Facing a lack of a third ball handler on the roster, the Dallas Mavericks have turned to Kemba Walker. The former all-star isn’t what he once was, but the Mavericks don’t need that. They just need a competent point guard to eat minutes when Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie sit, miss games, or get injured.
It’s a problem they’ve faced the whole season. Worse, it’s a problem of their own creation. Having to scramble to find someone who can dribble a quarter into the season is emblematic of the casual and haphazard way the Mavericks operate.
After Dallas went on a miracle run to the Western Conference Finals last season, the one question mark going into the offseason was the status of Jalen Brunson. He was a key part of the Mavericks’ attack, and they had no obvious replacement on the roster. No matter, because after the Mavericks fell to the Golden State Warriors, Mark Cuban proclaimed the Mavericks could pay Brunson “more than anybody. I think he wants to stay and that’s most important.”
That turned out to not be the case.
Just two months later, Cuban had changed his tune, telling the Dallas Morning News: “It’s weird, because we kind of knew it was happening. There was a whole confluence of issues coming along. After we got eliminated from the playoffs, and there’s hint after hint after hint. So by the time it happened, we knew he had already broken up with us. And so it was just a matter of who else he was going to start dating. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, oh my goodness, I can’t believe this is happening.’ It was, ‘OK, it’s coming.’”
Based on that statement, it seems Dallas had a good idea that Brunson, their best playmaker besides Doncic, was leaving as early as June. Despite this, they saw no reason to find a replacement for him. They felt his replacement was already on the roster.
“People forget we have Frank (Ntilikina), who will be better this year,” Cuban told Dalton Trigg of Dallas Basketball. “We went into last season with Luka, JB and Frank and turned our season around more than a month before the trade deadline.”
Nico Harrison echoed the sentiment at the start of training camp, telling the guys at Locked On Mavericks he was happy with the roster:
That’s probably the reason they passed on signing Goran Dragic for the veteran minimum, despite him fitting an obvious need. The Mavericks saw Dragic as riding the bench and providing good vibes, not actually playing. He wasn’t interested.
Dallas made it a week into training camp before they realized what everyone who watched them last season knew—Ntilikina and Green couldn’t be their third string point guard. So they signed Facu Campazzo. It’s safe to say Campazzo’s phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with offers.
By November 15th, Jason Kidd admitted the Mavericks still only had two ball handlers on the roster, and Campazzo was barely playing.
Now Walker is here as a solution to a problem the Mavericks refused to admit they had. There was time to find a quality third string playmaker using their tax payer midlevel exception. They chose to target JaVale McGee instead, even though they already had plenty of big man depth. Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Christian Wood provided enough firepower to play the way the Mavericks’ style. A style that powered them past centers like Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Ayton, and ironically enough, McGee in the playoffs last season.
Now McGee can’t get on the floor this season, reminiscent of how he couldn’t stay on the floor for the Suns when they faced the Mavericks in the postseason last year, and the Mavericks are cycling through free agent point guards.
There seems to be a lack of a vision for this franchise, despite having a generational player on the roster. It’s nothing new, though. This dysfunction is the way Cuban wants things to be. He came up in the Dot Com startup era, which was pure chaos. He thinks organizations thrive this way, and runs the Mavericks as such.
The Mavericks aren’t looking any different under Nico Harrison than they have the last twenty years, because Cuban is still neck-deep in the process. Cuban admitted to this in 2014, saying “I micromanage you until I trust you.” It seems that he does not yet trust Harrison to guide the Mavericks any differently. I guess you could debate whether this intuitive, gut-feel, swing for the fences method of running a franchise is the way to do it or not. But in the Luka Doncic era, it hasn’t worked. There’s still a chance to do things differently, but time is running out.