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Slacking Off Ep 3: Assessing the Mavericks first 16 games of the season

Rummaging through the pantry for answers

U.S.-LOS ANGELES-NBA-CLIPPERS VS MAVERICKS Photo by Ringo Chiu/Xinhua via Getty Images

Our third installment of Slacking Off sees David Trink and I hop on Slack to chat with our colleague, Jack Bonin. It is about 6 a.m. Texas time Wednesday morning, the sun is not quite up yet but it will be by the time we finish this chat. We take the pulse of the Mavericks after two games in LA and the conversation floats around quite a bit before landing on some movie recommendations.

Brent Brooks: Just after the Bears defeat the Vikings on Monday Night Football, David Trink and I are joined by our colleague Jack Bonin to discuss the Mavs - and anything else that pops up in this edition of Slacking Off. But first things first, Mr. Bonin and I are facing off this coming week in the MMB Fantasy Football league and I would like to preemptively congratulate you Jack - your team is monstrously good on paper despite the tough record so far. Also, David has been rallying the last few weeks as he said he would - all while I float around .500.

Jack Bonin: Much like our beloved Mavericks, it’s been an up-and-down year in fantasy for me thus far. I look forward to our matchup and hope I have better fortune than the Mavs during the last 4 games.

David Trink: Jack, I hope I never play you in fantasy again. That was one of the most traumatizing losses I’ve ever experienced. Not unlike every Mavs loss for the last five years.

Brent: Let’s talk about these last two games - vs Lakers and Clippers - what did you feel, what did you think, and what can we read in the tea leaves about what these two games say about the Mavs presently?

David: I think both games really exposed who this team is. Really bad perimeter defense, and are really reliant on shot-making as well as elite star play. Nothing we didn’t already know but the Clippers game showed their true colors when they don’t score at a historic level.

Through the highs and lows, and the Clippers loss was a low, I try to remember that just a playoff berth would be a successful year. This is the first building block of many successful years to come.

Jack: The first three quarters of the Lakers game showed how dominant this team can look when their formula is working. For whatever reason, the Lakers were aggressively forcing the ball out of Luka’s hands and leaving the Maverick shooters wide open. Luka put on a playmaking clinic and the shots went in, and Dallas looked like world-beaters. We all saw what happened in the fourth, and it seemed like that carried over into the Clipper game. This thing can work, but it operates on the thinnest of margins. If teams take away open threes and force Luka and Kyrie to go god mode, and they don’t, there’s nothing this team can do. The defense is a sieve. It’s somehow worse than last year!

Brent: The defense seemed to be a touch better during those first three quarters and then the dam broke. My headcanon is lending that early spark holding the Lakers down to some combination of embarrassment from Kidd calling them soft in the media and the Lakers underperforming - but the house of horrors in LA seemed sure to gobble them up and somehow it didn’t. Just enough backcourt magic. Yet it is a game that feels different than “just a win” when you lose a big lead and claw for your life at the end. As for the Clipper game, this trend concerns me. I am not trying to read too much into it other than the obvious - when this team is on the road and plays a second game in the same city that feels like doom to me even before tipoff. First in New Orleans, then in Los Angeles. Does this concern you as much as it does me?

Jack: You know, it does to a degree, but it’s impossible to know just how much that element plays into things. We all know Luka likes to, shall we say, indulge and he is the leader of the team. Maybe the whole squad is getting blitzed every night and it’s affecting their play. But we just don’t know. It’s much easier to talk about the basketball reasons for their poor play.

David: It could be a bit of a false sense of security, however, I just think it speaks to the Mavericks’ overall lack of preparedness rather than that specific scenario. Ever since Luka was drafted they have played up and down to opponents, and have come out flat in seemingly advantageous matchups.

Jack: That’s a really great way of looking at things, David.

David: Thanks, I think you’re right too. It’s a Luka thing and whether it’s him going out the night before or him just not being a vocal leader, they seem to be behind the eight ball consistently in games where a “let’s not mess around today” would go a long way.

