There is no other word to describe this season for the Dallas Mavericks, a season that continues to fall lower and lower, even far below the realistic worst-case scenarios that could have been imagined.
On Sunday, it ran even deeper with a 110-104 defeat by the Charlotte Hornets, the Mavericks’ second straight loss to the fourth-worst team in the league, a double of games they’ve led under two minutes across 96 games. game. Dallas, now 36-39 this season, is 11th in the West, a full game outside of last place in the Play-In Tournament.
After last season’s conference finals and then a midseason trade for Kyrie Irving, this season should have been more successful than it was. That the team continues to find new low points — “The Mavericks’ last few weeks have been bleak,” I wrote about three weeks ago after a defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans seemed like rock bottom at the time — seems almost unbelievable. It has allowed sobering discussions on the Internet about whether the team should simply shut down its stars and try to keep its draft pick this season, which it owes to the New York Knicks, a top-10 reserve.
It even made fans wonder if something deeper was going on behind the scenes.
Although something is clearly not right with Dončić, who admitted after Friday’s first defeat to the Hornets that his struggles spilled over into off-field matters he’d rather have kept, the team’s struggles may not be explained by one big revelation. And while this season has been the sum of all the fears, the dirty secret about this team is that those fears aren’t hidden behind closed doors. Concerns already existed long before this desolate expanse appeared. What went wrong in Dallas this season are mostly things that could always have gone wrong.
This team is nothing like last season, at all. Only four of the 10 players with the most minutes since Irving’s trade had meaningful innings in the postseason round last year. What made the Mavericks successful last season already seemed delicate, and the team went into the offseason recognizing the need for improvements.
Instead, they lost the team’s second best player.
The Mavericks’ infamous failure to re-sign Jalen Bronson can now be examined for good, but it was never in any doubt that his exit would hurt. “It’s not Brunson’s absence alone, necessarily, that could cause the Mavericks to underperform,” she wrote before the season began, “but what his departure means for the winning recipe.” Bronson has been better for the Knicks this season than many could have imagined, and arguably as influential as Irving himself — though there’s no guarantee he would have made that extra jump if he had stayed in Dallas. But losing a talented player for nothing is not building a successful team, and this is known from the moment he leaves.
Rather than replace Bronson, the team dismissed last season’s success, which had come from a three-headed guard offense, with the shortsighted belief that Dončić and Spencer Dinwiddie could keep this team together despite often being alone on the field. Again, it was reasonable before the season began to have doubts about this approach. “If Dallas drops below (48.5 wins), it will start with Dinwiddie not being the player he was when paired with another guard,” I wrote in October. It wasn’t. While Dallas had the league’s best offense in the minutes Doncic spent on the field prior to the trade for Irving, the team’s scoring was the league’s worst with only Dinwiddie. What that means is that too many games Dončić’s minute totals were pushed towards 40, along with the Mavericks being 0-8 in games Dončić didn’t play before Irving’s trade.
In a fantasy world where Dinwiddie could have been replaced by Irving before this season even started, things might have looked different. To make that swap mid-season, with Dončić already exhausted from the load he’s been carrying for this team, all while losing the team’s best perimeter defender in Dorian Finney-Smith? Last season, the fresh-faced Dallas defense was a synergistic organism rotating as one entity, surprisingly successfully finishing seventh in points allowed per 100 possessions in the regular season. The full participation of players without elite defensive talent covered the mirror nature and slight smoke of it. But many of those players are gone, and last year’s top 10 player has been replaced by a toothless unit in the bottom 10.
Again, this was always a reasonable scenario: “If a team can’t help but give more minutes to defensive responsibilities, it certainly won’t repeat last season’s heights.”
The team’s priority summer signing, JaVale McGee, was supposed to provide the edge protection the team lacked last year. He went from signing to middle-level exception and being named the starting position in July, to the bench and out of rotation in November. While it’s surprising how quickly McGee proved unplayable, the decision to acquire the 34-year-old was a questionable move even when it did happen. McGee’s consistent brand of shot-blocking has always been drastically different from the rambling, rambling, rotation-based schemes Dallas successfully employed last season and far less effective this year. From Pre-Season: “It’s not guaranteed he’ll seamlessly fit the Mavericks’ defensive style.”
Dallas also had three high-profile linebackers on the outside perimeter last season, which helped mask that weakness. Vinnie-Smith is no longer here. Reggie Bullock, now 32, was not effective. Maxi Kleber, 31, has missed 34 games after undergoing knee surgery mid-season. Josh Green moved from the bench last postseason to off this year, but the 22-year-old’s recent struggle to find his role when sharing the field with Dončić and Irving has served as a reminder that progression isn’t linear. For Irving’s trade to be successful this season, Green needed to fast-track his development even after the significant growth he’s already had this year. It’s an indictment on the list, not him, that he couldn’t get there.
It’s the same story for the rest of the Dallas A-list really. Dwight Powell has started nearly every game this season despite the team signing his presumptive replacement last summer. (Don’t forget, he was a healthy scratch in three of the first four games of the season.) Jaden Hardy is a rookie guard who wasn’t supposed to play meaningful minutes this season. Justin Holiday, who has been averaging 17 minutes per game since joining Dallas, was only available for signing because he couldn’t break into the Atlanta Hawks’ rotation.
There’s the whole Christian Wood theme, too. Here’s a possible scenario I imagined back in October: “He’s giving up points as consistently as he scores on the other end, which is enough that Dallas coach Jason Kidd doesn’t use Wood more often than 25 minutes a night. The Mavericks figure out why they can get him for it.” Nothing more than a late-salaried first head coach.” Whether or not you agree with the way Wood has been used this season, this is how his situation ended. Wood is not the first player with a score that Kidd has not been able to use effectively. When he was fired by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018, Kidd It is said not Regarding speaking with Jabari Parker.
There is a growing list of similarities between Kidd’s Bucks and Mavericks tenures. Upon taking over Milwaukee in 2014, Kidd revolutionized his defense in his first season, finishing second in the league. But then it dropped to 22nd, 19th, and 25th by time of shooting in the three seasons that followed. “You guys can write that we are a great team and we are really good,” he said He said of the Bucks in 2018 shortly before his dismissal. “We are a young team who are learning how to play the game at a high level with very high expectations.” This is a quote that could have been copied and pasted from any number of Mavericks press conferences this season.
Dončić has been good enough this season to cover his team’s shortcomings, but they were lingering problems to see before Dallas hit their lowest point of the season, not ones waiting to be uncovered. There may have been more layers at the tragic juncture of the season that have yet to emerge, but what can be seen is enough to explain it.
And he’s been sitting here in plain sight the whole time.
(top photo: Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
“Introvert. Subtly charming web geek. Lifelong entrepreneur. Amateur social media expert. Coffee trailblazer.”