The 2015 playoffs for the Dallas Mavericks were largely a disappointment, the frenetic play of on Al-Farouq Aminu aside. The Rondo trade was an unmitigated failure, as the player brought in to hopefully launch a scoring juggernaut into title contention barely made it to the second game before he was summarily banished. The reasons for pursuing this trade have been covered ad nauseum, and whether it was ultimately worth the risk is a topic for another piece.
The trade has lingering negative effects beyond the playoffs flame-out, as Jay has pointed out. Management hoped and expected Rondo to re-sign for the long-term when they brought him here, and alongside Parsons and Nowitzki (and likely Tyson when he was re-signed as well), the core of the team would be set for the next few years. With this core in place, the path to an eventual (shield your eyes) post-Dirk Mavericks would at least be a little clearer. All of that went out the window with Rondo’s meltdown, and probably much earlier as it was soon apparent that Rondo was not at all a good fit for this team. So once again the Mavericks face the prospect of the annual roster reload, with few players under contract and uncertainty swirling around at least three starting positions, although it could conceivably be all of them given Parsons’ recovery from mystery surgery and some tentative calls for Dirk to maybe come of the bench as a high scoring 6th man.
Let’s assume Monta opts out, which seems more likely but is in no way a certainty. In this scenario, the Mavericks will only have Parsons, Dirk, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, and much-derided Raymond Felton on the roster going into next season. The team is reportedly already exploring options to unload Felton’s contract, and while Powell showed some good flashes and probably deserves at least a shot at a real slot in the rotation, last year he was glued to the bench most of the time. So there are really only three core players from the roster last year going into free agency. It should go almost without saying that this collection will not have as much to offer free agents in terms of a deep and talented supporting cast, at least not until some of the dominoes start to fall. While this is obviously not ideal, the Mavericks can still offer something that might matter more than you might think: fun.
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We can sometimes overlook that NBA players are not basketball robots consumed only with basketball or demigods removed from the mortal concerns that plague the rest of us. As hard as it can be to remember when you see DeAndre sky for an alley-oop or just Lebron in general, they’re people like everyone else, and the day to day life can sometimes become a grind. One thing that can attenuate the grind of a long season is enjoying the people you work with and the work environment. For basketball players, this could be even more pronounced given the amount of time and travel they have in close quarters with their teammates. They want to be with their friends, or at least, people they can get along with. While many other factors play a role, thinking about who they want to be stuck with for countless practices, dozens of plane rides and more than a few instagram pictures has to play some sort role in their decisions.
Just to briefly compare two teams, one that made it into the finals, and that… did not. Warriors rookie coach Steve Kerr has been praised for his ability to step in and “construct a coaching staff and an environment that’s just about the most fun anyone involved has ever been around.” Or you can look at this exchange with his MVP point guard, per CBS Sports:
"Can you imagine a more fun way to play basketball than the way you guys are right now?I can’t. Everybody’s involved. Everybody has a role on the team. When we’re out there, the way we play is pretty high-intensity, high-paced. And it’s fun. It’s a fun game of basketball, and nobody cares who gets the credit really. It’s easy to say that, but it really does exist on this team. And that’s something you don’t take for granted because it doesn’t happen very often."
On the other side of the ledger, here’s what Kobe said regarding then-newly-acquired draft pick Julius Randle:
Two pretty different vibes, huh?
Having fun obviously isn’t the most important factor for free agents considering teams. Fit, money, chance of winning, city, all of these factor into their decisions, but fun does matter, and this might be one of the areas where the Mavericks have more to offer than some of their rivals in the free agent market.
Dirk is one of the most respected players in the game, but he’s also one of the funniest. Here he is when an injury keeping him on the sidelines led to a guest spot calling the game.
Here he is taking an impressively lighthearted approach to Shaun Livingston hitting him in the family jewels.
So Dirk can provide some jokes and levity to the locker room, something that might not seem incredibly important, but could be when it’s coming from a franchise player of his caliber. His rare combination of incredible work ethic and fun could be an appealing mix to a free agent weighing options like the Kobe-centric Lakers or troubled Knicks.
Combine this with his willingness, even desire, to take a step back and let other players become the featured player on the team, and Dallas starts to look pretty attractive from an environment standpoint. Dirk’s been here forever though, and the Mavericks have whiffed on the landing the big fish each year since the championship. Time and again, the feeling was they didn’t have enough pieces to convince those big fish that they were close to contending, and in a landscape where many teams had cap room, this was key.
To some extent this has been addressed by bringing in Chandler Parsons. The team may have overspent to pry him away from their intra-state rival, but he has the versatility and potential that could be alluring to free agents. More than that, by many accounts he’s well-liked around the league. He may have played a significant role in one of the Mavericks’ previous misses, helping to bring Dwight Howard to Houston:
"“I think I had a big impact,” Parsons said at USA Basketball’s mini-camp. “The first thing he said at the press conference was that, ‘You guys should thank Chandler Parsons because he is a big reason why I am here… “But I think I just gave him that comfort that you got one of your boys here who is also a key part to the team, a young guy. And we can grow on this for a long time.”"
While there were many other factors, like the ones mentioned above, it’s likely that Parsons played at least some role in Dwight’s decision. Good news for the Mavericks, he’s already said he’s shifted into GM mode to help make the team’s free agent pitches this off-season.
There is, as always seems to be the case with the post-championship Mavericks, a lot of uncertainty heading into the offseason, and there could be a lot of roster change. One thing this iteration of the Mavericks does seem to have is a balance of fun and discipline that could make day to day life just a little more enjoyable. While in all likelihood it won’t be the decisive or most important component, it certainly doesn’t hurt.