The Dallas Mavericks‘ playoffs run is looking long odds following a discouraging defeat to the Lakers this week, the 81-101 result a backbreaker in the tight race for the West’s 8th seed. For the Mavs, this would be the first time they’ve missed the since playoffs since 2000, where they finished 9th under Don Nelson. It would be a quick fall for the Mavericks, going from champions to spectators in the post-season in merely two years. The team has been hurt by three main factors – failure in free agency, injuries during the season and the natural drop-off of the aging roster. Even if they do limp into the playoffs with an improbably finish to the season, they’d be a near-certainty to be bumped out in the first round against either the Spurs or Thunder, and some offseason moves would be absolutely necessary for Cuban’s squad to return to relevance.
The big turning point for the franchise was last season, when they went from champions to seventh place in the West. They let Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea walk as free agents, while Peja Stojakovic retired. To recuperate for the losses, the Mavs picked up Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and brought back Delonte West on a one-year deal. With hindsight, we can see which group of players are better to have on your team. Chandler is an Olympic gold medalist and an elite Center, while Butler is serviecable when healthy. Odom, now Butler’s Clippers teammate, was awful in Dallas and Vince Carter has naturally declined as he ages. West, partly due to his offcourt misdemeanors, isn’t even in the league at the moment.
The Mavericks went to re-tool in 2012 too, this time parting with Jason Terry and Jason Kidd to for a more youthful direction. They snared Darren Collison from Indiana and grabbed former top five draft pick O.J. Mayo in free agency, while claiming Elton Brand and Chris Kaman to add to their big man reserves.
These were all solid moves from Mark Cuban, but Dallas should have known better than to expect another year of post-season action. With Dirk and Shawn Marion now in their twilight, the team needed another star to help carry them and allieviate some of the strain on their star players. The vision was to have Deron Williams running the point this season, and that would have definitely made the Mavericks one of the scarier teams in the league. However, as we know, SharkGate happened, and instead the Mavericks are calling Mike James’ name in the pre-game introductions.
The loss to L.A. leaves Dallas two and a half games out of the eighth seed. That’s the same gap that separates the Jazz and Lakers from Houston in 7th, and Boston and Chicago in the East. The Mavericks’ playoffs hopes are clinging to mere mathematical probabilities at this stage, and even then it looks quite futile. This coming offseason, the Mavericks will have a lot of cap space to play with. Dirk’s $22 million, Marion’s $9 million and $3 million owed to Vince Carter is the only significant money on Dallas’ payroll this coming offseason. While that’s not as low cap space as the numbers Houston ($38m), Utah ($25m) and Atlanta ($18m) have to toy with this coming offseason, Mark Cuban’s savvy ownership and Dallas’ proud history as a successful franchise may give them the edge over their rivals during free agency. After striking out with Deron Williams, the Mavericks are setting their sights on Josh Smith and Dwight Howard this offseason. Either one of these guys could vault Dallas right back into the playoffs race for 2014. Additionally, the free agency class is fraught with a group of underrated names who could make a big splash on a new team. Monta Ellis, Andre Igoudala, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum (feeling lucky, Mark?) could all be welcome additions for new year’s Dallas Mavericks outfit.
Dirk Nowitzki has expressed frustration at the Mavericks’ losing ways at many stages this season. With very few productive years left for the big German, one of the names listed above should be an expectation, not a hope, to be suiting up in Mavericks blue next season. The Mavericks have retooled and reloaded on the fly very well for the past decade, going from a supporting cast of Steve Nash and Michael Finley to Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler without missing a beat. However, the well’s starting to run dry and time’s running out for Dallas to find something to hydrate the team’s winning ways and get them back to prominence.