Brent: Yes, but this was the Clippers, David. Luka Doncic always has red laser eyes emerge when he faces them. I realize the wrist injury was a factor late but the whole team felt listless from the start and then a second game in New Orleans tethered in my mind for what I hope is not the start of a trend (neither were back-to-back situations),

Jack: Good thing we have our fearless leader Jason Kidd, famous for getting his teams to lock in and abandon bad habits. He might cancel Christmas again!

Brent: I sometimes forget he is the coach and is - theoretically - in a position to make sure the team is ready to play. Good point Jack. (deadpan) I will give Kidd credit for starting Lively and Jones Jr over Powell and Green - a move that I think helped the Mavs jump out to a nice start. Do you think Lively and Jones are being asked to do too much in this rotation?

David: Lively, yes. But that’s not him that is all centers. They’re being asked to defend 100 layups a game which is not possible. They need to tighten up on the perimeter. Jones Jr., no. If he wants to play in this league he has to do exactly what the Mavericks need him to do.

Jack: The short answer is yes, Derrick Jones Jr. has been great but he’s just not a starting wing in the NBA. And Lively is just 19 and still learning how to be a professional. So, yeah, they’re asked to do too much but that’s clearly a roster construction issue. If the Mavs want to win games, they have to be asked to play above their weight class every night.

Brent: Jones at his ceiling is amazing and worthy of starting - but how many games out of 10 will the Mavs get that level of performance? 2, 3?

David: I think “being asked to do too much” is also relative. They’re only being asked to do too much if you expect them to compete this year. They’re not. If you take out expectations, then they’re just being asked to get experience for the years to come where they will compete.

Jack: No matter how good Jones is capable of being, his presence in the starting lineup is just a huge reminder of just how much this team needs a big, two-way wing. And like David said, they’re not competing this year because they don’t have that guy.

David: Right. This year is about experimenting and experience. Luka and Kyrie are good enough to make the playoffs by themselves so as much fire as you can throw the young guys in the better. And let’s not forget Jones is only 26 and could probably be a solid bench wing on a contender.

Brent: I have to admit I was wrong about Lively being ready to play - much less start. Based on watching them both in college, I expected OMax Prosper to get more early season run. Instead, he has been lodged into the deeper part of the bench next to Markieff Morris. Are you surprised by this and do you think we will see more of him as the season progresses? In theory, a refined version of Prosper solves quite a few quandaries for the Mavs.

David: I actually am surprised, yeah. I thought Lively was a bad pick and I was happy to be wrong. OMax looked NBA-ready in pre-season and in his limited minutes just looks so nervous. He’ll come along but it’s clear that’s something that will require time.

Jack: I was like you, Brent. My guy in the draft was Cam Whitmore and I was very disappointed when I heard Lively’s name called. I made peace with the pick quickly afterward, but I, too, was more excited about O-Max. And I think the simple thing with him is just how much the fanbase overestimated his jumper’s readiness. That thing looks busted right now. He’s not even close on his misses. That’s gonna be a work in progress, and until it improves, he’s not going to be able to get into games consistently.

David: Yeah he just needs game reps right now. The only way to gain confidence as a shooter is to rep it in the game and see shots fall.

On my high school team, I rode the bench and it was hard to get confidence and rhythm in limited varsity minutes. On my AAU team, I started and got a lot of shots and was a fantastic shooter because the reps built my confidence. OMax needs to go play some AAU and come back with the confidence he gets there.

Jack: Mark Cuban would never allow that. He’d sooner send him to Europe where they actually play basketball instead of making mixtapes!

It’s frustrating because this Maverick team needs someone like a fully realized OMax so badly. But, like you said, they can afford to be patient with him. This year is about taking steps, not winning it all.

David: I think people see how bad/weird the West is right now and think the Mavericks can do something. I promise you no one is beating Denver in the West and Minnesota might be for real too. It’s okay to accept the Mavericks are good, not great, and are on a good path back to being great.

Brent: This leads me to what I feel like is a collision course with the trade deadline. I know you guys are saying the Mavs aren’t competing this year but I have a tough time believing the front office won’t make moves. Do you think they will be win-now moves, big-picture moves, or a bit of both?

David: I don’t think they CAN make a win-now move. At least not a big one? It would probably be a move that favors the future while getting off some loose ends like Maxi or Tim or both. Although for the record I think trading Tim would be a mistake.

