30 Teams in 30 Days: Mavericks gamble on Luka Doncic to begin rebuild
NBA.com Global on Sep 04, 2018 06:13 AM
FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2017, file photo, Slovenia's Luka Doncic, right, shoots a basket as Serbia's Vasilje Micic tries to stop him during their Eurobasket European Basketball Championship final match in Istanbul. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
By Shaun Powell, NBA.com
That's a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8 (June 9, PHL time), NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com's Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today -- from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record -- as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
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Today's Team: Dallas Mavericks.
2017-18 Record: (24-58, did not qualify for the playoffs)
Who's new: Luka Doncic (Draft), Jalen Brunson (Draft), DeAndre Jordan (free agency)
Who's gone: Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry
The lowdown: Did the Mavericks finally bottom out after winning the NBA title in 2011? Their fans certainly hope so, because a 24-win season was nothing to feel fuzzy about. They lacked toughness up front and often asked the great Dirk Nowitzki, in his 20th season, to bail them out at age 40. They did get promising returns from rookie Dennis Smith Jr. at times, but he shot 39.5 percent overall and failed to exceed his enormous hype (he was the Kia Rookie of the Year favorite in the 2017 NBA.com Rookie Survey). Overall, the Mavericks found themselves a few notches below almost everyone else in a very tough Western Conference as their rebuilding process continued. (Even owner Mark Cuban thought his team last season was better off, in the long run, with a high Draft pick.)
Either the Mavericks outsmarted everyone in the room during the Draft, or they just got played. Or perhaps what they did will prove to be nothing special. Either way, Dallas surrendered a 2019 top-five protected first-rounder to the Hawks in a Draft-night trade to get Doncic, the European basketball wonder kid who has been a professional for the last three-plus years.
They saw an opportunity and jumped on it, so you must give Dallas props for being aggressive and going with its gut feeling to make something happen. The Mavs strongly believe Doncic is a game-changer and an ideal fit next to Smith Jr. in the backcourt ... and there’s good reasons for that.
At 6-foot-8, Doncic brings size and a beyond-his-years wisdom to the NBA. With Real Madrid in Spain, the Slovenian was a wizard with the ball and in his decision-making. He saw the floor well, shot respectably from deep, made the right plays and took over games while in most cases being the youngest player on the floor. While lacking in supreme athleticism, his all-around fundamentally flashy game could transfer well to the NBA. And he earned all the important individual awards while leading his team to the Euroleague title.
That equals hope in Dallas that Doncic will become at least the second-best player ever to come from Europe.
They didn’t want Young and likely would’ve settled for Jaren Jackson Jr. had the Hawks turned down the deal. Dallas' gamble is with that conditional 2019 first rounder, which will likely be conveyed to Atlanta unless the Mavericks deliver another dreadful season. That seems unlikely, all because of the second-biggest Dallas transaction this summer.
It’s a wild coincidence that Jordan will play for the Mavericks after he infamously got cold feet in the summer of 2015 after verbally committing to Cuban and Co. for four years and $80 million. That renege went viral on social media and gave everyone a good laugh. Jordan opted out of his deal with the LA Clippers (he’ll make the same cash this season in Dallas) as the Clippers were moving in a new direction and weren't planning on giving him a contract extension.
Jordan -- a Houston native and former Texas A&M star -- is back in Texas, bringing his rebounding (15.2 last season), paint presence and lob-finishing mentality to satisfy the Mavs' weaknesses in those areas. Even in adding Jordan, the Mavericks kept their salary cap space for 2018-19 at a low level and should be big players on the free-agent market next summer.
You can see the Mavericks’ vision: Doncic has a strong rookie season and becomes a ball-sharer that everyone wants to play next to. Then, they sign a free agent or two next summer to rebuild the club into a near-future contender. To have a pair of intriguing young players (Doncic and Smith Jr.) and some future cap flexibility seems like a good plan.
They also grabbed Brunson with their second-round pick. Brunson helped Villanova to two NCAA titles and was largely considered the best pure point guard in college last year. He’s crafty, pass-friendly, a true leader and a throwback point guard of sorts. What he lacks is great size and consistent shooting ability, although the latter can be improved. It’s very possible that Brunson, the rare four-year college player, could be a steal.
Rather than jeopardize their future cap space, the Mavs closed their wallet after getting Jordan and essentially told their own free agents to find new homes. McDermott went to the Indiana Pacers, Noel signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Curry with the Portland Trail Blazers and Ferrell with the Sacramento Kings. While all of them had moments in Dallas, they were all seen as replaceable.
With a pair of promising additions and no real defections, the Mavericks scored, at the very least, an interesting offseason. Doncic and Jordan might not be enough to elevate the Mavericks into the playoff mix in 2018-19. But this team, after 24 wins, can’t help but rise and may even see a double-digit win improvement. The real test comes next summer when Dallas must do it all over again, most likely without its No. 1 pick.
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