After winning their first playoff series in a decade and making it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, optimism abounds for the Dallas Mavericks. The fanbase is excited, and their expectat— oh, what’s that?
Expectations are the thief of joy— Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) May 27, 2022
Never mind, everyone settle down. Keep those expectations in check. I can’t argue with Kirk, honestly. After all, last year when I wrote this column, I said basically the same thing when I quoted Sylvia Plath: “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”
But I did disagree with with Plath. Instead, I decided to listen to author Donald Miller, who said, “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” I gave up on the 2021-22 Mavericks being perfect, and for the most part, enjoyed the ride, which, if we’re all being honest, lasted way longer than anyone expected.
So what should we expect of the this year’s edition of the Mavericks? Another run to the conference finals seems a little greedy considering Dallas lost their second (third? Debate amongst yourselves) best player in this offseason without replacing his skillset. Then again, they did add a talented young big man in Christian Wood for practically nothing, and Luka Doncic has proven he has the magic to turn a good team into a great team on his own, at least for short stretches.
The Western Conference as a whole has gotten better, though. The Denver Nuggets will be at full strength with the return of Jamal Murry and (eventually, hopefully) Michael Porter Jr. The Los Angeles Clippers will be getting Kawhi Leonard back. Zion Williamson will be back on the court for a New Orleans Pelicans team that looked pretty good without him last season. The Portland Trail Blazers won’t be good, but they’ll have a healthy Damian Lillard, and added Jerami Grant, making them competent.
The Mavericks’ front office seems to have a plan to get through this season with only subtle tweaks or fortuitous waiver wire pickups, waiting for the pick they owe to the New York Knicks to finally convey. Once it does, they’ll have the ammunition to swing big on the next disgruntled superstar. Where does that leave the possible results for the upcoming season?
In the past, I would have told you to prepare for the sixth seed or even the play-in tournament. I think that’s the likely outcome still. Doncic can only win so many games by himself, and even though the Mavericks have solid role players surrounding him, none of them can carry an offense if he’s not on the court. Doncic played in 65 out of 82 games last year. I don’t think the Mavericks can survive him missing that many games, and between Dallas resting him and the inevitable minor injuries he’ll acquire throughout the year, I can’t see him playing many more than 65. Superstars just don’t do that anymore.
But Doncic has that eerie ability to do inexplicable things, a trait shared by the greats of the game. I’d be surprised if the Mavericks went 48-17 in the games Doncic played in, but I wouldn’t be shocked. We talk about Luka Magic for a reason. If they pulled off a record like that and went 6-11 in games without Doncic, maybe they can avoid the sixth seed or the play-in tournament.
I don’t think that’s happening, though, barring some major roster upgrade. The Mavericks overachieved last season, and they’ll probably underachieve this season. That’s okay. Great success stories aren’t linear, and the journey is just as fun as the destination. Maybe this is the year that sets up something bigger in the future. Or maybe Luka drags Dallas back to the conference finals again. The Mavericks surprised us all last year. I’m willing to let them do it again this season.