It has been about as polarizing a four days as any in recent NBA history thanks to the madness created by free agency. The league’s greatest player, LeBron James, moved from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the legendary Los Angeles Lakers… DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star, signed a one year deal with the back-to-back champion Golden State Warriors for an NBA equivalent of $20 bucks… and Raymond Felton re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder! Okay, not all of those things are equal in causing the seismic level of chaos on NBA Twitter this week.
With the Warriors being able to add a talent like Cousins, a lot of people, including a ton on the Dallas Sports Fanatic staff, seemed convinced (only somewhat jokingly) that there’s not even a point in watching the upcoming NBA season or two just because it’s so abundantly clear that the Larry O’Brien trophy will find its way back to the Bay Area once again. Why even bother tuning if we all know exactly how this is all going to end?
While no NBA franchise executive would ever admit it, there might even be a few who simply shrug now and say there isn’t anything their team can do put themselves in a legitimate spot to contend for a championship over the next few seasons.
Source: Westgate Las Vegas Superbook
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 3, 2018
While it’s 150% justified that the Warriors are overwhelming favorites to win it all again in 2019 and every year until one, or maybe even two, of their All-Stars takes their talents elsewhere, that doesn’t mean the rest of the league just needs to break down their tent and head back home with Adele’s depressing “Hello” blaring while they blankly stare ahead and reflect on their seemingly hopeless existence. The next NBA champion not named the Warriors or whatever team has LeBron James is somewhere among the other 28 teams and it might not be someone you expect.
For the sake of making this relevant to the Dallas Sports Fanatic readers, let’s tie this back to the Mavericks. This free agency has gone about how they’d hope. They got their big man in DeAndre Jordan but had to lose a couple quality bench pieces in Doug McDermott and Seth Curry to do it. Pairing the addition of Jordan with the draft night acquisition of Luka Doncic certainly doesn’t make the Mavericks title contenders, but it sure puts them in a better place than they were a month ago when it looked like they would add a less than electrifying player like Mo Bamba with the fifth overall pick.
Even if they didn’t do anything else in free agency, this team has a decent chance at being a real contender for one of the final few playoff spots in the Western Conference. Let me stop there to address the insanely pessimistic, annoying, naive, etc. people on Twitter who completely dismiss the value of any playoff experience unless it results in a championship. There is immeasurable value in each and every appearance in the NBA playoffs. There’s also an important fact to consider: unless you’re adding multiple All-Stars in the prime of their careers in one summer (the 2008 Boston Celtics), you don’t get to just flip a switch to go from 20 wins and competing for the 1st overall pick in the draft to being an NBA champion in one summer. Maybe not even two summers.
People love to use the Philadelphia 76ers as an example of why “tanking works!” They had to go through some playoff growing pains this season and they will next year too. The Warriors went through this same thing. Their trajectory from the beginning of this decade leading up to their 2015 championship goes like this:
2010-2011: 36-46, missed playoffs
2011-2012: 23-43, missed playoffs
2012-2013: 47-35, eliminated in second round
2013-2014: 51-31, eliminated in first round
2014-2015: 67-15, won NBA championship
There were a couple interesting relative backtracks in that story with the decreased winning percentage in 2011-2012 and then losing in the first round in 2014 following an unexpected march to the second round showdown with the San Antonio Spurs in 2013. The Warriors rise to being a champion is no different than any of the other recent champions: you must go through playoff defeat(s) before you can have the glory of winning it all.
LeBron’s Cavaliers team went through a tough loss in the 2015 Finals before shocking the world and coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to take the 2016 title. The 2014 Spurs basically choked away the 2013 Finals and had five other disappointing playoff years since their previous title in 2007, which was also preceded by another three seasons of disappointment after their 2003 championship and that followed three years of playoff losses to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s. The Big 3 Heat teams in Miami had to take their gut punch in the 2011 Finals before gelling and winning it all in 2012 and 2013. To top it all off, we all know about the decade of playoff losses Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs went through before finally winning it all back in 2011.
The point is that the Warriors are going to eventually fall. Whether it unexpectedly comes this season or sometime after that, they are not immune to it. When it does happen, the rest of the league needs to be ready. You don’t become ready to win an NBA championship by simply laying down and waiting for it. You take your lumps, learn from it, get better, and try again the next season.
For the Mavericks, getting ready for that next opportunity needs to begin now. Get yourselves back into the playoff fray. Throw your best punch no matter how much bigger, stronger and more experienced your opponent might be. Absorb that punch and accept that you got knocked down. Then step back and assess what you need to do in order to do better the next time. Slowly but surely, the big man will wear down and your best punch will be enough to knock him down.
For Dallas and the rest of the NBA, now is not the time to wave the white flag. Now is the time to charge with more intensity than ever. Because once the mighty Warriors do eventually falter, you want to be the one to take advantage of it.
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