Mortgaging the Future

Posted by Brian Rubaie on March 13, 2013 under Commentary, Roster Moves | 8 Comments to Read


The makeshift Dallas backcourt suffered yet another shakeup last weekend following the release of little-used point guard Dominique Jones. The news, like Jones’ time in Dallas, was an afterthought to most fans. Aside from bearing witness to the Mavericks’ 2011 championship run, Jones was more well known for the playful nickname he despised owning — “DoJo” — than he was for his on-court production.

Jones’ exit should trouble Dallas fans, though not because his absence will result in any immediate threat to the team’s production. Jones was a ghost in Dallas before his abrupt departure, and his exit represents another example of Dallas’ inability to groom a once-promising young athlete into a steady rotation player.

There were some hopeful signs emerging for Jones earlier this season. He started three games and showed rare glimpses of the skills that made him a first-round draft selection, including intensity, defensive awareness and an ability to push the pace and get to the rim in transition. His stock was rising along with his playing time, a career-high season average of 11.7 minutes per game.

Despite his progress, Jones’ opportunities this season came few and far between and soon almost vanished entirely. He became glued to the bench as the calendar flipped to 2013, sitting out 25 of the team’s 29 games this year due to coach’s decision. Dirk Nowitzki summed it up best, in comments to Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

“He never really got a real shot at it,”’ Nowitzki said. “I like his athleticism, I like what he brought, it just wasn’t a good situation to be in.

“I obviously wish him luck for the future. I was always cool with D-Jones and I wish him luck.”

For all the success the Mavericks have enjoyed during the Nowitzki Era, their Achilles Heel has clearly been an inability to develop young talent. The issue is particularly apparent this year at point guard; with Jason Kidd departing for New York in the offseason, the year looked to provide an opportunity to develop and grow for young starter Darren Collison and backups Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois. The stability at that position was expected to decline, but there was also opportunity for each young player to reach new heights if they were given more chances to prove their worth.

Instead, the point guard position has been a revolving door, with the 37-year-old Mike James and 38-year-old Derek Fisher starting more contests than either Beaubois or Jones and denying precious developmental opportunities to Collison. After endless consistent experimentation and an inactive trade deadline, the Mavs are no closer to finding a stop-gap or an effective long-term solution at point guard than they were when the season began.

This would be bearable if it were an isolated problem, but the team’s inability to nurture young talent is reflected across the board. The Dallas roster contains a number of aging veterans and expiring contracts who may not return, making the mission of developing prospects all the more important.While young Mavs like Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright have shown flashes of brilliance, they haven’t been granted enough time on the floor to establish consistent roles and production. Neither player is developing at the pace they could.

To Rick Carlisle’s credit, he was dealt an incredibly difficult hand and in some regards he has played that bad hand as well as anyone could. A team full of new members, struggling without its superstar, entered the season in desperate need of veteran leadership and stability. It made perfect sense earlier in the season for Carlisle to prioritize proven veterans over young players still struggling to find their place, particularly when Dallas still harbored reasonable hopes of making the playoffs.

While the Mavericks chances’ of making the postseason have changed dramatically in recent months, the distribution of playing time in favor of veterans who are unlikely to return hasn’t. A team that Hollinger’s Playoff odds give a 9% chance of making the playoff cut has chosen to mortgage the future to start and rely on Mike James, a decision which makes little sense no matter how much Collison struggles.

This season’s strategy of assembling a team of newly-acquired veteran talent on short-term deals was an interesting experiment, but one that has failed to achieve the desired results. The only hope of ensuring that Dallas’ long-shot playoff chase is an isolated occurrence rather than a recurring trend is to put more emphasis on player development. Perhaps prospects like Jones, Beaubois, Crowder and Wright will eventually disappoint when given more opportunities, but Nowitzki hit the nail on the head: the young guns all deserve the chance to fail, and the Mavs are in no position to deny them.

  • noillusions

    Blah blah blah TANK blah blah blah LOSE FOR DRAFT POSITION blah blah TANK…. This loser mentality is getting so tiresome. GIve me a team that competes and fights to win. You fair-weather “fans” need to go root for the Heat or somebody…

    • Sam

      This is a nonsense comment. Wanting a team that is barely hanging on the verge of the playoffs to play its young players THAT AREN’T EVEN BAD PLAYERS, its not like we’re talking about playing a bunch of projects here. Roddy has shown, and showed in Milwaukee he still has worth as a backup point guard. Collison has so much potential it seems a waste not to develop it and Jones never got a chance.

      I don’t think anyone wants this team to tank or lose on purpose, not anyone with any sense at least. But I don’t think its too much to ask for the Mavs to at least consider the future a little bit in a situation like this. I mean look at what Jae Crowder has done in his 3 starts this season. Did anyone really expect that? Probably not. But sometimes the unexpected turns out to be great. Look at what Brandan Wright has been doing lately. Roddy was a big spark against Milwaukee. Is it really tanking to play these guys?

      • Brian Rubaie

        Sam did a great job of responding to this criticism.

