The Dallas Mavericks have spent the last decade-plus carefully constructing and manicuring one of the most impressive cultures in professional sports. What they lack in franchise mystique they’ve more than made up for in clever engineering, roster support, and locker room camaraderie; the Mavericks are, frankly, run the way a basketball franchise is meant to be run. They’re financially aware without being stingy and resourceful without stretching themselves too thin, all of which has coincided with incredible, sustained success. They don’t win games or conquer seasons. They engage in a process, and all of those smaller victories figure themselves out along the way.
But, lest we forget: this has never been a franchise renowned for its draft selections or player development. Value is found and redeemed whenever possible, but there’s a reason why this franchise is lacking any notable young talent whatsoever as they attempt to segue into a new era of Mavericks basketball; even the victorious 2011 team was essentially geriatric. Eleven straight years as something resembling a title contender tends to take the wind out of the draft sails, leaving Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, and a string of coaches to dig deep for rotation value without having picks conducive to finding that kind of talent.
So the Mavs have made it work as they can, even though many of the team’s drafting victories have tended to fade early. Josh Howard capped out quickly, Devin Harris was never utilized in the correct ways, and Rodrigue Beaubois has seemingly lost himself. The Mavs made do with what they could reasonably get in the later stages of the first round (or in Harris’ case, with a high pick acquired due to a weak draft class), even if the players found weren’t a perfect stylistic fit. The stagnation that followed was only emblematic of past coaching regimes that were flawed even in their successes, and even more emblematic of drafting limitation. It’s hard to unearth talent when so little is left on the board, and though Dallas didn’t hit the jackpot with any of their selections, I find it hard to fault them for merely succumbing to the odds.
The Mavericks have never been a franchise renowned for its draft selections or player development because the franchise has rarely had an opportunity to select a standout talent and even more rarely had a prospect capable of considerable growth. They’ve done well to find tremendous value in the free agent scrap heap, but when 20 teams or more have the ability to snatch up what in their estimation is a superior prospect, the odds — and the tables — turn.
This year, the Mavericks hold the 17th pick in the draft, and while that may not be a particularly promising slot, Dallas has no choice but to make it so. Dallas needs rotation-level players in a bad way, and if they’re going to cling to the game plan of revamping the roster through free agency, then finding a useful, usable player with the 17th pick is damn near essential. The framing that this is a pick that can’t be missed is wholly accurate; regardless of whether the Mavs end up catching their big fish, this bare-bones roster could use some filling out. No one could or should expect a star, but instant utility seems reasonably within Nelson’s reach, and squarely within the organization’s aim. All that’s left to see is how the dominoes fall on a particularly volatile draft night, and what is again left for the Mavericks when they make their slightly earlier — and only marginally more favorable — mid-round selection.