Just over two weeks after the end of the season - on April 25th to be precise - I opened a draft and jotted down five items on the GM to-do list. Rather than following through on this idea for a post, it sat forgotten until I ran across it a few days ago - a quiet little time capsule tucked away. I find it fascinating to look back at this list of what I believed would mark a successful offseason for the Dallas Mavericks unfettered from the context that unfolded.
Resign Kyrie Irving
It feels like a given in hindsight - a marriage of mutual need. Yet if we could take a magic lasso of truth and throw it around every MFFL out there, the collective acknowledgment would be that we were all more than a little nervous. If an episode of Kyrie Irving drama had manifested for days on end, would it have surprised you? If the mercurial star had forced the Mavericks into an awkward pause and eventually an underwhelming sign and trade, the generally praised offseason could have gotten off to a bleak start. Fortunately for Dallas, that bit of possible drama was averted.
I wrote about the Kyrie Irving acquisition with ample skepticism in early February. We are now further down the flow chart leading to the best possible outcome for Dallas. Irving returning to Dallas was a must but never felt like a certainty. Now awaits the real test. Can the Mavericks get the version of Irving they saw in Maverick Blue for at least the next two seasons? Can he be the consummate teammate and dynamic performer with no hint of wishing he were elsewhere? Dallas is betting that the relationships on and off the court make their franchise a place Kyrie may never have expected to find himself but ultimately a home he develops a sincere fondness for.
Josh Green’s Next Step
Right around a year ago, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reported that Josh Green was eager to start the season. That optimism proved to be justified. Gone were the games of hot potato and the painful misadventures around the rim. Green transformed himself from an enigma into a bonafide NBA rotation player. The question facing Green - with restricted free agency fast approaching - is whether he can take the next step in his progression from a rotation player to a permanent home in the starting lineup.
To accomplish anything in life, two things are needed - capacity and willingness. The step Green took last season was about capacity. The deer in the headlights moments were all but gone. He attacked closeouts with gusto, showed off an impressive finishing game around the rim, and became a knockdown shooter from beyond the arc.
The capacity unquestionably manifested - now comes the willingness. Will Green assert himself in the offense alongside Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving? Will he take more shots in the flow of the offense - despite his penchant for secondary playmaking? If he can do so while maintaining his efficiency and point-of-attack defensive chops, Jason Kidd will be far less inclined to relegate Green to a bench role.
It is not uncommon to hear about how offense is not the problem for the Mavericks. The Doncic/Irving backcourt was prolific and will undoubtedly be so again. A quip to this effect made its way into the presser introducing rookies - effectively bragging about how Dallas already has plenty of scoring. If that is the case, why was St. Jean let go? Why did I have this bullet point on my offseason wish list?
Doncic and Irving are offensive virtuosos. Like Jazz musicians, they improvise on nearly every possession making each of them a near-impossible cover for opposing defenders. It was a different story when their improvisation was limited by out-of-bounds plays or last-possession pressure. This is when teams could rely on their scouting reports and stand ready to take away primary options leaving far too many win-or-lose moments up to desperation heaves.
With Greg St. Jean now on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, we are left to wonder who will emerge in training camp as the de facto offensive coordinator on the Maverick coaching staff. Who will be charged with crafting quick-hitting commercial jingles to go along with with the riffing jazz we see for most of the game? Which coach will devise coordination among all five players for key moments when the shot clock does not allow for anything less? There may not be a more important role on the Dallas Mavericks coaching staff.
Add Two Starters
Welcome to Dallas, Grant Williams. The newest Maverick certainly counts as one of the two starters I had asked for on this wishlist. Williams answers a ton of questions as the starting Power Forward. An efficient outside shooter and versatile defender who the Boston Celtics would likely have kept in the world that existed before the new CBA. Expect to see Williams match up against some of the toughest assignments in the league and allow the Mavericks to protect Maxi Kleber’s workload. I also expect fans to be pleasantly surprised at Grant’s offensive game beyond hitting open shots. With Green and Williams, Dallas has two projected frontcourt starters who can do more with the ball in their hands than rotate the ball or let it fly.
As for the other starter on my wishlist, two quick thoughts. If Richaun Holmes can return to his “pre-Mike Brown” form of three years ago, the Mavericks can work with that. Was Holmes buried on the Sacramento bench because he is toast or just not Brown’s cup of tea? Much like we all knew our worst JaVale McGee fears were confirmed in the first five games of the season - I suspect we will know if Holmes can be a starter for the Mavericks just as quickly.
There is a chance the Mavericks pull off another trade and answer the second new starter item from my wishlist more emphatically.
Media Training for Jason Kidd
In late February, after a brutal collapse to the Los Angeles Lakers before a national audience, I wrote that the “The Dallas Mavericks won’t move on from Jason Kidd... but they probably should” and nothing has happened since to change my mind about Kidd not being the right coach for the Mavericks. Despite my misgivings and protestations, the rational side of my brain knew we would collectively be signed on to year three of the Kidd era. Make no mistake, the Maverick coaching seat should be - at a minimum - toasty warm.
Given an offseason that has trended the roster toward youth and athleticism, can Jason Kidd translate that potential to a rotation that plays deep enough to preserve the core players' gas tank for the post-season? The temptation to tighten the rotation in the second half often comes at the cost of burning out key pieces and the fallout of that workload can carry over into the following season - as we saw last season with Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock showing signs of being overplayed.
If Kidd can have the team on a trajectory for a top 6 playoff position while still bringing along the likes of Jaden Hardy, Derrick Lively II, and Olivier-Maxence Prosper to play meaningful minutes in the back stretch of the schedule and beyond, the season should turn out much better than the one that came before it.
Even still, I wrote “Media Training” in my notes for a reason. All of the zany Kidd quotes that bounced around social media and still reside on Nick Angstadt’s soundboard germinate from the same seed. While I don’t expect Kidd to be given any actual media training, perhaps someone he respects can find the right moment to offer some advice: accepting accountability is not the same thing as admitting weakness.
Part of the head coach’s role extends beyond positioning players before the tipoff to be successful and includes decisions in real-time that impact winning and losing. When any coach chooses to address questions about specific in-game strategy via deflecting (we) or third-person (I’m watching just like you) language, the message easily taken from that style is that ego has risen above accountability.
The quickest way to change that trend is to pick your spots to speak in the first person and own your miscalculations. Leave the sarcasm out in favor of sincerity. Find a way to show the world you are not above self-awareness and thereby can engage in some self-analysis. It would be so damn refreshing.