Former Grizzlies: Delon Wright, Courtney Lee
Offseason in Review:
It wasn’t that long ago that the Dallas Mavericks were in a very similar, if not identical, position as the Memphis Grizzlies. The franchise star, Dirk Nowitzki, no longer fit into the long-term plans, causing the team to search for the most respectful manner in which to part ways. They had a disappointing 2017-18 season in which they won just 24 games, only two more than the Grizz, and held the #5 pick heading into that summer’s NBA draft.
What happened next was a case study illustration of how one player can change the fortunes of a basketball franchise overnight. The Mavs leapfrogged the Grizz on draft night to select the European teen phenom Luka Doncic with the #3 overall selection, and he didn’t disappoint. When he averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, and six assists per game as a 2018-19 rookie, the Dallas fan base suddenly didn’t care as much about this past season’s win-loss record. They knew that they had something special.
Now as we approach the 2019-20 season, the Mavericks look ready to compete for a playoff spot in the murderous Western Conference. While, yes, Doncic is a huge reason for that outlook, the front office has quickly moved to solidify the supporting cast around him. Yet, the biggest addition to next year’s roster might be a player that’s already been part of the team… kind of.
Kristaps Porzingis was the young international phenom before Doncic, only he was supposed to be the future for the New York Knicks. That relationship soured to a point of no return, and the Dallas Mavericks took advantage this past January by trading for Porzingis despite knowing that, due to injury, he would likely never play for them under his contract at the time. It was a risky move, requiring extreme confidence that they would be able to work out a new contract with someone demonstrably hostile towards management in New York.
The bigger the risk is, the bigger the potential payout is. Right now, the expectation is that this one’s ready to pay out huge. Porzingis is now re-signed, but at the steep price of a five-year max contract that will pay him over $27 million this year. Even locked in for the next five years, there are obviously still question marks. He hasn’t seen NBA game action since the beginning of February in 2018, and you never know just how well somebody has recovered from injury until you see them in live game action. Fortunately for Mavs fans, the front office made additional moves that should provide a little more stability in expectations.
Perhaps the biggest free agent acquisition for the organization was Seth Curry, fresh off a solid season and playoff run with the Portland Trailblazers. He made an absurd 45% of his three-point attempts last year, and should serve as a nice floor spacer to allow Doncic and Porzingis to operate more freely. Further strengthening the guard rotation, the Mavs acquired Delon Wright via sign-and-trade with the Grizzlies. The hope is that his size and versatility will help fill in the gaps on defense created by some of the more offensive-minded players on the roster.
Dallas fans, however, seem uninspired and frustrated with the front office heading into the coming season. You could argue that’s a good problem to have. A fan base that is so passionate, even playoff-level projections from odds makers after a recent history of bottom-dwelling isn’t enough. They have a championship-or-bust mentality, and they see a long road to that point from where they’re at. In that regard, they’re not wrong. As has been pointed out countless times, the Western Conference is brutally tough and the organization whiffed on their biggest free-agent targets this summer.
Teams have to make earth-shattering player acquisitions to even be considered contenders for the Western Conference championship. The Los Angeles Clippers, for example, acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and still may not even be the best team in their own city. The Warriors, though depleted, still look to be a tough out for anyone. Portland continues to look the part of the scrappy underdog that nobody wants to play, and division-rival Houston acquired the living triple-double Russell Westbrook in the hopes of finally getting over the championship hump.
So, will the Mavericks contend for a championship this year? Probably not, but they’re on the right track. They have two of the most talented young players in the league in reigning Rookie of the Year Doncic and previous All-Star (and still only 24) Porzingis. That should be enough to push for a playoff spot and create genuine late-season interest in the team, something that’s been lacking for some time. At the very least, they’ll provide division-rival Memphis Grizzlies fans an up-close view of what a quick turnaround can look like.