One of the problems with building in waves — as all NBA teams are forced to do — is that the guidelines for construction can be swept right out from under a team that’s only doing right by logic. What was applicable in June isn’t quite so valid today; it once made perfect sense for Dallas to move down in the draft to select multiple players and pick up a combo guard prospect, but now Jared Cunningham and Jae Crowder are buried in the depth chart, Bernard James is a distant 12th man, and Tyler Zeller (whom Dallas could have selected with their original 17th pick) looks to be one of the more NBA-ready players in this draft class.
The situation has shifted, and yet history has a way of only being recalled in the absolutes afforded to perfect hindsight. Consider this a preemptive strike against that line of thinking, much like the one that was needed when Dallas re-signed Brendan Haywood to a six-year, $55 million deal in the summer of 2010.
Faced with the inevitability of trading away Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract for some asset or another, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban agreed to a long-term deal with a capable defensive center. Were they to know that Tyson Chandler was the eventual bounty of Dampier’s deal, they may have proceeded differently. But given the Mavericks’ circumstances (aging core, no chance for cap room, no readily apparent starting-caliber alternatives), it was a move that needed to be made. You may disagree with the total dollar amount or the length of the contract, but at the time that agreement was far more reasonable than the Twitter snark would have you believe.
Such is the case with Nelson and Cuban’s draft-night decisions this year. Selecting twice in the second round allowed Dallas the potential to fill two roster spots without concern for cap holds — an incredibly valuable capability given the preciousness of the team’s cap space. If the Mavs were indeed to sign Deron Williams, they would need every inch of cap room possible to fill out the rest of the rotation with viable players; adding the rights to second-round prospects without any guaranteed money would help a bit in that regard, as would shaving the difference in rookie-scale salary between the 17th pick and the 24th pick. All of those little savings matter when you’re trying to cobble together a roster around Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki, and the powers that be in Dallas were wise to pay attention to the financial margins.
And honestly, that’s all one can really ask of them. Make the sound play, save when possible, and build a winner in the details. It’s that very strategy that’s kept Dallas afloat for so long, and while it’s unfortunate that the Mavs now have three relatively young prospects (Cunningham, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones) competing for the scraps that Darren Collison, Delonte West, O.J. Mayo, Dahntay Jones, and Vince Carter leave behind, that kind of positional buildup is inescapable for any team operating in a dynamic market.
Hope and despair were separated by mere days in Dallas, as Williams’ decision to remain a Net upended more than a year of groundwork and a summer of very specific positioning. Given that, the fact that the Mavs are able to field a competitive roster at all this season is something of a miracle; they may have tied a few of their previous decisions in a knot in the process of duct-taping a roster together, but Nelson and Cuban deftly pivoted disappointment into an auxiliary core in what amounted to a week’s time. There may be twists and turns that muck up the team’s general trajectory, but all of that turbulence doesn’t unseat the basic philosophy and process at work — a guiding light that easily outweighs the need for immediate payoff on a first-round draft selection.