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Jason Kidd’s most revealing phrase of the season so far

How did this bombshell not get more attention?

Denver Nuggets v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Coachspeak. The art of using vague platitudes to answer specific questions. Some coaches are better at the parry and thrust of it but the goal is always the same. Run out the clock on journalists without creating controversy or breaking any news. Compliment your players, compliment the opposition, and mix in some Dad joke humor to keep things light. Talk a lot, say very little.

You are forgiven if you don’t watch Jason Kidd press conferences. If anything newsworthy comes out of these post-game or post-practice question-and-answer volleys, it gets plastered on every Mavs-centric outlet in minutes. Go on with your day and check MavsMoneyBall reasonably often - you’ll be kept up to speed. That’s usually true.

Yet, this time, it didn’t happen. If it was mentioned on a Mavericks podcast, I missed it. In years past, I’d just be shaking my head that no one was keying on this statement. Over a week after Kidd dropped this bombshell, I looked in the mirror shaving this morning and realized something surreal. If I don’t write about this, maybe no one else will - so here we are.

After the Mavericks beat the Clippers on November 15th 103-101, Kidd was asked about the minute load on his starting backcourt - Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie - and he answered this way:

“Well, we’re the sense that we only have two ballhandlers.”

Here are some tacit implications that fit under that colossal umbrella statement:

Losing Jalen Brunson to the Knicks broke the Mavericks. The offseason rendered no suitable replacement via free agency or trade at a price Dallas was willing to pay. The coaching staff - and one would reasonably assume by extension the front office - views this roster construction as fundamentally flawed. During training camp, Josh Green and Frank Ntilikina were put forward in interviews with Mavericks’ brass as possible playmakers to soak up some of the void left by Brunson’s departure - a fanciful thought at the time. The signing of Facu Campazzo has been internally deemed ancillary at best. Perhaps, most of all, the use of the word “yet” would suggest that the Mavericks aim to solve this issue in the trade market before the deadline.

Why is this the most glaring roster deficiency? With opponents knowing that drop coverage is a veritable thanksgiving feast for Luka Doncic, the standard pick-and-roll coverage is to switch on every screen. With only one playmaker on the floor, defenses are able to switch and recover much more easily if the other four Mavericks are spot-up shooters who rarely attack closeouts and the dunker’s spot who rarely shoots from the midrange. Mix in Spencer Dinwiddie and teams have to worry about more than what Doncic will do on a given possession. The mere presence of the secondary creator creates permutations that defenses are hesitant to abandon guarding against. Another player on the weak side, just a pass or two away - who can pass, shoot, or dribble penetrate the way Dinwiddie can - keeps defenses honest and gives Doncic more breathing room to operate. Trading for Spencer Dinwiddie last season unlocked this dynamic and losing Brunson resealed it.

Having no bench guards who can be trusted to fill this role against quality opposition has a trickle-down effect. Luka’s usage rate is sky-high. Spencer was leaned on for 41 minutes against the Clippers which visibly impacted his performance in the loss to Houston while Doncic rested. Dinwiddie’s shoulder injury from the loss to Denver further underscored how vulnerable this dimension of the roster remains.

When asked later in the same interview if the Mavericks are concerned about the burden presently carried by his starters, Kidd admitted the problem and pointed towards an internal solution. After joking he might turn back the clock to help out personally, he suggested, “Frank, Campazzo, other guys are gonna have to step up. The marathon’s too long to put this type of pressure on those two.”

Frank Ntilikina provided some timely defense in the playoffs against Devin Booker but has never shown the ability to step into the lead bench guard role Dinwiddie manned last season. Facu Campazzo is a pure point guard who can absolutely facilitate yet he can also be played off the floor once opponents figure out it is safe to sag off him the way the Rockets did.

Later in the same post-game press conference, when asked if the Mavericks aim to fill this void with a player from another team, Kidd obfuscated. “We’ve got guys on this roster. We’ve got to give them a shot before we can start talking about somewhere else”. Campazzo has played more than 4 minutes twice. Frank has yet to see much action since returning from injury. Will the next handful of games include meaningful minutes for either of those players?

To hear the coach of the team you faithfully follow, cheer for, and now write about admit the roster isn’t “built yet” is both deflating and weirdly reassuring. The Mavericks understand what worked last season and what is missing so far this time around. For all the talk about solutions on the current roster, we all know what is coming - another midseason overhaul via trade. The deadline of February 9th may feel far away but there is reason to believe that December 15th - the date when newly signed free agents can be included in a trade - will kick off a flurry of trade activity in just about three weeks. Many teams will be angling for the lottery that in other years might try to sneak into the playoffs. A shot at Wemby is a tanking enticement of otherworldly proportions.

This means Dallas - even with ample incentive to hold onto their first-round draft picks until after the next draft - can dangle expiring salaries and second-round picks to address needs. They have every reason to believe they are about to be buyers in a buyer’s market with prices on available veterans plummeting from what they were likely told in exploratory inquiries during the offseason. Hence, the Mavs aren’t “built, yet”.

In the meantime, there is another option. There is a point guard not mentioned by Kidd in his answers. A player who is currently averaging 22 points and 8 assists a game. Best of all, he is already on the Mavericks roster. Two-way contract player McKinley Wright IV is playing exceptionally well for the Texas Legends and may well be the third-best point guard in the Mavericks organization. Unless and until Dallas is able to conjure up a trade that provides the missing pieces for the stretch run, is the coaching staff willing to give Wright IV a chance to perform at the NBA level with 10-15 minutes a night to preserve the starters? If he can, the Mavericks may be able to avoid seeing Luka hit a wall by Christmas.