For the first time in 22 years, the Dallas Mavericks will take the floor without Dirk Nowitzki as a member of the roster. While that alone is more than enough reason to distinguish this as a new era in the team’s history, it also marks a turning point after several three brutal seasons thanks to the arrivals of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis over the past year and change.
While expectations were sky-high for the team entering free agency, they adapted to early disappointment by taking a more simplistic path and making quality additions while re-signing their own free agents. The message was clear: cultivating continuity and developing the chemistry between Doncic and Porzingis would be the team’s top priority moving forward. Could Dallas eventually use a third star or another solid piece? Absolutely, but there’s no reason to force things so early on in the process.
The Western Conference is stacked from just about top to bottom right now, so while a return to the playoffs would be nice, it’s hardly a guarantee even with Luka and a healthy Porzingis. In fact, it was reported by Tim Cato of The Athletic that KP could miss as many as 15-20 games simply as a means of load management as they try to protect their new star as he works his way back from a torn ACL nearly 20 months ago. Even assuming he’s otherwise healthy for the other 62-67 games, that’s a significant chunk of time to be without your second-best player and one of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA today. Despite that added difficulty, Dallas does have a path to the playoffs.
One of the biggest differences between this year and the three that proceeded it is the first ten games of the schedule. Dallas has regularly stumbled out of the gate against superior competition and has never really been able to recover from the initial setbacks. This season could be a different story, however.
Dallas opens the season at home game against a Wizards team that is in shambles at the moment. From there, they’ll have a prime time match up with the new-look Pelicans and number one overall pick, Zion Williamson. From there, things definitely get shaky for a moment as the next three opponents will be the Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Lakers, but it’ll settle down again. After the Lakers game, Dallas will see four straight very winnable games against the Cavaliers, Magic, Knicks, and Grizzlies before seeing another tough match up with the Celtics.
While the idea of sitting around .500 through ten games might not seem like much to be excited about, it would be a welcomed improvement from last year’s 3-7 start, and the year prior’s 1-9 start. To paint a clear picture: Dallas, in the first 10 games over the past three seasons has had a combined record of 6-24. So .500 shouldn’t sound so bad if the team can accomplish that this year.
With the return of Seth Curry and the addition of Porzingis should provide a substantial lift to Dallas’s offense, the roster as currently constructed looks like it’ll likely be just on the outside looking in at the playoff picture come April. One one the team could counteract this in an effort to make a late-season push would be by making a substantial trade at the deadline. I mentioned earlier that the team doesn’t need to force the issue on adding a third piece or solid player, but if one who fits well within your system should come available then by all means explore the possibility. Dallas may not do well in free agency but Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have a long track record of swinging blockbuster trades at the deadline, even if not all of them ultimately worked out on the basketball court. If the Mavs can add another key piece, they might be able to squeeze their way into the outskirts of the playoffs and get some much-needed postseason experience for their young roster.
It’s going to be weird seeing the Mavericks play without Dirk, but the timing of his departure couldn’t have been much better for the fans. The team is in good hands now with Luka and Kristaps at the forefront. The darkest days post title appear to be in the rear-view now. And, much like the 1999-2000 Mavericks, this group looks to be trending very much in the right direction overall. If Luka and KP can form the same kind of 1-2 punch that Nash and Dirk did then, then we all have some very sunny days to look forward to.
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