As the Debbie-downer of Mavs Moneyball, I found it fitting to put pen to paper and explain in excruciating detail why tonight was an absolute disaster for the Dallas Mavericks. The best analogy I can find is discovering your dog learned how to sit on command (trading back two spots in order to shed Davis Bertans’ salary) before proceeding to poop on your mink rug (drafting Dereck Lively II at 12).
First, it’s impossible to contextualize tonight without remembering the hype and hope that fans had leading up to the draft. I heard and read that the Mavericks would be foolish to move the 10th pick unless a star level player was coming back in the deal. I said from the very beginning that the 10th pick was never the asset we believed it to be. In a vacuum, it was never going to net the Mavericks much value. At best, they would have had to take yet another chance on a depreciated asset on a questionable contract. But regardless of how I felt about the value of the pick, I would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the Mavericks might get lucky and strike gold if they kept the pick and used it on an actual player. And so, with bated breath, I waited to see how the night would unfold.
When news broke that the Mavericks had traded the number 10 pick and Davis Bertans to the Oklahoma City Thunder, I assumed it was for Lu Dort. We quickly learned it was a salary dump and the Mavericks moved back two slots in order to dump Bertans money. Sure, shedding that salary opens up the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception, but I wanted to see what they did at 12 before rushing to judgement. We then read that the Mavericks were active on the trade market and looking to take on salary using the traded player exception (TPE) they acquired in the trade with the Thunder (the Mavericks would end up using the TPE to trade for Richaun Holmes and the 24th pick in the draft). John Hollinger noted, if structured as a three-team trade, the Mavericks could take on about $21 million in salary. $21 million isn’t a ton of money but if that player is better than what would be available for the MLE in free agency, it could be a creative way for Dallas to add talent in the short term. So far so good. The trade gave the team optionality moving forward.
What made the night a disaster was the selection of Duke center Dereck Lively at number 12. In full transparency, I know very little of the player. My issue is with our asset allocation. In recent years they’ve traded a first-round pick for Christian Wood (which I liked at the time and still feel was worth the risk), used the MLE to sign JaVale McGee to a three-year deal with a player option (oof), and used a lottery pick on a raw big man that projects as a screen setting/rim running big with limited offensive upside.
It’s the equivalent of an NFL team drafting a running back in the top five. For a team like the Kansas City Chiefs, you can afford to draft for luxury. For a team like the Houston Texans, it would be foolish. The Mavericks, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are closer to being the Texans than they are the Chiefs.
Outside of Luka Doncic, the Mavericks currently have no one under contract that can be considered an above average starter. Were Kyrie Irving to resign, that number would rise to a whopping two. The Mavericks would still need three starters with limited means of finding said players. This team isn’t a role player or two away. This team lacks talent. It lacks upside. It lacks versatility. It lacks dynamism. What it doesn’t lack, however, is yet another one-way player with limited upside on the other end of the floor. Mark Cuban had the opportunity to swing for the fences. Instead, by selecting Lively, the front office proved that the Western Conference Finals run of two years ago may have doomed the franchise for the foreseeable future.