The Dallas Mavericks are teetering on the brink of failing to make the playoffs for the second time in four years. What if the Mavericks fail to make the playoffs? Do their offseason plans change? Does their ability to lure free agents change? What about the NBA Draft? We spent some time examining the key aspects of the Mavericks this coming offseason with the premise that they won't make the playoffs. ... a true threat as Chandler Parsons goes under the knife and Dirk and Deron sit tonight at Golden State. ...
One would assume that missing the postseason would be helpful to the Mavericks, in terms of the draft. A team with a dearth of young talent could use a Top 14 selection.
But not this year, or at least it's extremely unlikely. Thanks to the Rajon Rondo trade (remember that?) the Mavericks owe the Boston Celtics their first-round pick in 2016. Now, that pain could be deferred for another season (the Mavs owe the Celtics one first-round pick sometime between now and 2021). But that would mean the Mavericks must pick in the Top 7 of the 2016 NBA Draft, which means the Mavs have to get historically lucky — by their standards — to keep that pick.
The Mavericks have been a part of the Draft Lottery 13 times. In none of those 13 opportunities have the Mavericks improved their standing. In fact, the Mavs held the No. 1 position pre-lottery twice and on both occasions they didn't land the No. 1 overall pick. That includes 1994 when the Mavericks had a 25-percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. I mean, one in four and the ping-pong balls don’t fall their way? That's bad luck.
Of course, the Mavs did end up with the No. 2 pick and drafted Jason Kidd (and dodged drafting Glenn Robinson), but that's not really the point. The point is if you're expecting the ping-pong balls to finally drop Dallas' ways you're going to be hoping against hope.
In fact, Dallas has just one selection in 2016 — a second-round pick. It actually has two, but the better one must be sent to — you guessed it — Boston for the Rondo deal. Hope isn't coming in the draft unless someone knows how to rig the ping-pong balls.
The turnover may not be as bad as it has been the past few years. The Mavericks enter free agency with just four unrestricted free agents — Zaza Pachulia, Raymond Felton, David Lee and Charlie Villanueva. Given the Mavs' propensity to "keep their powder dry" it's hard to imagine more than two of these players coming back at a pay rate that might be favorable to the Mavs. Mike Fisher and I outlined why Lee might be that guy in a piece last week. Pachulia, to me, is gone, especially since his playing time has dwindled the past month. Same goes for Felton. Though he's a nice fit in the backcourt, the Mavs have plenty of depth at the position under contract. Villlanueva is a luxury, but at about $1 million he's a useful luxury. The point is the Mavs could lose all four of these players and be left with nothing in return except yet another turn at trying to find value among the league's mid-range free agents.
Parsons gets his own header here. I think this organization views Parsons as an integral piece to their future. I believe they feel as if he's player that they can build around. Up until a week ago the question was primarily about whether Parsons would opt out of his contract after the season. There is sure to be silly money in free agency this year. So, the theory went that Parsons would opt out, but remain in Dallas, because the Mavs could offer him the maximum over four years. Now, that underscores Parsons' value to the Mavs. But does it represent how Parsons values his future? Parsons went all-in on helping the franchise try to lure DeAndre Jordan to Dallas and came up snake eyes. It was his first true foray into recruiting a big-time free agent and it went off the rails (more on why the Mavericks keep failing in recruiting in just a minute). Did that sour Parsons on staying in Dallas? You ask him the question, or something in that vein, and he professes his happiness in Dallas. But you never know. Our Mike Fisher asked Mavs GM Donnie Nelson the question, and you can read Fish's exclusive conversation with Nelson right here.
Now, with the injury, the complexion changes and the questions become more abundant. Will Parsons surgery mean he's done for the year? (Yes, the Mavs announced that fact on Friday.) Will Parsons opt out regardless? Will he play out the final year of his contract instead? After two knee injuries and (potentially two) surgeries in 12 months, how do the Mavs view Parsons' future in Dallas? How do other potential free-agent teammates view Parsons' future in Dallas? These are not the questions franchises like swirling around their star players when there are impact free agents they're trying to sign. If you don't believe Parsons' injury will impact what this team can do this summer then you're kidding yourself. It matters, especially if the Mavs are trying to sell free agents on a future with Parsons in it.
Yes, we think we have the $93.8-million answer to these questions. But the knee injury muddies the matter.
Finally, free agency. The Mavs are backed in a corner. They've haven't done a good job of drafting and developing talent the last 15 years and that's the truth. Cuban admits he's been in "win it now" mode for a long time and when you're in that mode you sacrifice the future for the present. Eventually the future arrives, and that will likely be the day Dirk retires.
Because the Mavs have struck out in the draft, they’re stuck trying to lure any free agent they can to Dallas, big fish or otherwise. Now, there are some great things about Dallas. Cuban will do whatever it takes to win. The organization is first-class in every way. The fans are great. The AAC is a great venue. The standard of living and the lack of state income tax is a real selling point if you're thinking about what to do with your money.
But that only carries you so far when you're a secondary free-agent destination. No knock on the Mavs, but that's also the truth. In the NBA, in my opinion, there are only four "true" free agent destinations — Los Angeles (read: Lakers), New York, Boston and wherever LeBron James is (or wherever the league's best player is). The rest of the NBA's teams must rely on secondary factors to get it done, with that biggest secondary factor being on-court success.
Think about last year's pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge. Dallas talked with him and probably felt they had an edge since Aldridge was from the Dallas area. San Antonio talked to him, too. Now, San Antonio is a wonderful city and I love going down there. But until David Robinson and Tim Duncan showed up and started winning championships they had great difficulty drawing talent. And if their roster was made up like Dallas' the Spurs might not have gotten Aldridge, either. But the quality of their team ultimately led Aldridge to sign with San Antonio. There is a future in San Antonio post-Tim Duncan, Manu Ginoboli and Tony Parker. That's easy to see when you have Leonard.
The future in Dallas is troubling. Immediately? The Mavs are so far behind the Warriors than in tonight's game at Golden State, Dirk and Deron are sitting to benefit what Rick Carlisle calls "the big picture.'' (In other words, save them for more winnable games.)
The respect level for Nowitzki in the NBA is off the charts. But realistically he has two years left. (And, just to toss another monkey wrench into things, Dirk engaged in a Thursday visit with "Ben & Skin'' in which he didn't absolutely rule out leaving Dallas.) Beyond that, if you're a free agent, there isn't a whole lot to get excited about. Parsons is a quality player, but now you have the injury history and the potential (however slim) of him leaving. Wesley Matthews is a max player coming off an Achilles injury. Justin Anderson might be something. This team very likely has no first-round pick in 2016. And agents and potential free agents alike have seen the Mavs swing and miss for top-drawer free agents for five years because, frankly, they're an average team.
The NBA is a highly-regimented league now when it comes to salary. We know what the financial terms will be for max contracts before they are even signed. For an owner like Cuban, you can't throw extra cash at a player you want and hope that makes the difference, like that money can in baseball or football. So you have to sell that player on the future in Dallas and the secondary factors discussed above.
Now, be honest. Be objective. Look at the Mavs' roster. Tell me where the future is? Tell me what you can sell a player like Kevin Durant on when it comes to the Mavericks. Not even Cuban is that good a salesman.
Players don't care about tax breaks and standard of living when they're getting a max deal. If the money is equal they care about winning. That's why Aldridge is not wearing a Mavs uniform and why Jordan is not wearing a Mavs uniform. The path to winning a championship right now, in Dallas, looks too long to sign a four- or five-year contract.
So what changes if the Dallas Mavericks don't make the playoffs in 2016?
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