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Are the Mavericks finally back in NBA contention?

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks found themselves in the Western Conference Finals. This was a feat they hadn’t achieved since 2011, when they won the championship. After several early playoff exits from 2012-2016, the Mavericks went into a rebuild, with virtually no end in sight. 

 

Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Following the offensive decline of longtime mainstay Dirk Nowitzski, the Mavericks began scouting the next franchise player that would bring them back to the promised land. 

After a few swings and misses in drafting Dennis Smith Jr. and signing Harrison Barnes, they finally struck gold in 2018. They drafted the No. 3 overall pick in Luka Doncic. Additionally, they drafted guard Jalen Brunson in the 2nd round. These two slowly brought the Mavericks back in playoff form, with a few key additions to bolster their roster. 

To further improve their roster in 2019, they traded Dennis Smith Jr. and center DeAndre Jordan to the New York Knicks along with Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and two future first round draft picks in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee.

2019-2020 was coined the season for the duos. Many teams had two franchise players on their team to contend for a championship. Familiar duos included Anthony Davis and LeBron James on the Lakers, James Harden and Russell Westbrook on the Rockets, and CJ McCollum with Damian Lillard on the Trailblazers. Some reports indicated Porzingis and Doncic should be in that category since Doncic won Rookie of the Year in 2019 and Porzingis was an All-Star in 2018. 

On paper, the duo of Doncic and Porzingis would flourish due to Doncic’s passing, driving and gifted shooting. Porzingis would be the spot up shooter and be a good post up fader. Sadly, this never came to fruition. 

In the 2020 playoffs, Porzingis played extremely well, but was short lived. After a 34 point game in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers he tore his meniscus and was sidelined for the rest of the playoffs.

More of the same

In the next two seasons, Porzingis was in and out of the lineup due to injuries. Dallas knew Porzingis had an ACL tear prior to getting traded, but a bevy of other injuries came after the trade. After the NBA bubble, he played a total of 77 games in two seasons. His five year, $158 million dollar contract was no help either, as their salary cap wasn’t enough to sign a solid supporting cast. Additionally, his lackluster performance in the playoffs contributed to the end of the Mavericks 2020-2021 season. Porzingis didn’t particularly enjoy his role on the team, as he was referred to as the decoy or a floor spacer. 

 

Time for a change 

After two and a half seasons of early playoff exits, the Mavericks pulled the trigger. In 2022, they sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Wizards in exchange for Davis Bertans and Spencer Dinwiddie. Since the trade, the offense flowed more through Luka and gave more opportunities to SG Jalen Brunson. Dinwiddie also embraced his new team, as the Mavericks went 19-7 to close out the season as the fourth seed.

The Jalen Brunson show

While Luka was killing it on the floor throughout the regular season, Jalen Brunson also broke out. In a career season for the Mavericks, he averaged 16.3 points per game and shot 50% from the floor and 38% from beyond the arc in 61 games. In the playoffs, he doubled down and embraced in the spotlight, raising his averages to 21.6 points along with 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists. His impeccable shot creating off the dribble put Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell on skates nearly every possession. Fully replacing Luka in the first round due to his calf strain, Brunson and the Mavericks steamrolled through the Jazz in five games.

This was the perfect time for Jalen Brunson to break out as a solid NBA star. In this offseason, big market teams such as the Knicks are eager to sign a shooting guard to a max contract. As a matter of fact, they recently freed $19 million dollars more in cap space by trading away role players to make even more room to sign Brunson. In result, the Mavericks likely don’t get a chance to even attempt a sign and trade for their starting shooting guard.

The Mavericks are in an interesting spot. They can choose to re-sign Brunson to a large contract.  Among many reports however, the Knicks are “very likely” to sign him.

A guard position is open

 

The eventual departure of Jalen Brunson leaves the Mavericks without a viable point/shooting guard. Spencer Dinwiddie is an option, however he was a non-factor during the playoffs. He is better suited as a sixth man.

 

So who should they go for? Tim Hardaway Jr. is coming off of a season-ending foot injury, and it is unclear whether he will fill in that starting spot.  They could test the FA market, or build from within. With $50 million in cap space, it is possible. For example, Zach Lavine is potentially a valuable piece. As a fellow UFA, he is twice the talent of Brunson and can fit into Dallas’ budget. 

They could also use trade pieces to get guards under contract. Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon is possible. He brings in more defense and facilitation on the floor. Dejonte Murray is also an option. A focus on defense with offensive upside, trading for him will significantly bolster their defensive issues. There are many paths the Mavericks could take that will help aid them back to the promised land.

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