shadow, but I want to see them play Dallas. For the first time in a while, it feels like there isn’t a rampaging, unstoppable super team in the league, especially with the Nets looking more mortal than most thought without Kyrie Irving.
The Mavericks have a lot of things to work out. There’s a lot about how they’ve won that doesn’t make sense relative to a year’s worth of games (they have to have a positive differential eventually, for example). But there’s a chance here. A real chance. So the more I think about the long view of the Mavericks this year, the more I believe they should figure out whatever they need to do to improve this roster right now. While I’m well aware of how married some parts of the fanbase are to specific players, they only way to try to improve midseason is to take chances. And as the league starts to shake out over the next 10 games and it becomes clear which teams have a chance at the play-in or better, the Mavericks should work the phones and hit the market early.
There’s an oft-repeated line in NBA history that young superstars don’t win championships. That’s backed up by history too. And yet Giannis Antetokounmpo just won his first title at 26. There’s not a basketball reason for why Luka Doncic isn’t good enough yet to take a team to the NBA Finals. It’s up to the Mavericks to work out what pieces they need to surround him with to give the Dallas Mavericks the best chance of getting there. It’s never too soon.
So why not us and why not now?