NBA Offseason Reviews: Dallas Mavericks

By Matt Flynn | Staff Writer

We continue our coverage of the NBA offseason with reviews of team moves and we look forward to next season by grading how the moves affect the team’s future. If you want to read the other ones, click on my author page at the bottom of this article.

The Mavericks are an interesting team because of their quest to build for the future while retaining important veterans to remain fairly competitive. With Mark Cuban as the owner, he seems pretty unwilling to truly tank in the way that Philadelphia or Atlanta have been, but they’ve managed to draft well enough to steal a few players. They essentially stumbled into Dennis Smith last year, a great pick at #9 and then made the largest move in this year’s draft to trade up from #5 to #3.

Luka Dončić being drafted in the 2018 NBA Draft

Luka Dončić after being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks (Getty Images)

They probably will never really be in competition for a coveted Top 3 pick due to having Rick Carlisle as a coach, someone who is probably a Top 5 coach in the NBA with a bottom 5 talented roster. So, Dallas took a different tact. They decided to sell a future asset to trade up and get their guy, and now have a back court to build around as they head into the 2019 season.

Of course, I’m talking about Luka Dončić, apparently a player with play-making ability that can possibly play the SG, SF, and maybe even also minutes at the stretch power forward position. Many consider him to be the consensus best player in this draft, and although someone like Deandre Ayton has more physical prowess, Dončić could arguably be the best actual basketball player to come out of this year’s crop. The Mavericks obviously seem to think so, willing to sell a mildly protected 1st rounder from next year as well as pick #5 (used to pick the divisive Trae Young) to go up and get Dončić from Atlanta.

Here’s how their roster currently sits with salaries in millions:

PG – Dennis Smith Jr. (3.8); Devin Harris (1.5); Jalen Brunson (1.2)

SG – Luka Dončić (6.6); Wesley Matthews (18.6); J.J. Barea (3.7)

SF – Harrison Barnes (24.1); Dorian Finney-Smith (1.5); Ryan Broekhoff (0.8)

PF – Dwight Powell (9.6); Dirk Nowitzki (5.0); Maxi Kleber (1.4)

C – DeAndre Jordan (22.9); Salah Mejri (1.5); Ray Spalding (0.8)

camp invitees: G – Codi Miller-McIntyre; G/F – Terry Larrier; F – Ding Yanyuhang

This places their cap allocations between $105 to $106 million, but they have not used their room mid-level exception, and remain well below the luxury tax. We’ll see how the Mavericks choose to use any remaining options, as they still need to trim their roster down to a successful 15 at the end of the preseason. I’d be surprised if any substantial changes are made to what they currently have, but I really do like the direction this team is heading.

Next season, the only returning players definitely with a contract are Smith Jr., Dončić, Brunson, and Spalding (all picks from the last two seasons), and they face Player Options for both Harrison Barnes and Dwight Powell, each players who have carved out a role on this team. None of their major players are heading into restricted free agency, so the real decisions will be about what happens to players like Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Dirk may retire, but it’s possible Matthews or Jordan could have trade value at the deadline. The youthful direction of this team is obvious, which is why the DeAndre signing remains somewhat odd, but more on that later.

The following players are additions from last year:

G – Devin Harris (free agent, signed from DEN)

G – Jalen Brunson (draft, second round #33 overall)

G/F – Luka Dončić (draft, first round #3 overall)

F/C – Ray Spalding (draft, second round #56 overall)

C – DeAndre Jordan (free agent, signed from LAC)

various camp-invitees, also, including Ryan Broekhoff

The following players are subtractions from last year’s roster:

G – Yogi Ferrell (free agency, signed with SAC)

G – Seth Curry (free agency, signed with POR)

F – Doug McDermott (free agency, signed with IND)

G – Aaron Harrison (free agency, unclaimed)

F – Kyle Collinsworth (free agency, waived, unclaimed)

C – Nerlens Noel (free agency, signed with OKC)

Their offseason, like many others, starts with what players decide to opt in or out of their options. Wesley Matthews, smartly, opted into his $18.6 million player option, but Dirk Nowitzki opted out of his player option, allowing the team to make their moves and then either sign for the room mid-level or the remainder of Dallas’s cap space as a veteran favor to the team.

