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The Mavericks are stuck in the middle

It’s really hard to see where this team goes

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Disclaimer: This post is about one writer’s feelings about the state of the team. It isn’t supported by numbers or research. Some of the opinions stated might be easily debunked but they are intended to describe the writer’s current feelings and as we all know feelings can and should, oftentimes, change.

This team has driven me to the one emotion I thought I’d never feel as a Maverick’s fan...apathy. To understand how I arrived at this point, it's important to go back to last season. I lived and died with every game. I watched all but three games live and often rewatched games the following day to get a better understanding of what was happening on the court.

Being able to watch games with the outcome decided allowed me to decipher what emotions would not allow me to in real time. After back-to-back first round losses against the Clippers, my goal for the team was simple, get over the hump and show signs of a team that could eventually make an extended playoff run. The team’s surprising Western Conference finals run felt great in the moment. Understanding that I may be alone in this sentiment, I didn’t think we would beat the Suns and boy was I happy to be wrong. I enjoyed every second of last year’s run and it was the most fun I’ve had as a sports fan since the 2011 title run.

As a side note, I am a fan of the New York Giants and New York Yankees. I’ve lived through a number of championship seasons, but none made me happier than watching Dirk achieve the unthinkable. Because of that run, I had been chasing that high for over a decade and thrashing Chris Paul by 40 points in Game 7 was as close as I ever got.

The series against the Warriors, however, was evidence that the Mavericks weren’t actually that close to being a true contender. Dallas was outclassed and unlike the previous two seasons, there was no room for any “what ifs”. For me, that series shaped how I felt about the team during the offseason. I was tired of fans stating a healthy Tim Hardaway Jr. would get us over the hump. I didn’t believe people when they told me that internal improvement from Josh Green could be a ceiling raiser. While I was alone in thinking Jalen Brunson shouldn’t have been handed a blank check, I admit that his loss was a tremendous blow to our short-term outlook.

On a positive note, the trade for Christian Wood trade felt like a breath of fresh air. I had gone on a number of rants about Wood’s potential and fit with us and many people called me crazy. It felt like vindication at the time but I can admit the results have been mixed this season, though he’s been great lately. He is everything I expected on the offensive end of the floor but his inability to consistently impact the game on defense has taken some of the wind from under my sails.

Regardless, this season was always going to feel like a disappointment. I wrote that this team felt like the 2019 Blazers. A team that made a fortunate run to the West Conference Finals and made the mistake of thinking they were closer than they were. I knew that a return trip was unlikely, and it would be hard for me to get too excited by anything that occurred in the regular season. As our Editor-in-Chief Kirk often says, expectations are the thief of joy.

What that run did put some of Rihanna’s Fenty lipstick on the proverbial pig. From the one-sided Haralabob hit piece, to the fumbling of the Jalen Brunson situation, to the broken process that resulted in Kidd’s hire, and the decision to hire a GM because of his “relationships”, everything about this team has felt wrong. But we have Luka and he is so singularly great that he alone can make up for our shortcomings everywhere else. He is the reason we try and talk ourselves into every Mark Cuban mishap. Sure, we are poorly run and have a front office and owner that can’t be trusted to walk and chew gum at the same time, but we have LUKA. Unfortunately, this team may have reached it’s peak. I’m well aware I’m writing this during a win streak against bad teams.

I’m not surprised by how the Mavericks have played this season. I expected it. Not because I am a pessimist but because I was honest with what Dallas is as a team. The Mavericks are a one trick pony that is in the position we are in due to years of incompetence. Dallas is the most predictable team in the league and relying on role players to hit open shots in order to win isn’t a fun watch (Editor’s note: except it is when the shots are really falling).

That overtime win against the Knicks aside, it’s hard to get excited about individual wins. Why? Because Dallas can catch fire one game and beat one of the league’s best teams one night than come out cold and lose to one of the dregs the next. Last season’s losses to the Kings stung because they were unexpected. At this point, is anyone actually surprised to lose games to the likes of the Wizards and Pistons? I would hope not.

Dallas seems to have a clear ceiling and that’s a shame. It’s a shame because we’ve done the hard part already. Landing a top five player in the league is what teams dream of. Teams often plan years in advance for the chance to land a player of that level. Many fail. And yet, we have one. Everything that comes after that should be the easy part, or at least easier. Showing creativity and executing moves on the margins to complement your star should be the easy part.

And yet, here the Mavericks are. And what’s worse is that there isn’t much hope on the horizon until the pick Dallas owes the Knicks conveys. I’ve written about this more times than you the readers have liked, but I’ve never wavered. We have no assets. None. When the next superstar decides he wants a change of scenery, we have nothing to offer. Recently, a sportsbook released odds on Trae Young’s next team and the Mavericks were inexplicably the betting favorites. It was laughable.

Not all first round picks are created equally. Milwaukee’s first round picks in the Jrue Holiday deal were coveted because Giannis had not yet signed his super max extension. Had he bolted for greener pastures, those picks would have been gold. Those Laker picks that everyone wants to talk about? They are valued because LeBron is turning 38 soon and Anthony Davis can’t stay healthy. The age and health of their stars plus an incompetent front office makes those picks extremely valuable. As far as the Maverick’s picks are concerned, betting against Luka just isn’t a smart play. We may never win a title but as long as Luka is healthy this team will never be a lottery team. Dallas putting 4 future firsts and 3 pick swaps on the table isn't the same as other teams, without a transcendent talent in his early 20s, doing the same.

As far as drafting help for Luka, I will personally Venmo someone $100 if they can send me a picture of Nico Harris scouting a prospect abroad. The Mavericks will, like they have for the past decade plus, likely punt on the draft.

How about a trade? As I mentioned, until we have all our own picks back, we can’t compete on the open market. Short of a player forcing their way to Dallas, few teams have less to offer than we do.

Maybe free agency is the answer? Not likely, simply because of history. Regardless of if we sign Christian Wood to an extension or not, our cap sheet isn’t in the best place moving forward and we would have to endure some dark days in order to get to the point where the team has functional cap space. With rumbling about Luka’s future already starting, you can forget about anything that would resemble tanking or purposely taking a step back.

The fact is that there isn’t an easy fix out there. Furthermore, it's impossible to trust that our owner and front office are capable of the type of forward thinking that could dig us out of this current hole. We aren’t a title team today and I don’t see how we can become a title contending team in the foreseeable future. In a league where individual players can have a huge impact, that’s a difficult pill to swallow.

The last time i wrote about my “feelings”, it was about Jason Kidd being the black cloud that hovered above the team. People had a lot of fun dragging me through the mud for my hot take, but I stand by my writing then and I stand by my writing now. Individual wins can’t sway me or change how I view this team’s long-term outlook. I take no pride in predicting we’d end up here and I hope this team achieves the level of success that will render this piece useless. I won’t, however, hold my breath.