How The Mavs Changed Course This Summer After The Failed JaVale McGee Signing

Last offseason, the Dallas Mavericks signed Javale McGee to bolster their frontcourt with size and legitimate rim defense. The Mavericks had just made a run to the Western Conference Finals by utilizing a small ball lineup with Maxi Kleber at the center position to pull opposing bigs out to the three point line and allow Luka Doncic to work his magic. Their switch heavy defensive scheme buoyed them through the first two rounds of the playoffs, but when they faced the Warriors in the conference finals, Kevon Looney and Draymond Green dominated the offensive glass. In the eyes of the Mavericks decision makers, they were just a little defense and rebounding away from making a true title run. While that assessment may have been correct, Dallas should have known that McGee would never be the solution.

During the Mavericks second round playoff matchup against the Suns in 2022, Dallas — more specifically Luka Doncic — played McGee completely off the floor. Phoenix opted for Bismack Biyombo over McGee, who they signed on a 10-day contract earlier that season, as the series went on, because McGee could not execute the Suns’ defensive rotations and consistently left Phoenix exposed at the rim. That performance foreshadowed McGee’s tenure in Dallas.

Dallas sought out McGee because of his history with head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd was an assistant on the Lakers staff in 2020 when they won the title with McGee starting 68 games. Dallas envisioned McGee in a similar role playing 15-20 minutes a night setting the tone at the rim and on the boards as a starter. They went as far as promising the starting slot to McGee before training camp even started. The expectation for McGee wasn’t totally unreasonable, but Dallas did not anticipate the age-related decline for McGee. Despite entering the season at age 35, Dallas offered McGee a two year deal with a player option for a third season. That’s where Dallas truly erred in their process. It would’ve been one thing to take a one-year flier on a player at McGee’s level and age. It’s entirely another to offer that player three guaranteed years.

After just one season, Dallas waived McGee and will stretch the remaining $11 million of his salary for the next five years. It’s not often you see a team waive a player just a year after they signed, but the McGee experiment failed as quickly as it started. Despite being promised a starting role in the summer, McGee only lasted seven games as a starter for Dallas. McGee struggled to build chemistry with Doncic in the pick and roll that often left Doncic visibly frustrated. The Dallas defense that was built on quick, timely rotations the year before, lost its connective tissue when McGee was inserted into the lineup.

The starting lineup of Doncic, McGee, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Reggie Bullock lasted just seven games and posted a -15.6 net rating. McGee would then play spot minutes off the bench into December, but was completely out of the rotation by the All-Star break. There was a brief moment after the Kyrie Irving trade where it looked like McGee would crack the rotation again, but that lasted only a few games. Even as the Mavericks hemorrhaged points at the rim and their season spiraled out of control, Jason Kidd didn’t trust McGee to execute his defensive scheme and he remained glued to the bench.

The Mavs have now completely undone their 2022 offseason overhaul of the frontcourt, waiving McGee and letting Christian Wood walk. The Mavs hoped those two would be able to balance one another, Wood as a strong scoring option and McGee as a rim deterrent, but neither had an impact on winning and their weaknesses were on display more often than their strengths. This summer the Mavs have opted to take a different approach, seeking out more youth, athleticism, and versatility. Dallas responded to last season’s disastrous summer (headlined by letting Jalen Brunson walk) by overhauling their rotation and having (at least on paper) their best offseason since drafting Doncic in 2018.

On Draft night, they traded the 10th pick and Davis Bertans to Oklahoma City for the 12th pick, picking up a large trade exception in the process. With the 12th pick they selected Dereck Lively, who projects as an excellent shot blocking big, strong lob threat for Doncic, and the potential long-term answer for Dallas at center. That trade exception was used later on draft night to absorb Richaun Holmes and acquire the 24th pick from Sacramento to select Olivier-Maxence Prosper. The Mavs hope Prosper, a strong 6’8 wing, evolves into the kind of 3-and-D player every contender wants — and could eventually fill the Dorian Finney-Smith role they struggled to replace after the Irving trade. Additionally, Dallas executed a sign-and-trade for Grant Williams in free agency to provide defensive frontcourt flexibility they sorely lacked after the Kyrie trade.

Dallas can head into the season feeling good about their roster moving forward, hoping they’ve undone most of the damage of last summer, but for the next five years they will be sending a check to Javale McGee for a signing they should have never made that will be a constant reminder of the steps back they took with one offseason of bad decisions.