Jack: Nico Harrison has shown he’s not afraid to get aggressive. It’s a lame answer, but I think it will just depend on who’s available. The next BIG Maverick trade has to be the one that takes them to the next level. They just don’t have the assets to make a big move that doesn’t work. Once that 2027 first is gone, it’s over.

Trading Tim is interesting. He’s been amazing offensively, but our colleague Matthew Phillips wrote a really great piece recently detailing how damaging his presence has been to the defense. I think selling high on him makes some sense if you can get good value back.

David: That’s the thing. If you’re getting a shooter back, sure. Maybe. But you can’t trade him for a non-shooter. The Mavericks are heavily reliant on making shots and Tim is one of the most elite shotmakers in the league.

Jack: But lineups without Tim featuring Luka and Kai are still lighting the world on fire offensively. I agree they have to get someone back who is willing to fire, but I don’t think it has to be someone even close to as prolific as Tim when it comes to three-point volume.

David: My last point about Tim is he does things, not many players can do. Off the dribble, catch and shoot, sometimes driving, he can score in so many ways off the bench. His numbers sometimes aren’t the greatest but when it comes down to it you need guys that can take and make difficult shots down the stretch and Tim is the only guy besides Irving and Doncic who can on this team. Maybe the lack of talent has blinded me, but I really think he’s valuable beyond the numbers. Just watching him I see how much different he is than so many players in the league and certainly players on this team.

Brent: I often ruminate on how much including the 2029 first-round pick in the Irving trade last season hamstrings the Mavericks beyond the conveyance of the 2025 pick to the Knicks. Without that particular part of the trade, the Mavericks would then have been able to look at trading 2026, 2028 & 2030 first-rounders in a deal as soon as next year. Was it worth it?

Jack: It won’t be worth it unless they win a title with Irving. And if I had to bet, I don’t think they will. Kyrie Irving is one of the greatest players of our time and I love watching him on the court. He and Luka fit offensively, but investing that much into creating a superstar duo that doesn’t defend was a questionable choice at best. It just makes it so much harder when your two best players aren’t impactful defenders.

David: I’m not sure including that pick matters. What matters is they went all in on a player 8 years older than Luka with a bad track record. Who knows when this thing will crumble, although I hope it doesn’t.

Brent: It would seem to me that resigning Irving is unlikely and it is far more probable that he will be traded next season or in two years. Sound like a reasonable assumption?

David: I don’t know who would take him at this point.

Brent: “Reputational Rehabilitation” does not take long when you combine contender desperation with that much talent.

David: I just mean because of his age and contract. It’s hard to see a trade someone would make that the Mavericks would accept.

Jack: He’s still a great player and his contract isn’t too bad, and it won’t be bad at all in a year or two if he’s still playing at a high level. He’s tradable in theory. I don’t think the Mavericks do it though unless things just crater.

David: I don’t think he’ll be traded. You can’t start over with Luka in two years. And I don’t see a star they could get with him.

Brent: Just use OKC as a middle man and you can have all the young talent and draft picks the contender can’t provide. Although - shut my mouth - the Thunder are second in the West right now.

Jack: The Thunder will certainly win a title before the Mavericks.

David: The Thunder are legit. I wrote their preview and they have been as expected so far. Just an exciting, young team with a bright future. Chet will be an All-Star in two years max.

Brent: This is not where I was guiding the conversation necessarily - as it is ancient history - but when you look at the two franchises it’s jarring. The Mavs never fully embraced being a bad team for very long. Cuban didn’t keep the 2011 team together but he also did not prescribe a full rebuild. That is how Dallas got the period of mediocrity that featured the likes of Vince Carter, Chandler Parsons, and Monte Ellis. They did not want Dirk to go through that and I understood the sentiment at the time. The fallout of being too good to lose and nowhere near contender status for so many years is a very short window of atrociousness between the end of making the playoffs and Luka’s arrival. The cupboard in Dallas has never, ever looked half as stocked as the one in OKC.

The KP trade made sure that reality would continue. That is why Nico’s job was a tough one from day one of his tenure. One great offseason full of rabbits constantly being pulled out of hats is enough to impress but not enough to restock the team completely.

