Where Do New-Look Dallas Mavericks Go From Here?

The Dallas Mavericks didn’t have the offseason they desired when July opened, but that doesn’t mean they completely struck out either. As with most everything around the NBA, there are layers and nuance to their summer.

In short, they’re a better team than they were last year, even if they weren’t able to complete the high-profile signings they wanted to really push their team over the top.

The Mavericks’ offseason really started in February, when they picked up Kristaps Porzingis in a trade with the New York Knicks alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. That trio ate up nearly $50 million of their salary cap this summer, and that’s before they re-signed Porzingis to a five-year max contract.

Their other re-signings and the lack of suitable cap space options willing to sign with the Mavericks led the club to remain as an over-the-cap team for the 2019-20 league year, which will give them more time to use what remains of their financial flexibility.

At this point, the biggest advantage Dallas has on the market is the remainder of the trade exception generated in the Harrison Barnes trade to Sacramento last season. With $11.83 million left on that exception and $13.65 million separating their current team salary from the luxury tax line, they may have the opportunity to add another player to their roster making significant money before February’s trade deadline.

Apr 3, 2019; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis practices before the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

So much of what you’re about to read hinges on Porzingis’ health. If he’s able to return anywhere near full strength, “The Unicorn” gives Dallas a pick-and-pop weapon who can absolutely finish at the rim, stretch the floor and generally wreak havoc with Luka Doncic’s equally scary playmaking. If he suffers setbacks or a loss of athleticism, the 7’3″ former Knick could quickly become an albatross contract and a major liability on defense. For now, we have no reason to believe his ACL tear comes with any long-term consequences, so we’ll assume the best.

As things stand, the Mavs’ roster is relatively well-balanced, with a slew of players who can fill multiple positions and roles within the team’s system.

Their two marquee acquisitions of the summer are both combo guards and will give Rick Carlisle the lineup versatility he likes the Mavericks’ famous two-point guard lineups. Throw in all-around playmaker Doncic at the point forward position and Dallas will not lack for creators in 2019-20.

Delon Wright and Seth Curry aren’t necessarily traditional playmaking point guards, but both can hit the outside shot to play off the ball next to Doncic and defend their position. That’s important for a player like Doncic who, much like LeBron James, might be the de facto point guard on offense but shouldn’t be checking that same position on the other end.

Outside of Porzingis, the Mavs also brought back incumbent free agents Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith. Kleber is precisely the sort of all-around big who will fit perfectly next to Porzingis or reserve center Dwight Powell. He’s capable of sliding with guards and wings defensively and is a three-point bomber on the other end of the floor, which will provide a strong spacing element in Dallas’s offense, particularly when Powell is on the floor rolling to the rim.

Nov 14, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Maximilian Kleber (42) and forward Dwight Powell (7) celebrate during the second quarter against the Utah Jazz at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Porzingis offers just enough of his own spacing that their pairing promises plenty of interchangeability in high-low and five-out action.

Whether Finney-Smith can break (back) into the Mavs’ starting and closing lineups will come down to his jumper. He’s a strong defender at the 2 and 3 and makes a good defensive partner for Doncic, who needs to be hidden as much as possible.

It’s not immensely difficult to get away with having a single non-shooter on the floor at any given time, but it’s less tenable when that player isn’t a pure center capable of rocking the rim in pick-and-roll. In the modern NBA, Finney-Smith’s role is mostly limited to being a cutter and opportunistic offensive rebounder, but that’s not going to be good enough anymore for the Mavericks to get where they would like to go.

If they would like to go away from Finney-Smith in their most-important lineups, then Hardaway is ostensibly a strong shooter despite hitting a below-average percentage from 3 for his career. He’s better as a scorer with the ball in his hands—he’s actually a better shooter off the dribble than he is in catch-and-shoot situations, which doesn’t necessarily portend well for his fit next to Doncic. The presence of Wright and Curry as secondary playmakers and ball handlers may leave little room for Hardaway’s best skills, unless he can embrace a bench gunner role and one of the latter two earns their way into the starting lineup.

Mar 8, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) defends against Dallas Mavericks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Given Carlisle’s propensity for playing lineups with multiple point guards and the lack of a fantastic fifth player for their starting and closing groups, it wouldn’t surprise anybody to see both Wright and Curry feature heavily for Dallas in the team’s most important moments.

Wright’s 6’5″ frame allows him to defend the 2, and Curry’s no slouch on that end of the floor either. Neither necessarily bring the same level of forward defense or individual scoring as Finney-Smith or Hardaway, respectively, but given what the Mavericks need from those spots, it may be their best move to go with their Summer 2019 acquisitions.

What the arrival of Wright and Curry means for second-year point guard Jalen Brunson remains to be seen.

Brunson played well in his rookie year and is under contract for at least the next two seasons, but the slew of point guards and ball handlers ahead of him in the rotation may give him fewer opportunities than in 2018-19. A prototypical backup point guard, Brunson takes care of the ball very well and can run the offense capably while the starters get a breather, but he lacks the true upside to become a starting-level player.

At this point, Brunson will likely fill the third point guard role on the Mavericks, though if Carlisle opts to run with both Wright and Curry in the lineup for significant minutes in their regular rotation, then there will be room for Brunson to play in the regular season. Either way, it’s likely that Brunson can carve out a role on his reliability alone, much like current Orlando Magic D.J. Augustin has done throughout his journeyman career.

There are two main avenues for Dallas to improve their team further: shipping out Courtney Lee with draft assets for another wing who can really help them or using that Barnes trade exception to acquire a slightly lesser player. Lee’s salary could fetch a player making up to $17.8 million, which just so happens to fit a certain Golden State castoff plying his trade (for now) in Memphis.

Yes, we’re talking about Andre Iguodala, who would immediately complete a very strong Dallas starting lineup with his defense, playmaking, and veteran leadership.

Nov 17, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) drives to the basket past Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) during the first quarter at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks don’t have first-round picks to send with Lee for Iguodala’s $17.2 million expiring contract, but they have a number of second-round picks over the next several years, headlined by the swap rights they own with the Miami Heat in 2023. Miami is clearly all-in on the present with their moves this summer, which could lead to that 2023 second-rounder being quite a good asset for the Mavericks or whichever team owns it four years from now.

Add in another second-rounder, (perhaps Utah’s in 2020), and Dallas may be able to pick up Iguodala to really compete for a playoff spot in 2019-20.

Long-term, the Mavericks don’t project to have cap space next year, so they’ll be operating with just the non-taxpayer mid-level exception next offseason—since they used the bi-annual exception to sign Boban Marjanovic this summer—and any sign-and-trade possibilities they can pull off. As a result, they can be aggressive with the remainder of that Barnes trade exception, since it expires in February 2020 and can’t be taken into July 2020 anyway.

They won’t be able to acquire Iguodala and use the full Barnes trade exception if they want to stay out of the tax entirely—a good idea since they’re not anywhere close to a true contender yet—but there’s still room for them to acquire another role player in that exception if they’re truly going for it this year.

The moral of the story is that Dallas is trending upwards. So much depends on the health of Porzingis and Doncic realizing the assumed potential we all saw last year, but the supporting cast is strengthening and Rick Carlisle’s coaching remains an enormous boon.

This is either a sleeper playoff team or at least the well-oiled spoiler no one wants to see near the end of the season, depending on all of the above.