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For once, the Mavericks’ slow start to free agency isn’t their fault

Years of failure have conditioned us for despair

Dallas Mavericks Jason Kidd Press Conference Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

If you’re a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, you’re familiar with how the summer usually unfolds. As the NBA Finals concludes and the basketball world starts gearing up for the offseason, Dallas usually finds itself at a critical inflection point of needing to upgrade the roster without a ton of means to do so. And their misfortune in that area has been a comical history of self-inflicted wounds.

For years, the front office completely neglected the draft. The post-2011 championship era saw Cuban and company put all their eggs in the “big fish” basket, desperately trying to woo star free agents to Dallas to no avail. Time and time again, hope and optimism from the fanbase quickly turned to frustration and resentment as the brain trust failed to execute Plan A and pivoted to the bargain bin in an attempt to put a better product on the court. Sometimes, they hit on cheap targets (Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, etc). But more often than not, offseasons were marked by disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Since the infamous 2019 offseason disaster, when Dallas had max cap space and did virtually nothing of note with it, the Mavericks have been hamstrung by a lack of assets and cap flexibility. Their draft picks were tied up from the Kristaps Porzingis trade and they didn’t have any cap room to overpay free agents. They also showed a stunning lack of creativity and made downright bad decisions.

In 2020, they split the mid-level exception between Trey Burke and Willie Cauley-Stein and added Wes Iwundu and James Johnson. Yikes. In 2021, they signed Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown, and Frank Ntilikina while retaining Tim Hardaway Jr. This was probably their best offseason of the Luka era, and it wasn’t even very good! 2022 saw them give JaVale McGee a contract that was a disaster from the moment he signed it and trade away their first round pick for Christian Wood. They also lost Jalen Brunson for nothing.

Seeing it all there in black and white, it’s frankly incredible just how poorly the last few years of free agency have gone for Dallas. Nearly every transaction they performed ranges from superfluous to downright stupid. During these years, they’ve also managed to deplete almost all of their tradable second rounders, leaving them with very little to grease the wheels of the trade market. Put simply, things haven’t gone well. And fans are justifiably frustrated with the front office for this comedy of errors.

So with three days gone in the 2023 offseason and the Mavericks having done very little by way of meaningful roster upgrades, it’s understandable why MFFLs are getting antsy. It’s very easy for the “here we go again” voices to come creeping into your head when you’re used to the kind of failure we usually see this time of year. And believe me, I am the very last person to give the Mavericks’ front office a pass. But when you look at this year’s free agent market and the trade landscape, it’s hard for me to be too upset with the way things have gone so far.

While he may not have had a market outside of Dallas, the Mavericks signed the league’s best available free agent in Kyrie Irving. The gave him less than the max, giving them access to the full MLE, and committed less than four years. Excluding the off-court noise, this was a good deal for a player of Irving’s caliber and Dallas had no choice but to retain him. The Seth Curry deal is fine, it’s insignificant money-wise and more shooting is always a plus. Dwight Powell being back for three years, $12 million is also nothing to be upset about. The Dante Exum deal was annoying because it highlights how the Mavericks love to go dumpster diving for washed up former lottery picks, but on a veteran minimum it’s largely meaningless.

It’s true, the deals they’ve made so far haven’t addressed the pressing needs of the roster. But if you look around the league, who are the potentially helpful players who signed for numbers within Dallas’s price range? All the Mavericks have to offer is the $12.4 million MLE and veteran minimums. Dillon Brooks signed for $20 million per year. Bruce Brown signed for even more. The wing market is thin and the center market is even worse. Are we really going to lose sleep over the Cam Reddish, Keita Bates-Diop, and Oshae Brissetts of the world? The two names who I thought could have been good, affordable fits were Taurean Prince and Jalen McDaniels, and as far as we know, Dallas wasn’t in contact with either of them. You can fault them for failing to pull off the reported Deandre Ayton deal, but we really don’t know exactly what was on the table there.

So, this isn’t a case of the “no one wants to come to Dallas” phenomenon. It certainly isn’t the annoying “no one wants to play with Luka” narrative I’ve seen floating around. This is a mediocre free agent market where the best available guys are out of Dallas’s price range and the mid-tier players aren’t perfect fits. It’s been reported ad nauseam that the Mavericks are going after Grant Williams and/or Matisse Thybulle, who are both restricted free agents. They can’t sign offer sheets until July 6th, so Dallas is likely to be dormant until then. And honestly, that’s probably okay. This is a year when you can afford to be patient and test the RFA market. The guys they’re missing out on aren’t difference makers. I would obviously prefer Williams over Thybulle, as the former is a much better basketball player, but Thybulle is a defensive monster who has shown flashes of being able to shoot well enough. Who knows, maybe they kick the PJ Washington tires or pull off a trade no one sees coming.

There’s still time for a productive offseason to emerge for Dallas. If they are able to acquire Williams and trade for a center upgrade, it would be a huge success. If they’re only able to do one of these things, it will be fine. If they fail on both of these fronts, we can grab the pitchforks. But until we see them crash and burn, it’s okay to have patience and let things play out. The Mavericks still have options. Just try to ignore the decade plus of offseason misery and let yourself cling to hope until it becomes impossible to do so.