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The Spurs drafting Victor Wembanyama is a worst-case scenario for the Mavs

Dallas’ arch-rival is reborn.

2023 NBA Draft Lottery Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery was an omen of bad things to come. While the Dallas Mavericks were able to keep their first-round pick, thanks in part to some strategic late-season tanking, they didn’t move up from their pre-lottery position despite having a better than three percent chance of doing so. It’s a tale as old as time.

Because they didn’t move up, Dallas will miss out on selecting teenage French sensation Victor Wembanyama, the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The San Antonio Spurs, who won the draft lottery, now have the privilege of taking Wembanyama first overall. It’s a situation that should have alarm bells ringing in Dallas’ front office. Given their history, the Spurs drafting Wembanyama is a worst-case scenario for the Mavericks.

San Antonio has been Dallas’ primary rival for decades. While other teams step into the fore briefly — Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns — the Spurs remain a thorn in the Mavericks’ side. There’s even a Wikipedia page detailing their rivalry. It’s a feud forged from hundreds of regular season games and six grueling, tortuous playoff series — San Antonio won four of them — featuring NBA legends like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Since acquiring Luka Doncic in a draft night trade in 2018, the Mavericks have turned the tables on the Spurs, who hold a 115-80 all-time record against the Mavs. Dallas has had its way with San Antonio in the regular season, holding a 12-7 head-to-head lead over their foes from the Alamo City. However, Wembanyama can tip the scales back to the Spurs’ favor.

Wembanyama won’t revolutionize the NBA overnight. It will take him some time to adjust to the game, level of competition, and transform his body. But make no mistake; those changes will happen if he is the transformational talent so many people predict him to be, along with the help of the Spurs’ coaching and training staff. He’ll also have plenty of opportunities to work on his development while going head-to-head with the Mavericks.

The two franchises play each other four times per season because they are both in the Southwest Division. Dallas may have the upper hand now with Doncic playing at a superstar level, raking up First Team All-NBA honors four years in a row, but Wembanyama could be nipping at his heels in a few years. Moreover, as Wembanyama develops and grows, so will the Spurs. The Mavericks can’t make the same claim in relation to Doncic.

In the last 12 months, Dallas has proven itself inept in building a roster around Doncic. The best team the organization assembled in a decade, marching to the Western Conference Finals, saw its second-best player decamp for the New York Knicks mainly due to the front office bungling the entire situation. This season, the Mavericks regressed into something unrecognizable on the court, squandering whatever goodwill they earned last year.

As Spurs fans are quick to point out — obnoxiously so — San Antonio has a reputation for building and sustaining a winning culture. They are an organized franchise, and their pursuit of Wembanyama further proves that they see a larger picture in building for success rather than adhering to a slapdash approach to team building. San Antonio has a plan and is prepared to build around Wembanyama for the long term. Right now, Dallas doesn’t look like a team with a similar long-term vision.

The Mavericks may be the best team in Texas currently, but they claimed the top spot by default when the Spurs and Houston Rockets began rebuilding. Dallas should hold their top spot in the state for a year or more, but the window has already started to close. If the Mavericks can’t find a way to dramatically improve their roster, reactivate their championship aspirations, and keep Doncic in Dallas beyond his current contract, the Spurs could leapfrog them in short order.

Every action Dallas’ front office takes will deservedly be under even more scrutiny. The pressure to win now is even greater. They aren’t the only ones with generational talent on their roster. Now, their arch-rival has one too, and the potential for years of heartache and suffering at the hands of San Antonio is again very real. Wembanyama is coming, and he’s bringing a host of young Spurs talent with him. The Mavericks need to be ready.