In 2015 a franchise star was rising. A year after taking the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games in the first round a young and scrappy Golden State Warriors team ascended the NBA ladder, culminating in a title against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the beginning of a dynasty that featured five straight NBA Finals appearances and three championships. Quite the kickoff to a historic legacy.
At the same time an era of Dallas Mavericks basketball was tripping and sputtering to a close. Dirk Nowitzki gracefully transitioned from his prime and the franchise was searching different roads forward, offering the keys to Chandler Parsons and whoever else he might get to join him. Granted nothing had been the same since the summer of 2011, but it’s easy to forget the Mavericks were still a 50-win team in 2015.
It is easy to forget because that summer was a tire fire in Dallas. The recently acquired Rajon Rondo had quit on the Mavericks in their first round playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets. Soon after Mark Cuban was driving around the city of Houston trying to track down DeAndre Jordan in one of the strangest free agency stories in league history. The team recovered by signing the injured Wesley Matthews, the post-prime tandem of Deron Williams and JJ Barea, and trading for Zaza Pachulia after letting Tyson Chandler walk from the franchise for a second time.
It took just one more season, one more efficient playoff exit, for the wheels to fully come off. The Mavericks finally looked in the mirror and understood they needed to take steps back in order to move forward. They missed the playoffs for three straight seasons (two of which ended in a Warriors title), and were awarded a generational talent in Luka Doncic for their time.
Watching those seasons play out in real time it was easy to assume the Mavericks would never face the Warriors dynastic juggernaut. You never measure rebuilds in years, understanding that it takes a handful of lottery misses before a team regains footing. And even then, the path to relevance is long and winding.
But here we are.
The Mavericks trajectory doesn’t mirror that of the 2015 Warriors. That Golden State team had a collection of core players at or before their prime. This Mavericks team doesn’t have that same young core though both teams — the 2015 Warriors and the 2022 Mavericks — feature a nine-man playoff rotation with an average age of 27 years old according to basketball-reference.com. But just because their journeys aren’t mirror opposites doesn’t make these ships passing any less interesting.
Six seasons after the Mavericks rebuild began they find themselves in the Western Conference finals. The core is led by Doncic and his backcourt running mate Jalen Brunson, added in the same 2018 draft. Their supporting cast features the recent additions of Spencer Dinwiddie and Reggie Bullock with three players that have been around since the rebuild years: Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell. It may not be the usual road back to a conference finals, but getting the superstar is the hard part.
They have walked a dramatic path to this point, beginning without Doncic and most recently a ruthless dismantling of the league’s best team. Now to face the titans of an era, reignited after two years of injury. That these teams clash in the Western Conference finals, seven years after the first title for this Warriors core, is a testament to Golden State’s resilience and Luka Doncic’s star power. Now he and this team face their own opportunity at cementing a legacy.