Jack: Right. Cuban has always wanted to do things the easy way. The KP trade (and several other asset mismanaging moves) is obviously the biggest example. But, like you said, Brent, Nico has done a great job of making chicken salad lately. Maybe he can continue to surprise us!

David: I hope so, but I know better than to have high expectations.

Brent: Is there anything the coaching staff can do right now to improve the point of attack and paint defense from a schematic or playing-time perspective? I feel like the answer is no but want to be wrong.

David: Tell the guys to play harder? Defense, specifically point of attack, is all effort. They need to slide their feet.

Jack: It’s hard to say because I have no idea what they even want to do. Josh Bowe has been saying this and I agree, they don’t even know what their scheme is. So, first of all, I would say picking an identity and committing to it would be the first step.

Brent: The next obvious question is - can Jason Kidd ever do that in Dallas? I don’t see how he can schematically evolve beyond the precepts he brought over from Frank Vogel. How many more years will he be the coach?

Jack: Kidd is so clearly Mark’s guy. They’re gonna stick with him for longer than they should. It’s gonna depend on how they finish this year. If they miss the playoffs entirely again, they kind of have to fire him. If they make the play-in, he probably has one more year to prove himself. But I don’t think he ever will. This same thing happened in Milwaukee. Great defense in year one, terrible defense in the following years. He’s not that guy. That being said, giving him some better defenders to work with wouldn’t hurt.

Brent: Let’s try to land the Mavs discussion on an upbeat note. Give me one thing that has really made you happy so far about this season.

David: Lively for sure. Completely surprised and pleased with his play. Very delighted to see I was wrong about him.

Jack: Lively is the obvious answer, drafting him looks to be a lifeline that this franchise desperately needed. I’ll also add that apart from my reservations about the Luka/Kyrie pairing leading to a title, it’s been so fun to watch them figure things out a little more this year. We’ve seen Luka set screens!! And Irving has just been brilliant. He’s such a fun player to watch and his game is so aesthetically pleasing; he also just plays the game the right way. Off the charts basketball IQ.

Brent: I’ll go with the Doncic uptick in 3P percentage. Anything north of his career high for a season (35% for two different seasons) is huge but nipping at the heels of 40% is massive. If this is real and sustainable, it represents a quantum leap forward in an offensive game that is already historically elite.

Jack: That’s a great one, Brent, especially since in years past he always seems to start the year frigid from behind the line before rounding into form as the year goes on. We can blame Reggie Bullock for that, I guess.

David: I agree. Wrote about that in my grades. It’s been incredible.

Brent: Before we go, I am going to ask each of you to give me a pop culture recommendation. It can be a TV show, an album, a book, a movie, etc. What would you pick as a recommendation that folks should consider checking out? Maybe something that has surprised you recently.

Jack: I’ll shout something out that not enough people are watching: The Curse on Showtime/Paramount Plus. It’s Nathan Fielder’s new show (Nathan For You, The Rehearsal) and he co-created it with Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems). It stars those two and Emma Stone and it’s an absolutely brilliant satire of HGTV-like content and neoliberalism. It’s hilarious, uncomfortable, evil, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Everyone should be talking about this show!

David: I don’t watch too many shows, so I’ll just shout out NBA Twitter. If you need something crazy just search random teams or players on there and you’ll find the dumbest things ever written.

Brent: I am going to recommend The Holdovers - it is still in theaters and is well worth a trip to support your local cinema. Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph are all amazing in it. A gem from Alexander Payne - it is even better than some of his previous films (The Descendants, Election, etc),

Jack: Seen The Holdovers twice— amazing film. One of my favorites of the year. Giamatti is the GOAT.

Brent: If it wins Best Picture I will not be surprised in the slightest.

Jack: Think it will be hard for anything to beat Oppie but it certainly deserves to be in the conversation.

Brent: Jack - thanks for joining us to chat. It was a pleasure. Another episode of Slacking Off is in the books.

Jack: Awesome, this was fun! thanks for bringing me along.

David: Thanks Jack, this was a good episode. I’d rank it the top 3 that we have done.