The Dallas Mavericks have spent years stubbornly refusing to rebuild, while failing to bring in any marquee free agents. During that time they’ve largely been forced to content themselves with lower seeds in the Western Conference playoffs and early exits from the postseason. Now, it seems that the chickens are finally coming home to roost, as the Mavs are 3-13, the worst record in the NBA. But Mavs owner Mark Cuban still refuses to cut bait on the season.
“We’re six games out of the playoffs with 65 or 66 to go,” Cuban said before the Mavericks got their third win of the season. “If we were six games out with five to play, I’d be panicking. If this was the middle of the season and we went through a patch like this, then people would panic. But we’d say there’s a long way to go. One little run could change everything.”
While it’s true that the Mavericks have seen their early season torpedoed by injury — Dirk Nowitzki, most significantly, has missed 11 of their 16 games — their $20+ million-per-year free agent, Harrison Barnes, hasn’t had the sort of efficiency or distribution you’d expect from a new centerpiece. He’s essentially been the same player he was in Golden State, only with more shot attempts (and a worse three-point percentage, an abysmal 25 percent on the year so far). Shooting guard Wesley Matthews is beginning to resemble the stalwart he was in Portland, but point guard Deron Williams is showing his age and history of ankle injuries.
On top of those issues (and Nowitzki’s Achilles soreness is worth keeping a concerned eye on), the Mavs don’t have much of a bench to speak of. THey don’t look like a good team at all, so Mavs fans can be forgiven for wanting the team to maximize their shot at a superstar in the NBA draft. Cuban doesn’t think those people are fans at all, however — he says “Haters gonna hate.”
Cuban believes that if the Mavericks are truly the bad team everyone says they are, then they’ll have the opportunity to start tanking much later, citing the lack of truly transcendent prospects in the draft:
“The only way you overcome that is to have the ultimate superstar carry you through, and it’s tough to draft the ultimate superstar. I don’t see any Shaqs or LeBrons or Tim Duncans in this draft, so I don’t think that’s the right way to do it. You just ignore the haters, let them bitch, and go about your business.”
What Cuban is either denying or ignoring is the fact that even without a true number one-type talent, there’s more utility in getting a top pick in every draft than once again barely sneaking into or missing the playoffs and winding up with a middling prospect. That’s what the Mavericks have been doing for years, and it hasn’t given them any talent to build around. Cuban may hate to tank, and if the Mavs are this bad, he won’t need to, but he still has the wrong idea about what true contention means.