Fork in the Road

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on July 12, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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With the Mavs deciding to pass on Andrew Bynum, many fans and analysts were wondering what the Mavs were ultimately doing. They were in a state of desperation in regards to the inability to finding a man in the middle.

Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com wrote about how the Mavs are now running on the mediocrity treadmill, the thing that owner Mark Cuban fears the most. Cuban is essentially trying to do the hardest thing in sports: rebuilding on the fly and doing it without hitting rock bottom.

In regards to Bynum, it does sound like a wasted opportunity in not just taking the gamble on Bynum. While it is a conservative approach, I can understand the logic in it. Yes, the Mavs were going to be taking a chance on Bynum, but they, mainly the team’s medical staff, decided that it was not in their best interest to pursue the option.

If they believed that his body and mind weren’t prepared to handle the season, why take the chance? I understand the concept of swinging for the fences and going for the potential reward. The way I look or perceive the situation, the organization didn’t feel there was any reward in the situation, thus not stepping up to the plate.

If it’s just $6 million and you still have cap space, any remote chance is better than not even attempting, right? I would actually disagree with that. The Mavs are ultimately taking their chances on someone like Samuel Dalembert, Greg Oden or the vast unknown of the trade market providing something that can be better than Bynum.

The $6 million sounds like nothing while still having the ability to sign other people, but the uncertainty of the trade market might make that money more of an asset. The market could provide anything and the Mavs could easily go back to their old ways from the old CBA in the sense that they absorb a team’s unwanted piece in exchange for collecting a desired asset. That extra $6 million could theoretically go a long way and it would be a shame to not have that at their disposal if an opportunity drops on their laps due to spending it on something they realized was going to be a situation they could not win.

The next major situation that’s being discussed as Dallas tries to rebuild on the fly is what does Dirk Nowitzki think? Dirk has made it clear that he wants to be one of the rare few who begins and ends his career with one team. He’s essentially said that he would take a substantial pay cut next season in order to help the team reload their roster. That was under the premise that they would get a superstar this summer. Clearly that won’t be the case now, but it’s still likely that Dirk would stick to that theory if he decides to keep going with his career.

That brings up the more immediate issue of whether or not Dirk and the Mavs need to mutually decide to cut the cord. First, Dirk would have to go to Cuban or vice versa and begin the process of seeing if Dirk would want to leave. Cuban has been loyal to Dirk, more so than anyone else, and I highly doubt that will change. Dirk has been loyal to the organization, more so than most NBA stars, and I highly doubt that will change.

The upshot of letting Dirk go would be that they would obtain assets that would allow the organization to truly begin the rebuilding process. It would also allow them to tank and try to collect the most ping pong balls possible to grab a stud out of the hyped draft class of 2014. The Mavs simply can’t tank with Dirk on board because he’s still considered a top-tier player and he could will his teams to enough wins to hamper their chances of truly getting a high pick in the draft.

One thing that needs to be kept in mind with the idea of Dirk leaving this year: he is expecting to be a first-time father in the next few weeks. I can’t imagine that he would want to uproot his wife and newborn child or wanting to be apart from them in one of the most important times in his life. That’s a one of the most important aspects of this.

In addition to that, the loyalty comes into play. Through thick and thin, Dirk has bled blue. He said during his exit interviews that he “belongs to the city” and that he can’t imagine himself wearing another uniform. That loyalty is rare in today’s era of sports. That loyalty has made him a permanent fixture in the metroplex.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein said that Dirk is the “Godfather of DFW sports” and that is the truth. As stars have come and gone, he has remained and that has made him even more beloved in the community. That’s just another reason that it’s hard to believe that he would want to leave.

If Cuban refuses to tank and Dirk refuses to leave, what option do the Mavs honestly have? They have to keep making moves to put the pieces together that they feel give the best chance to Dirk in order to get back into the playoffs. If that’s riding the mediocrity treadmill, then that’s what they’ll do. The alternative is just doing a complete disservice to him and not even trying to put pieces around him that won’t help him.

Looking at what the Mavs have done at this point of free agency, they have improved their offense and collective basketball IQ. Even with an established hole at the center position, they can’t be as bad as they were last season in terms of defense and rebounding. They have legitimate concerns on who will provide their secondary scoring and will likely have to work through a committee-like approach, but that was essentially what they had to do as the season ended because of O.J. Mayo’s regression.

In all honesty, they’ve ridden that treadmill and could theoretically be in the same place that they were in last year, just in a different way. The big difference would be that the Mavs are hoping that Dirk is able to stay healthy throughout the season and not miss a chunk of the season like he did to start this previous season. That’s not a given, but he’s doing his part to ensure that doesn’t happen. He’s already been spotted at the American Airlines Center facility on multiple occasions working out. He hasn’t really worked on basketball activities but he’s been working on making sure his legs are strong enough to endure the year.

If the Mavs had a healthy Dirk this past season, they would have made the playoffs and the state of despair would be as thick as it is now. Based on how the Western Conference is shaking out, the top will still be loaded, but Dallas is still in that chunk of teams that will be looking to sneak into the 7th or 8th seed. Is that the ideal situation? No, but that’s how they have to operate based on the situation they’re currently in.

All of this doesn’t line them up in a prime position to strike big next summer in free agency. They’re only ensuring themselves of having the cap space they expected to have and making themselves better for the short term. They’ll have to start hitting more on their draft picks and maximize on the few assets they do have when the trade proposals start to come in their direction.

Are the Mavs riding the mediocrity treadmill? Probably, but based on how things are shaking out, what is their alternative? They have to dust themselves off and get back to work.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University. Bryan channels his inner-Clark Kent on a day-to-day basis. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.
  • AJ Stewart

    I guess you wrote this before the signing of Monta. While I don’t believe he’s the best fit for the team given the fact that we already have a loaded backcourt of undersized guards, I think it’s a good move from a front office perspective. Using our cap space on the best avail player instead of on a bunch of stopgap depreciating assets gives us more options for trading for legit pieces should they come available btwn now and trade deadline. We can all agree that FA hasn’t gone our way the last 2 years by not getting Howard or DWill, but you have to play the hand your dealt and this was the best solution. Passing on Bynum was smart.

    • drunkenjunk

      I’d rather tank and hope for a solid draft pick than continue on the treadmill of mediocrity.