The Dallas Mavericks can’t win on the floor and might be in a no-win situation off it as well. At least it will feel familiar. According to Shams Charania during a segment on FandDuel TV, the team is considering sitting both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving for the team’s final three games of the regular season. Fresh off an overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Mavericks don’t play again until Wednesday.
While the team is just one game back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final play-in spot they also don’t hold the key deciding tie-breaker against them. So in reality they find themselves two games back of OKC with just three games remaining. Perhaps equally important in this mix of considerations is the Mavericks on the brink of either keeping their pick in this summer’s draft (should it fall inside the top ten of the lottery), otherwise it is given to the New York Knicks to complete the 2019 Kristaps Porzingis deal. The team is currently 10th in the lottery standings.
So where does this leave the team in the waning hours of their season? Over the years Mavs Moneyball has written many “this is a crossroads” articles about the Mavericks, but none feel more urgent in determining the team’s future than this. The organization must ask itself which path betters the team long term. Unfortunately for them, with how the team is playing, both options might be bad optics.
Jason Kidd and the front office could decide to play both Doncic and Irving, buy into the spirit of competitive play and make a go of it. The unique element of having two players who can single-handedly will a team to victory (recent results aside) can make this option rather romantic. And as the team still tries to court Irving into a long-term deal — whether that’s smart or not is for another day — it might mean something to give it all you got until the final buzzer (though I’m sure the dollars mean more). But what happens if you play them and the team still loses? It feels like the vibes can’t get worse around Dallas but this might do it.
The other option is to pull the plug. This would be broadcasting to the fans and their stars that they are giving up while still technically having a chance at the playoffs. Doncic and Irving have battled injury recently and by sitting them you do not risk further harm, and the team is likely to lose the final three games thus bettering their chances of remaining in the lottery’s 10th place. The Mavericks currently sit a game and a half “ahead” of the Chicago Bulls in the standings with one more vital head-to-head to be played Friday night. They are also just a half-game “behind” the Utah Jazz for ninth. Having this summer’s pick could be a real boost, either adding young talent from a deep draft class or using the pick in a draft-night deal.
When a season is going down the drain like this one you have to ask yourself what needs to happen to make the team its best for the long haul rather than the immediate. In a scenario where you keep your first-round pick no matter what you run out the rest of the season knowing you’ll likely lose but still have a late lottery pick. But unfortunately, the Mavericks are in the midst of a high-wire act of trying to be competitive while still having a chance at keeping the pick. Irving’s future is unclear, but the organization’s established relationship with Doncic though firm now, could be unsettled if more wrong turns are made. Sitting him and essentially giving up while there’s still a chance may not sit well. But in reality, this is their best path to turning things around.
Perhaps playing the stars, even if they lose or are eliminated, inspires organizational change in finding better players or fit at head coach. Or maybe the writing of this season is already on the wall. If there hasn’t been a wake-up call yet in Dallas then the phone is off the hook.