The Mavericks finally learned their draft fate this week, with the NBA Draft Lottery slotting the Mavericks into the expected 10th slot, thus allowing the Mavericks to keep a pick they would have otherwise owed to the New York Knicks to complete the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
It’s by far the most valuable asset the Mavericks have and might have for the reminder of Luka Doncic’s contract. As I’ve written before, what happened to the Mavericks almost never happens. While teams have lucked into a top pick while holding onto an MVP-level superstar, that’s usually because of catastrophic injuries or roster upheaval. The Mavericks had a mostly healthy 24-year-old Luka Doncic at the peak of his powers (so far) and still failed. While it was a tremendously disappointing season, the 10th pick represents an opportunity to finally break up one of the most static and unathletic rosters in the NBA and turn the page toward building the Mavericks into the contender a team with Luka Doncic should be.
So of course, there’s a growing online war over what the Mavericks should do with the pick. There are basically two sides (maybe three), but it boils down to these two basic thoughts: keep the pick or trade the pick.
Even if you don’t spend time on Twitter, it’s pretty hard to escape the debate if you’re a Mavericks fan. Our friends at Locked On Mavericks drew their line in the sand, definitively saying the Mavericks not only should trade the pick, but they have to.
“I honestly think it would kind of be mismanagement if you stood pat at 10 and just took a player,” co-host Isaac Harris said, then mentioning getting off bad salary or trading down and turning 10 into multiple picks as ideas.
His co-host Nick Angstadt asked the question of “do they [player taken with the 10th pick] help you enough to get you back to where you want to go?” This is in regard to the Mavericks wanting to return back to title contention as soon as next season, which history proves that rookies outside of the superstar prospect range rarely contribute to postseason success.
Our friend and former colleague Iztok Franko joined that side, writing Thursday that the best path to make Dallas a contender as quickly as possible is to move the 10th pick.
But here is the problem for the “keep the pick” crowd. Two problems, actually.
First, the Mavericks are not in position to take more risks with a roster this thin, and things didn’t work out the last time the Mavericks took their chances in this draft range—unless you’re still glad they selected Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth overall pick in 2017 instead of future All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo.
And as short as they are on talent, they’re even shorter on time. The Mavericks are all-in on the Doncic timeline; trading for Kyrie Irving removed any trace of doubt about that. They likely have no more than a year to prove to their superstar that they’re capable of constructing a team capable of returning to the conference finals. After that, they enter the back-end of Doncic’s contract, where things could get dicey.
On the other side, most of the strong “keep the pick!” takes have been mostly relegated to Twitter. Our own editor-in-chief Kirk Henderson and myself argued for it during our recent lottery reaction podcast. I will admit if I had a preference, it would be to keep the pick, mostly because building through the draft, with cost-controlled, cheap, productive players is how you typically build a sustainable contender around a max-contract superstar. Our own Ian Cobb in his reaction to Dallas keeping the 10th pick laid down why he wants the Mavericks to just pick a player.
Trading the pick simply because you feel like you have to compete for a championship immediately would be foolish, in my view, and another example of the team attempting to take a short cut to success rather than build for the longterm. The real “cheat code” for NBA teams is getting quality, productive rotation players on cost-controlled deals; it’s what nearly every recent title team has done! Too often Dallas has opted to make things harder on themselves, even when they have chances for success seemingly fall in their laps (the 2018 draft being one great example).
Both sides have compelling arguments. It’s true the Mavericks timeline is currently in crisis, and if the Mavericks don’t turn things around soon, they risk a doomsday scenario with Doncic and a potential trade request, so another development project could be risky. On the other hand, the Mavericks need talent, especially cheap talent, with Doncic and presumably Kyrie Irving’s contract flooding the Mavericks cap. There’s no better place to find cheap, cost-effective talent than the NBA Draft.
Here’s a little secret though: it doesn’t matter. Really! It doesn’t! All that matters is that the Mavericks make the right decision.
What I mean is that the Mavericks, for the first time in a what feels like forever, have a lot of avenues available to them. For years the team has been capped out, and mostly without picks. It’s hard to make moves in the NBA without cap room or draft picks, so naturally the Mavericks roster has stagnated the last few years. Now the Mavericks have a valuable draft pick, in a draft many experts consider to be loaded. That means for the first time since maybe 2019, the Mavericks offseason feels open in terms of the direction they want to take the roster.
So why narrow those options down? Whether you feel strongly for keeping the pick or trading it, the important thing is the Mavericks just have to win their next move. And the move after that. And then stack even more on top of those. The margin for error is over due to years of mismanagement and rotten luck. Dallas simply can’t afford to make many more roster building errors. Because unfortunately the list is long.
Since Luka Doncic has been drafted, how many new player acquisitions have the Mavericks won? They used cap room and second rounders to acquire Delon Wright in 2019, who led to James Johnson, who led to J.J. Redick, who led to...retirement. Their best off-season signing for a new player in 2019 (when the Mavericks had max cap room) was Seth Curry, who was then traded for Josh Richardson and a second round pick in 2020, and neither Richardson or the pick are on this roster, as Tyler Bey was cut and Richardson was traded for Moses Brown...who is also no longer on the roster. The big one was of course swinging for the fences on Kristaps Porzingis, which also turned out to be a bust. Funny enough trading away Porzingis was one of the few roster building wins the Mavericks have had lately, as Spencer Dinwiddie revitalized his career in Dallas and helped lead the team to the Western Conference Finals. Of course, Dinwiddie is no longer on the team, traded in part for Kyrie Irving and while Irving’s production was impressive, the Mavericks season still toiled away. Let’s mark that trade an incomplete for now. Harrison Barnes, a starter for a Sacramento Kings team that just finished the season as the three seed, was traded for literally nothing but cap room at the 2019 trade deadline. Reggie Bullock was one of the best signings the Mavericks have made in years, and yet the fan base still wants to move on after he regressed so poorly after a splendid run during the playoffs last year. Dallas moved the 26th pick of last year’s draft for Christian Wood, who will likely be playing for another team this fall after a season of highs and lows that saw a coaching staff never really trust him from the start. Josh Green and Jaden Hardy represent the remaining new-player roster building wins, along with pulling the best years out of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s career, despite Hardaway’s inclusion in the Porzingis trade seen as nothing more than a tax.
The point is, the Mavericks have to steer the ship out of the muck. You simply cannot endure that many roster building failures in such a short amount of time, regardless of if the reasoning was poor decision making or bad luck. So the idea that the Mavericks have to do anything feels foolish to me. The only thing the Mavericks have to do is acquire good players. They should do that using whatever method they can.