        To clarify, I don’t advocate tanking. Playing Mike James is the worst of all possible options because it dampens our long-term prospects enormously without improving our short-term outlook. I would happily welcome a discussion about why starting Mike James is a good idea but I haven’t found anyone making that case.

        My mention of the playoffs is more of an “even if.” Even if the Mavericks have a distant hope of making the playoffs, that pursuit doesn’t justify playing an old dog with no bite over young ones that sometimes chase their own tails.

        That being said, there is a good case to be made for tanking and our own Kirk Henderson does so here:

      • noillusions

        You’re actually still chasing the Beaubois fantasy? Good luck with that. He has shown he has worth as a backup point guard what, every fourth or fifth game? Let me put it this way : I trust Rick Carlisle’s evaluation of Roddy Beaubois’ worth far more than I trust that of anyone who is commenting on this board. Carlisle is not flawless, by any means, but he sees Beaubois every day in practice, in games, and on film, and I dare say he has a pretty good idea of whether it’s worth playing him…

        Carlislel has no hesitation playing Crowder, so the “doesn’t play young guys” argument holds no water at this point, which means he has no faith in Beaubois to be a reliable player from week to week. ‘A spark against Milwaukee’ was probably just that, a spark, not to be repeated for another half dozen games.

        Jones got plenty of chances, and failed during almost every single one of them. If after 3 years you are unable to make a layup, and you don’t draw fouls, and you can’t shoot, and you are being surly about going to the D-League to get actual playing time and work on your game, you are what you are and have no future here.

        My biggest issue with the article is the use of “Mortgaging the Future” as the title. Exactly which All-Star young guy is being denied playing time? Beaubois? Please. Cunningham? Admittedly nothing to base an opinion on with him. Collison? Indiana let him walk. Wright? He’s on his third team already. Mayo starts. Crowder has started, and gets minutes. B. James has started (not sure he truly counts as a young guy). Yes, Sam, you ARE talking about a bunch of projects here.

        And if you think people aren’t advocating tanking you must be very new to Mavericks dicsussion boards, that garbage has been going on since long before the All-Star break.

        • Brian Rubaie

          You’re certainly right that I don’t have Carlisle’s basketball IQ. Hell, neither do many of his peers. I do, however, question why you and he favor Mike James to any of our younger point guards but Cunningham. To start James while leaving our younger talent on the bench or shipping them off to the D-League is “mortgaging the future.” No, these guys aren’t all stars, but you’re missing the point. Why should they sit while Mike James steals precious PT?

    • Matt Hulme

      Just one question: why are you here?

  • Matt Hulme

    I don’t think losing DoJo is any real los at all; as you said, Brian, he had fall so far out of the rotation that he was leaving orbit either way, and this was just the Mavs’ management’s way of clearing the locker before any grudges or negative feelings could (not saying that any would) set in.

    While I don’t exactly lament the loss of Jones, I do lament the chronic illness that has impaired the Mavericks since the end of the Don Nelson era (more recently, losing Dwane Casey didn’t helped, either): the Mavs simply cannot and do not develop talent; they merely absorb it when timing and cap space affords the opportunity and then do their best to simulate that developmental culture through free agency, cohesive in-game offense, and team-oriented defense.

    This is an issue we fans have known for some time, and the Mavericks have done their best to address it for a team that rarely drafts outside of the mid-to-late 20s, but when nothing sticks, and you can’t help but see our rivals down I-35 having such success in development with similarly unfavorable draft positions, one can’t help but to wonder as to the exact root of the problem.

    Maybe the Mavs just draft poorly, both in talent and for the system. Maybe it’s tough luck. Maybe it’s both.

    I do think DoJo was a failed experiment. But these experiments rarely fail because of the products employed, but rather because of the shortcomings the people employing them. I wish Jones, and in a short time, Beaubois, all the luck at their next destinations. And I do have hope in Jae Crowder’s future, I truly do. But I said the same thing about Beaubois, as did many others.

    I just hope that Crowder is this team turning that developmental corner, and not just another glimmer of hope, soon to fade into obscurity.

  • Jose Santos

    A few things from my POV:

    1. As of 3/14/13 the Mavs are 2.5 games behind the Lakers for the 8th seed with 19 games remaining. I don’t see why the discussion to tank the rest of the season should start just yet.

    2. Mike James seems to think he’s better at taking difficult shots than Dirk. Why Carlisle prefers to play him over some of the young guards (or anybody else) is beyond me.

    3. Mavs picked up OJ Mayo & Darren Collison with the intention of further developing them, and something tells me they’re not going to quit on either of them after just 1 year, despite what we hear on ESPN radio. We only counting players that the Mavs drafted? I see the Mavs having some “development” success with these guys.

    4. Mavs developed JJ Barea very well (then let him go for nothing in return). They can work with young players to get quality minutes out of them.

    5. I thought DoJo had a better chance than Roddy to become the Mavs’ backup point guard. Roddy just doesn’t seem to care very much. I seriously doubt we’ll see him next year.