No simple solutions for Mavericks in this disappointing season

No easy fixes for Mavericks in this disappointing season
Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, drives around Dallas Mavericks' Andrew Bogut during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Wesley Matthews says the solution to the Dallas Mavericks' problems is a simple one. Play harder.

Imagine that. Why didn’t anybody think of it before now?

We’re also tempted to say they could try clicking the heels three times on their ruby high-tops and chanting, “There’s no place like home.” Except the Mavs recently completed a home-stand with a 1-2 record that included a jaw-dropping last-minute collapse to the equally lowly Suns.

So as they roll up toward the halfway point of the schedule, it would seem the 11-27 Mavs, residing in the bottom of the Western Conference standings, have two choices:

- Admit the 2016-17 season is a lost cause and start looking toward next season.

- Pretend they still have a chance to contend for a playoff spot and next season will arrive anyway.

Of course, it’s been a make-believe world the Mavs have been inhabiting ever since winning the 2011 NBA championship and then systematically scattering several key players from that squad to the winds.

The cruel irony is that club owner Mark Cuban’s master plan -- started by jettisoning center Tyson Chandler -- was meant to keep the Dallas roster churning in order to give franchise icon Dirk Nowitzki continuing chances to close out his career as a perennial contender, much the way the San Antonio Spurs handled Tim Duncan’s twilight with a soft landing. In his last four seasons heading into retirement, Duncan’s minutes dropped from 30 to 29 to 28 to 25 per game and faded to the team’s fifth-leading scorer. Just a season ago, a 37-year-old Nowitzki was playing 31.5 minutes a night and still expected to be the top gun in the Dallas offense.

While the Spurs infused themselves with new blood by dealing for Kawhi Leonard with the 15th pick in the 2011 Draft and then signing a top free agent in LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, the Mavericks might as well have been wearing out that stair climber to nowhere that Cuban works on before most home games.

The Mavs have practically made striking out on the highest profile stars an annual summer tradition. From Chris Paul to Dwight Howard to DeAndre Jordan to Aldridge to Kevin Durant, Dallas has foundered, which is the primary reason the franchise has not won a playoff series since raising the 2011 title banner. The consolation prizes were Deron Williams on the downside of his career and Chandler Parsons, who spent two years as an underachiever with a late season penchant for injuries.

They have finally seemed to find their next real building block with the signing of 24-year-old forward Harrison Barnes this season, but it comes at a time when a limping-to-the-finish-line Dirk has already missed 25 games with a pair of achy Achilles tendons.

If a list of the Mavericks problems and weaknesses were written out on a scroll, it would be so long that it would likely roll out onto the floor. They are 25th in Offensive Rating (101.6), 22nd in Defensive Rating (107.1), and their net rating is 28th (-5.5).

"We just have to continue to trust and believe in each other,” Matthews said. “We'll be all right. Make sure you talk to me when we're in the playoffs, too.”

With six losses in their last eight games, the Mavs first priority should be to pull themselves out of the ditch that came with a 4-17 start to the season that has not gotten significantly better.

Monday’s loss at Minnesota was only the second  game since Nov. 2 that the anticipated regular starting lineup of Nowitzki, Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Matthews and Williams was on the floor together for an opening tip.

There is only so much that coach Rick Carlisle can do to repair a broken team. Bringing Nowitzki off the bench might seem like one option, but would run the risk of having him sit and stiffen up before he enters the game. Having point guard J.J. Barea healthy and back in the lineup is a help, but hardly a difference maker.

The 32-year-old center Bogut, who came in a deal from Golden State last summer when the Warriors were looking to clear salary space to sign Kevin Durant, has openly conceded that there’s no place for him in a Dallas rebuilding plan that should have begun several years ago. By dealing Bogut now, the Mavs would be throwing in the towel on the season, but tossing themselves a lifeline for the future in the form of a possible top three draft pick. 

While to this point Cuban has admirably resisted the temptation for a deep dive in the standings to mine draft picks, ala “The Process” in Philadelphia, he has been able to unable to keep churning the roster like his Texas neighbors in Houston to stay as winners, entertaining and come out the other side as a contender.

But that time has now passed. Playing harder is no longer the answer. 

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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