The Dallas Mavericks take a great deal of pride in their "culture,'' something that draws guffaws when they acquire a Lamar Odom or trade for a Rajon Rondo or finish 33-49.
But it's true, and it's valid in this sense: Their believe is that a franchise led by people like Cuban, Donnie and Carlisle -- "The Triangle of Trust'' -- is built on a strong foundation. And that a locker room led by people like Dirk Nowitzki (and at its best, Jason Kidd) is yet another pillar. It's for those reasons that Dallas believes a "risk'' like Rondo is worth it -- because the "culture'' can steer him instead of the other way round.
Again, the latter didn't happen. The former did. Nevertheless, while Rick likes to say, "You can't have a whole team of milk-drinkers'' (think D-Steve), you do like having a team of mostly milk-drinkers.
Devin Harris is that.
This doesn't make him a saint, or a perfect player. Once upon a time, he was a first-round pick, an All-Star, a guy valuable enough to swap out and earn you Kidd. Now? He's a glue guy, part of the fabric, a loved member of the organization and the city. So he keeps getting more chances with the Mavs, and they keep getting more chances with him.
"I have been in and out (as a member of the Mavs), obviously,'' Devin says. "The first time (the Kidd trade) I took it very hard. My heart was into (Dallas) and that is where I wanted to be. But like I said, sometimes the business gets the best of you.''
"The business'' came charging at the Mavs again in the closing days of this 2016-17 season, when, upon playoff elimination (but not before), coach Carlisle caved to tanking by suddenly giving minutes to Hammons and Uthoff and Brussino. As a result, Dallas lost plenty down the stretch ... until Game 82, when the Mavs inexplicably won at Memphis ... and seemingly beyond explanation, allowed Devin to have a big hand in the win.
Now, it's been pointed out by our buddy Bobby Karalla that Devin only played 5:45 in the second half of the win. But that misses the point; he played 20 minutes in the game, the seventh-most on the team. He shot 12 times, a team-high. By making six of those 12, he tied Brussino for high-scoring honors with 15.
Devin, 34, usually scores 6 points a game, and he averages 2 assists per game. This was an explosion. This was an anomaly. And this was not a coincidence.
My reaction to the Game 82 win, and to Devin's important contributions, is etched in online stone: I wrote the headline for the game story, "INDECISION 2017.'' My buddy Ben Rogers etched his similar reaction, too:
Some media types tried to shout down Ben by pointing out the "only played 5:45 in the second half''-type stuff. "What did you want the Mavs to do?'' they asked.
The easy answer, for me: I simply wanted them to lose.
Obviously, the Summer-League-level lineup at game's end was an effort in that direction. But it wasn't tankeriffic enough to offset Devin's effort ... and it was therefore a failure worth noting. To deny that Devin played a wildly important role in a win when a loss would've benefited Dallas' lottery chances, however slightly, is foolish and homerish.
Ben, however, followed up his post with a morning retraction of his opinion:
In this post, he notes quite accurately the behind-the-scenes labor of so many Mavs people, including, of course, the young players, and what it means to them to secure a W.
Which take is accurate?
Both of 'em.
I am privileged to get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff all the way down to the D-League Texas Legends level. where the behind-the-scenes people are laboring on behalf of the organization as a whole ... and these folks make a fraction of what their downtown counterparts earn. So all these men and women are "owed'' plenty.
But they are not "owed'' a win that might cost the organization, say, De'Aaron Fox (a Mavs favorite who might be available in the No. 6 slot) being replaced by a lesser prospect in Dallas' likely No. 9 slot.
So in addition to "kinda trying to lose'' but really "playing and letting the chips fall wherever'' (to paraphrase Carlisle's stated philosophy), and in addition to being developmental for the young players and respectful of the support staff ... what was the point?
Devin Harris was the point.
There was a moment, at the beginning of the season, when Devin sustained yet another setback regarding his troublesome toe. Harris was unavailable for the first 16 games of the season and in those 16 games, the Mavericks went 3-16. But Harris, good Mavs soldier, kept trying to rehab and fight his way back while also being incredibly supportive of the small army of D-League guys who, basically, wanted his job.
Harris was there for Jonathan Gibson. He was there for Pierre Jackson. He was there for Yogi Ferrell. He was there for Quinn Cook. Heck, in Game 81, guess which Mav spent as much time as anyone making sure "point guard Tony Romo'' felt at home in a Dallas uniform?
Yeah. Fellow Wisconsin native Devin Harris.
“For me, this year was just a blessing,'' Devin says, reflecting on that toe problem while revealing that he "was initially told I was going to miss the season. I was supposed to have surgery.''
Instead, he fought back. Just like the Mavs "culture'' would have it.
We go into the offseason now, and it's again time "for the business to get the best of you.'' Harris has a team option worth around $4.4 million for next year. That's not very expensive. Yet if you examine the cap-and-roster machinations needed for Dallas to get better (see David Lord's team-wide breakdown here), you see that Devin's money might be needed elsewhere, or that Devin's contract might be more useful if utilized to send him elsewhere.
“That is a great question,'' Devin says regarding whether the Mavs have revealed their Harris-related plans to him. "They have not. Obviously it is a team option, the ball is in their court, but they haven’t given me any indication. I think going into the summer, the draft and free agency plays a part first and then see what it is,” Harris said.
And how does Devin go into the summer? Having been "showcased,'' really, and that was the quiet purpose of his work in Memphis. He was given a chance to demonstrate to the NBA that he's healthy (the healthiest he's been in two-and-a-half years, he says), given a chance to demonstrate that he can still give a team 15/8 in 20 minutes, given the chance to do something because in just the slightest way, maybe the organization decided he was "owed'' that.
This is a "good'' thing to have done without necessarily being the "right'' thing to have done. It's a wonderful time-capsule symbol about Devin Harris and the Dallas Mavericks' culture ... that hopefully won't result in an unfortunate in-the-near-future symbol of the Dallas Mavericks' lack of roster talent.