Losses: Dirk. Dirk. Dirk. Dirk. Trey Burke, Devin Harris, Salah Mejri. Dirk.
Additions: I’m putting Kristaps Porzingis here because he didn’t play last year. Seth Curry, Boban Marjanovic, Isaiah Roby.
Likely Starters Guard: Luka Dončić (guard in spirit, wing on defense), Delon Wright Wing: Tim Hardaway Jr., (Dorian Finney-Smith and Justin Jackson will get time at 3 & 4) Big: Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell (I tend to think Maxi Kleber ends up here sooner rather than later).
Predicted Record: 41–41 | 16th in NBA | 9th in West
Last summer, the Mavs swung a bold draft-day trade to get Luka Dončić. It altered the franchise entirely. There aren’t five young players in the league you’d rather build a team around. It is the kind of basketball transaction that feels historic in the moment it happens.
Then the season started, and Luka was everything everyone hoped and more, a lock to win Rookie of the Year from day one, an obvious franchise talent. The Mavs decided to go all-in at the February trade deadline, giving up a ton of future equity in various forms to acquire Kristaps Porzingis from the Knicks. The Mavs, understandably, decided to pick up someone with star potential while they could, and I suppose it goes without saying that waiting always carries a level of risk too. Still, I can’t help but feel that the Mavs cut off a promising rebuild before it could really get started.
Porzingis, for all his talent, has limitations. His rebounding and passing seemed in many ways to regress during the three NBA seasons in which he actually managed to play, and while he’s clearly a great talent on both ends of the floor, it remains to be seen what his game looks like on a functional team that is actually trying to win basketball games.
Beyond Porzingis, the Mavs gave long-term guaranteed money this offseason to Delon Wright, Seth Curry, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber. Your mileage on these guys may vary. I actually like all four as rotation pieces, but I’m not sure what happens if they are your third, fourth, fifth, and sixth best players.
With Luka already in the fold, the Mavs had a lot of options with regard to team building, but most of them required patience, waiting for bad contracts to come off the books, developing young talent. To be sure, the guys the Mavs acquired are still young, and some are good bets to improve, but they are now relatively locked in to a core that already, to me, feels a little disappointing.
As a basketball fan, you can wait your whole life for your team to get a guy like Dončić. More and more, I find myself wanting the teams I root for to take it slow, to be deliberate, to build in a sustainable way that allows them to be good for a long time as opposed to great for some short blip. Both the Lakers and the Spurs won five titles over the past 20 years, but I’d have rather been a Spurs fan than a Lakers fan, rooting for a good team every year, always relevant, always with an outside shot at being special.
Following the Mavs this summer, my takeaway is that they pushed all-in with a decent hand, but not a great one. It might work out, but it probably won’t, and on the downside there’s a reality in which we won’t get the best possible version of the career of Luka Dončić. Ultimately, what I want as a basketball fan is to see the best players reach the limits of their potential. Some players, like LeBron James, get there no matter what, but most need a little luck and a little help from their franchise. I feel less optimistic about Luka’s future than I did before the Mavs traded for Porzingis. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but I doubt it.