There is a summer tradition for Dallas Mavericks fans: mercilessly refreshing twitter, turning on notifications, and waiting for the NBA Free Agency hurt. Just to feel something, to feel alive. It can be chronicled further back, but since the Mavericks won the 2011 NBA title they have amassed a trove of headline-grabbing misses in free agency.
The strategy was rather simple. Aim for the highest paid free agent, wait for him to pass on the Mavericks, then sign a collection of short term contracts to keep cap space free, and hope the next summer something changes. What resulted were few long term roster pieces and no superstars to team up with Dirk Nowitzki in his final years.
But looking back on those misses it’s hard not to believe the Mavericks were pretty lucky with most of those denials.
A summer after lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA Champions and then hastily blowing up the key pieces of the title team Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson set their sights on Deron Williams from the Brooklyn Nets. This miss was well chronicled as Cuban’s notable absence in free agency meetings was a huge blunder.
Williams was great that following season, averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game while shooting 38 percent from three. But that was the last season he played over 70 games, and his production in Brooklyn, as well as a stop in Dallas later, tailed off as he aged.
This summer was the biggest miss, though not as dramatic as others. The Mavericks took aim at Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, both dominant at the time. Reports surfaced that the duo decided together that Dallas would be a good destination for the two to team up. Howard’s eventual indecisiveness sent the two in opposite directions and eventually led Howard to the Houston Rockets.
Whether or not Howard’s personality would have blended with Rick Carlisle is anybody’s guess, but both Howard and Paul were still very productive in this stretch. They’ve both battled injuries, and Howard isn’t the starter level center he used to be. But this miss was rather unlucky.
In the season in between the Mavericks snagged Chandler Parsons away from the Rockets, perhaps some small revenge at the time. It felt like a turning point in team building. But the Rajon Rondo deal blew up the end of the 2014-15 season. Parsons battled injury, and the summer of ‘15 saw the infamous DeAndre Jordan debacle. Between the dramatic playoff exit and Rondo’s benching to Jordan being held hostage by his former team just a short time later, the Mavericks were down BAD.
And yet, the Mavericks learned just a few seasons later that maybe Jordan wasn’t a long term fit. He was still a double-double machine in Los Angeles. But his mobility and defense aged poorly, and rather fast. By the time he arrived in Dallas in 2018 at what would have been near the end of an expensive contract it was clear he wasn’t a fit.
A trio of free agents were linked to the Mavericks this summer: Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, and Charlotte Hornets wing Nicolas Batum. This was peak leverage season for Mavericks free agency. The reality of any of these joining the Mavericks is unclear, and probably unlikely.
Conley has battled a barrage of injury the last several seasons, but he was productive in his time with Grizzlies prior to his trade. The other two however have transitioned into role players. Whiteside has bounced around and has had just two seasons in the last six that he averaged a double-double. And Batum has averaged double-digit points in just two seasons.
This summer saw catastrophe with one of their own. Nerlens Noel balked at a four-year $70 million contract offer from the Mavericks on the advice of his then agent Rich Paul. He instead signed a one-year qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent the following summer. It all devolved from there, and while Noel has become a useful bench big he never blossomed into the potential the Mavericks saw in him that summer.
Many reports since 2019 indicate that Kemba Walker to the Mavericks was all but done, until Boston Celtics center Al Horford opted out of his deal. At the time, the 28 year old Walker was a three-time all-star and averaging 26 points and six assists. It would have been interesting to see how he would have played alongside Luka Doncic in that time.
Walker was still solid in his two seasons in Boston. But since then injuries and age have caught up to him as he’s now been traded multiple times since that deal.
Now the Mavericks find themselves in a new situation. They have one of the top tier free agents on their own team in Jalen Brunson. A player they drafted and developed and seems noticeably close with Doncic. But reports have indicated they are being outbid by the New York Knicks and the Mavericks are left scrambling with what very well could be nothing in return.
With things like injuries in play it is impossible to say now what kind of career Brunson will go on to have. Just like some of the stars above he looks like a lock to be an ultra productive starting guard for a very long time.
But looking back on all of these deals, from Dirk Nowitzki’s time to Luka’s, one thing seems clear: just because the Mavericks got lucky time and again on their free agent misses doesn’t mean their strategy was sound. And doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the consistent missteps of the front office in securing top level players to put around their superstar.