During the draft, they made a trade, moving up from #5 to #3 by offering a Top 5 protected First Rounder to the Hawks. This allowed them to get the #3 pick in the draft, Luka Dončić from Slovenia. They then drafted Jalen Brunson, a guard from Villanova, at #33 in the second round.

In addition, they had another second rounder, pick #54 (used to take G Shake Milton from SMU), but the Sixers made a trade with them to move up in the draft for picks #56 and #60. With #56, the Mavericks selected Ray Spalding from Louisville, who is on the roster. With #60, they took F Kostas Antekounmpo, who they inked to a two-way contract for this season. While Dončić is clearly the gem of this haul, the Mavericks have a chance of having legitimate contributions from their second round picks as well.

In terms of signings, they got DeAndre Jordan through cap space, signing him for 1 year, $23 million. Now that they likely will not have their own first round pick next year due to the Dončić swap, it’s not as if they need to be purposely bad for higher draft picks, but the one year deal is odd. I think, and I have no way of confirming this, that DeAndre will resign in Dallas on a long-term deal with plenty of money guaranteed but a much lower yearly salary. I’m imagining this as a scenario where it was understood at the signing of the one year deal that DeAndre will be back long term as the Center.

In fairness, DeAndre’s game took a legitimate dip last year in terms of production on both sides of the ball. It could’ve been because he became more of a focal point in the offense after Blake Griffin and Chris Paul were done in LA, but I wonder if he’s a player who will see diminishing returns as his athleticism wanes. He may have averaged less points on decreased efficiency, but it’s hard to complain about a player who scores 12 points per game on 65% shooting and also averages fifteen rebounds per night. That’s enough to lead the NBA in rebounding rate, be top ten in true shooting percentage, and have a PER above 20.

The problem is that he saw lows in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and Defensive Win Shares, and had a career low in blocks. He’s still a very effective pick and roll player with good finishing around the rim, and he even improved his free throw shooting slightly. He’s also still clearly a Top 10 defensive center, but there were signs of slippage last year, so I like the idea of him re-upping on a multi-year deal in the 2019 offseason, but I’d be wary about the amount of money offered.

The backup center spot will be manned by Salah Mejri, who was brought back as a one-year minimum. His defensive capabilities make him an intriguing option as a backup center, and he’s earned the right to a significant role. He beat out Nerlens Noel for playing time last year, and rightfully so. If they want to preserve DeAndre’s effectiveness, Mejri is a nice complimentary piece who checks the same boxes.

I still have real hope for him as a player. They also signed Devin Harris at the minimum just for an extra guard and scorer. He likely slots in as the fifth guard behind Smith, Dončić, Matthews, and Barea.

They also made a few funky moves to add an additional asset. It started with getting a 2008 2nd round pick’s draft rights from the Clippers for a 2007 2nd round pick’s draft rights and the rights to Jon Motley, who was a two-way player for the Mavs last year. They then took the 2008 player’s draft rights and a 2020 2nd rounder for Chinanu Onuaku, cash, and a 2020 protected second rounder. They later cut Onuaku, so the moves made them money and gave them a possibility at a better 2020 second round pick.

Looking at their offseason really depends on one thing; how you feel about trading another first rounder to move up and get Dončić. If he is their franchise guy, and this works out, losing one pick won’t matter. I still think that on a team which won’t have their own first round pick this year that they could’ve done more with some of their cap space and with minimum contracts.

I’d give their offseason a B-.

About Matt Flynn

Matt is a New Jersey lawyer and graduate of Rutgers Law School (J.D.) and The College of New Jersey (B.A., Political Science). He is a former radio engineer and talk show host, and he now works full-time at a local law firm as an associate attorney handling civil litigation, land use, and local government matters. He is a resident of Central Jersey and lives with his lovely wife and pug puppy. When not pursuing law, he tends to his two greatest intellectual loves, film and the NBA. You can catch his reviews and year-end lists here on Blended Opinion.

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