At the All Star Break, let’s look at where the Mavs are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going.

Last night Dirk faced off for the last time against his NBA Finals nemesis in Dwayne Wade as the Mavericks hosted the Heat for the last game of the All Star Break. The end result was a disappointing 112-101 loss. The first half went well, with us leading 58-56 at halftime, but a huge run by the Heat and a scoring drought by the Mavs in the third put the game out of reach.

LM Otero/AP Dallas Morning News Sports Day
Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero

This game had some great shooting by Tim Hardaway Jr. and yet another near triple double from Luka, but this game was ultimately about the last showdown between the perennial rivals. Mavs fans cheered as Dirk and Wade entered the game simultaneously, but proceeded to boo Wade whenever he touched the ball, as it should be. The two retiring legends put on a show once they checked in and gave us some bad ’06 flashbacks and some stellar ’11 flashbacks, including this perfect throwback:

With that game in the books, the Mavs head into a much needed All Star Break. For most of the team, it’s a week of rest that can let them get their heads and bodies right for the home stretch of games. However, for Luka and Dirk, they head to Charlotte for a weekend of festivities, celebrations of the game, and a whole lotta love! Luka gets to participate in the Rising Stars Game and Skills Challenge while The GOAT is busy every night by coaching the Rising Stars Game, participating in the 3 Point Contest and being named a “special roster addition” All-Star for the main event, making Dirk a 14-time All Star for his career. So what about the team, itself? We know that players will take some time off, work with coaches, play some pick up ball. The coaching staff will be assessing where the team has come from the start of the season, where we are at this point, and how we can best close out the season. The front office will look at all of the same items, but through the lens of where we’re going AFTER the season ends. So let’s play GM and take stock of the Mavs season from all sides.

Where We’ve Been

It’s safe to say the Mavs are not the same team they thought they had at the start of the season. We had the young PG who was going to take a step this year. We had a new shiny rookie that had question marks of how his game would adapt to the NBA. We had a new center who was immediately the best rebounder the Mavs had seen since Tyson Chandler. And we still had the Mavs previous scoring leader and best team defender. Your starting lineup was Dennis Smith Jr., Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan.

As with all seasons, everything acts as a domino to affect another thing. No one fully expected the meteoric rise of Luka Doncic. His budding superstardom really affected everyone else on the roster. Nearly all players he played with felt an uptick in production, but one really didn’t like the direction it was headed. Dennis Smith Jr. didn’t want to change his role from PG to combo guard and the rift between him and the coaching staff began. DeAndre was an effective rebounder, but little else. He was not patrolling the paint the way the Mavs had hoped and was 2nd in the entire league in turnovers per possession. Wes, on the last year of his contract, was inconsistent on both ends of the floor. So while Luka was getting better by the game, the starting lineup wasn’t. The Mavs starters were one of the worst starting lineups in the NBA in the plus/minus at -2.9 and games were being saved by either Luka or the Mavs’ electric bench. Then JJ Barea goes down with a season ending injury. Then Dennis Smith sits out and essentially demands a trade. Things were not right in Mavs land.

At the trade deadline, the front office makes the biggest pair of moves in my Mavs lifetime, trading Dennis, DeAndre and Wes (along with 2 first round draft picks) to the Knicks for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. After this exchange, the Mavs make yet another massive move by trading Barnes away for essentially cap space and Justin Jackson. The Mavs currently look very little like they did at the start of the season. We won’t see the full fruition of their efforts until next season begins when we’ll get a healthy Porzingis next to Luka and the offseason additions Donnie and Cuban put in place around their young new core. It’s been a wild 8 months since the draft.

Where We Are

At the All Star Break, the Mavs project to win 37.5 games for the season, which is not enough for their stated goal of PLAYOFFS at the beginning of the season and not bad enough for our top 5 protected lottery pick. We are still 5 games out of the last playoff spot with both LA teams and Sacramento sitting right in front of us. Simultaneously, we are 7.5 games out of the lottery at this moment. Not to mention our remaining schedule is the 11th hardest in the NBA. Our position in the standings proves to be an uphill battle in either direction.

The All Star Break could not come at a better time as our new team additions could use some time to better familiarize themselves with their plays and teammates; develop more chemistry for the home stretch of games. And it couldn’t come soon enough for Luka Doncic, who appeared rather gassed this past week even though he still played at an exceedingly high level. With the break coming so late in the season, everyone could use a rest to take in all the madness that was the trade deadline and start fresh next Wednesday.

Where We’re Going

We know the moves that were made at the trade deadline were all done with eyes towards the future which makes the remaining 25 games of the season seem more trivial to a fan than to the team. Kristaps being on the shelf until next year and Barnes’ 18 pts a game being swapped for a trade exception and cap room leave fans to want to hurry through the rest of the season and get to next year. However, there is still much to play for.

The rest of the season must be about players getting more minutes to prove their worth; giving more run to players like Maxi and Dorian who need the time to be evaluated for contract purposes. We need to know what we have in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Both have shown flashes of being excellent scorers and then disappearing one night later. Player development and system integration become the focuses of the rest of the season.

More than those hallmarks of a rebuilding team, the Mavs need to prove to potential free agent targets that the Mavs are more than just cap room. They are more than just a batch of rookies who they can muddle through a few seasons with. They need to show a winning culture and mentality to entice the big name free agents to look to them over the Knicks or Clippers or Nets. The Mavs need to prove they are ready to win immediately if a big free agent would just give them a few added wins and they have to prove they have more to offer than a bevy of other up and coming teams.

The Future

Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have big plans for their club as soon as the season ends. At first glance it looks like the Mavs have finite resources when it comes to the offseason, but much can be done with what they have.

The Mavs may not have a first round pick in this upcoming draft (part of the Luka draft trade last year), but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a player this draft. They still have a second round pick and the means to get back into the draft by taking a contract into their trade exception in exchange for a pick or outright buying one from someone. We’ve seen crazier things in the draft.

The Mavs also have a projected $30M in cap space this summer, but need to resign Porzingis and also both Maxi and Dorian. Well, all 3 of those men would eat the $30M easy unless the team managed the order to go over the cap (which they do with regularity). Since the players are already part of the team, the Mavs can use that $30M to sign a free agent and then go over the cap to resign all 3! In other words, they can have their cake and eat it, too! As long as Cuban is willing to foot the bill, which we know he is for the right opportunity.

The Mavs additionally have a $21.3M trade exception which could allow them to add YET ANOTHER piece or even pieces to this team for practically nothing if they find a trade partner who wants cap relief. They have this exception for a full year, so it could be used to trade with another team in the offseason or up to the deadline next year.

The point is, the Mavs have options and I fully expect Donnie and Mark to take advantage of each and every opportunity that presents itself. This is a GREAT time to be a Mavs fan!

Featured Image: Associated Press/LM Otero
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