It’s impossible to tell the fans of a team like the Dallas Mavericks, who just made it to the Western Conference Finals, that they’re closer to a first-round elimination team than a title contender, but I believe they are.
Let’s look at a few reasons that came to my mind:
- The Nuggets, who are missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., and the Clippers, who are missing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, will feel much better after recovery.
- The Warriors outclassed the Mavericks and proved that their one-dimensional offensive offense was backed up by an elite defense.
- On paper, the Mavericks are probably the fifth or sixth best team in the Western Conference. If Zion Williamson and the Pelicans hit the ground running right away, and the Timberwolves sort out their point guard issues, they could end up in seventh or eighth place.
For now, the Mavericks are in the same position as the 2019 Trail Blazers. After an unlikely conference final, the team believed they were a stone’s throw away from becoming a title contender. Subsequent early playoff appearances over the next few years proved that notion to be false.
So we are at a crossroads. To be perfectly clear, the Mavericks have no one to blame for the current situation but themselves. Tim McMahon of ESPN revealed on the Hoop Collective podcast that Jalen Brunson was willing to accept an extension like the one signed by Dorian Finney-Smith, but the Mavericks turned it down in hopes of getting a star on the deadline. Signing Brunson to this extension would make it impossible for him to be included in any packages and with limited trading chips, excluding him from any trading offers would be impossible for other teams. While Maverick’s logic may seem sound, a little self-awareness will reveal the truth. If a superstar were to become available, it’s unlikely that Dallas could surpass any other contender.
The Mavericks went all-in with pocket deuces and were now in a losing situation. Here are the paths I see:
Door 1: Brunson leaves with cap space and the Mavs lose him for nothing.
Door 2: Brunson picks a team that doesn’t have the required amount of cap space to sign him right away. Due to the base year compensation rules set out by our own @CBAMavs, signing and trading will be difficult to accomplish and unlikely to bring anything significant to the Mavs.
Door 3: The Mavericks are overpaying for a short defenseman without elite athleticism who will most likely never make the All-Star Game. I love Brunson and appreciate the hard work he put in to bring out his talent. At the same time, I would be lying if I said that he is one of the top 40 players. In fact, he may not be in the top 50.
Doors 1 and 2 will be an immediate blow to the short-term prospects of the Mavs and will certainly take them down a leg or two in the upcoming season. Door 3 will push the Mavericks hard to tax with a roster that has six or seven playoff caliber players in the current rotation and leave them with little, if any, real room to improve the team in the near future.
So what will the Mavericks do? If Brunson doesn’t believe that the Knicks or some other team can offer him a big role and an opportunity to showcase himself, Dallas can and will offer Brunson what he wants. But is that what the Mavericks should do?
The goal should not be to pin a team whose ceiling is the occasional launch of WCF. The MLE taxpayer doesn’t get Dallas on top. Without players able to make a significant jump, internal improvement won’t help them either. I pounded Christian Wood on the table before we traded for him, but even I can admit he doesn’t make us title contenders on his own. Extra minutes for Josh Green is not an option. Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock are who they are. Spencer Dinwiddie is a question mark, but increasing usage can result in a decrease in effectiveness unless he attacks the ring at a faster rate.
In general, the Mavs have a good team. This year has shown that with some breaks and outstanding shooting performance, they pair well with certain teams. However, with the top five players on your team, that just isn’t enough. Anything that doesn’t match a championship-level roster should be considered a failure for that team.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the arguments we see in the fandom.
The Mavericks are already over the limit, what difference does it make how much we pay Brunson?
For years it annoyed me that Mark Cuban was cheap. Fans point to the fact that he hasn’t paid a luxury tax in years, and believe that this is a reflection of his unwillingness to spend money. I screamed into the abyss that you can’t move from a team with limited space to a team with taxes unless you re-sign your own players in the big money expansion. One look at the draft picks over the past decade should tell you that we rarely traded our picks for a second contract, let alone a big money renewal. You might poop over Cuban’s desire to use the cap space to lure the star to Dallas, but that’s the reason we didn’t pay the tax, not because Cuban is cash-poor and refuses to get out of his wallet.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say I was wrong and the Mavericks fans were right all along. Mark Cuban is tighter than a pair of work pants you bought before the pandemic. Do you want to believe that after a decade of denial, Cuban will suddenly spend tens of millions of dollars in a luxury tax on a team that is not a title contender? This was either not true in the last decade, or it is not true now. In a couple of years, once the repeat sales tax kicks in, every dollar spent will actually be worth four or five. Offering a minimally talented player $6 million with an MLE taxpayer? Signing this player will cost between $24 million and $30 million a year in cash.
Only a handful of NBA owners can do this without batting an eyelid. Even the richest owners turned down the prospect of $80-$100 million cut to the league check, and who could blame them. This current version of the Mavericks does not claim the title. The team’s wages will reach the cap and the team will have to find ways to cut costs.
The Mavericks may trade Jalen Brunson in the future.
A non-star level player making $28 million a year is not a trading asset. While theoretically any contract can be moved, this does not mean that it can be moved by value. Kevin Herter, Duncan Robinson, Terry Rozier and our very own Tim Hardaway Jr should be examples of what happens when you pay non-star stars money. All four players are helpful and can help you win games. Their contracts, however, make them nearly impossible to sell.
To assume that Brunson will become a huge trading trump card is a mistake. He was paid and will be paid as our second player. However, it is difficult to find a rival team where Brunson could be considered the second best player. Any team from Los Angeles? Denver? Milwaukee? Miami? Golden State? Boston? Brunson would not have been the second best player on either of those teams. This leaves the dregs of the league as a market for him. The Knicks were the Knicks because they were paying huge contracts to players who could never match them. Having Brunson in the books would make it harder to find the true number two.
There has been a recent debate in the Mavericks community about whether it’s better for them to get a second star or add depth. The final was supposed to help answer that question. The Celtics were a deeper team, but star-level talent defines a playoff streak more than functional depth.
So how can the Mavs get that second star? By picking the 20th, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever pick such a player. Trade, maybe? Unlikely as they have no trading assets. I’m the old man who screams at the crowd meme every time I have to remind someone that other teams just don’t want Mavericks players. Does anyone think that we could return the positive Hardaway asset? The answer should be no. A player’s value to Dallas is not equal to his value in the league.
Bitter truth. The cold truth is that the Mavericks messed up with Jalen Brunson. I thought it was best for the Mavs to trade Brunson before the expiration date. But no one wants to hear that a team has to take a step back to take two steps forward. Winning games in the short term is fun, but the long term mindset involved in building a team is just not.
What should Dallas do then? Let’s talk about it soon, because by the end of the week it won’t matter anyway. But this is not as simple a decision as many people think.
#Mavericks #losing #streak #Jalen #Brunson