The Dallas Mavericks have an odd history with the draft, largely due to their needs as a team failing to coincide with their position in the first round. That’s the price paid for being a perennial playoff team always on the brink of contention; Dallas has been very competitive over the last decade or so, but in exchange for that success, they’ve only selected a player earlier than the 21st pick (or acquired a player selected on draft night with a pick higher than No. 21) one time since 2000. It’s tough to find immediate help late in the first round, and though it can certainly be done (Josh Howard and Rodrigue Beaubois are two convenient in-house examples), those success stories will always be the exceptions to the norm.
Beyond the inherent difficulties in finding contributors late in the draft, Dallas has also long been a team without easily rectifiable weaknesses. The Mavericks have never been perfect, but their problems were more complex than mere positional defect; picks in the 20s (or even the late lottery) weren’t likely to produce players better than Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier, or DeSagana Diop with the immediacy needed. The lineup was set, it just hadn’t been quite good enough.
That much has changed with the whole winning the championship thing, but the Mavs, as is the case with any defending champion, still need to find ways to improve. This particular draft is not a sufficient means to achieve that improvement. There are some serviceable players in the bunch (along with a pinch of debatable star power up top), but the 26th pick won’t give Dallas a piece that will amount to anything within the context of their current rotation. So long as free agency isn’t an abject disaster, this 26th pick will be temporarily irrelevant; the Mavs have a chance to draft a player to stash away overseas or to bring along slowly, but the potential for an immediately capable contributor so late in this draft is virtually nonexistent.
Yet Dallas, possibly more than any other champion in NBA history, is ready to improve regardless of any additions to the team. Caron Butler’s return to the court — provided that he re-signs to the Mavs as is expected — is a big reason why; Dallas won the title without their second best scorer and one of their top perimeter defenders playing a single playoff minute, and plugging in his production in place of that of DeShawn Stevenson/Peja Stojakovic should result in a rather significant gain. Beyond Butler, though, Dallas has three capable young players who watched the Mavs’ unbelievable playoff run unfold from their courtside seats. Rodrigue Beaubois remains a prominent piece in the franchise’s future, even if he never could quite find the right gear during his sophomore campaign. Dominique Jones is an effective slasher, a capable ball-handler, and a physical on-ball defender. Corey Brewer is a bundle of energy that simply cannot be contained, and his defensive effort has a funny way of making good things happen for his team, even if his jumper is still a work in progress.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Dallas were picking earlier in the draft, but Brewer and Beaubois are studs compared to the talent in this year’s class, while Jones would likely figure in as a late lottery pick. That’s an astounding amount of talent waiting at the kids table, and more versatile as a group than any one particular prospect from this year’s lottery would be.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the wake of winning the NBA title, but Mavs fans have the luxury of not only living in the moment. Sip on that champagne. Rewatch Game 6. Scoop up all of the commemorative memorabilia that your arms can carry. But know that even without the draft, these Dallas Mavericks are in a position to be even better than the team that won the title in 2011.