For more than ten years, the Mavericks were a perennial championship contender. They won 50+ games for eleven straight seasons, finally winning a championship in 2011. But the last two seasons have ended with lottery picks, making this uncharted territory for a lot of Mavericks fans.
I can admit it: I’m spoiled. I wasn’t around for the lean years of the 90’s, when the Mavericks won 26 games in two seasons. (That’s right. It took them two years to compile 26 wins from 1992-1994. Think about that before you complain about their record the last two years.)
No, I got interested in basketball around 1998, when I saw Michael Jordan give Bryon Russell a little shove and hit a game-winning shot right out of a movie. That also happened to be the year the Mavericks drafted a lanky forward from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki.
There were a couple of down years as Nowitzki developed and Don Nelson established his system. But then in 2000-01, the Mavericks won 53 games and wouldn’t win less than 50 for ten more years. I moved to Dallas in 2002, when the Mavericks opened the season with 14 straight wins. They lost in the conference finals to eventual champion San Antonio that year, but I was hooked.
I watched almost every game the 2005-06 season with my cousins/roommates Manny and Danny. We were, at best, semi-employed and the Mavericks were our main source of entertainment. We built our schedule around watching Mavs games. When they lost to Bennett Salvatore and the Miami Heat, we were crushed. After the game I punched a hole in my apartment wall and sat in the dark for an hour.
There were a few more seasons of disappointment, and we wondered if Dirk would ever lift the Larry O’Brien trophy as a Maverick. Then the 2011 run happened, and it was all worth it. I sat in a chair in front of the TV in stunned silence, watching all the “how does it feel to win a championship” interviews I thought might never happen.
Dirk and the Mavericks had finally won a ring, and nothing else mattered.
So the next few years didn’t bother me. I didn’t mind Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson breaking up the championship team in order to go after elite free agents. I was okay with signing broken down veterans like Deron Williams and Charlie Villanueva.
Sure, I wanted Dirk to have a chance to get another ring. But if it didn’t work out, that was okay. Dirk had his ring, and everyone had to admit he was one of the greats. I could put up with mediocre teams if it meant going after franchise-altering free agents.
But then the bottom fell out of that plan, and the Mavericks ended up with a top ten pick for the first time since they drafted Dirk. I paid a little attention to it and was happy when the Mavericks ended up with Dennis Smith Jr. He’s a dynamic player (and a little underrated).
It didn’t occur to me until this year that this might be a long-term thing. What I’m saying is I’m not used to this. I’m not used to watching college prospects, or worrying about the draft lottery. I’ve never had arguments with other Mavericks fans about which college player would be a better fit and why they should be drafted over someone else.
So this is all new to me, and I feel like it might be new to a lot of you, too. And I’ll admit, I don’t like it. I’d rather be talking about the Mavericks trading for a complementary piece that will put them over the top. I don’t want to do the math of how many draft picks are worth a superstar, or talk about the Mavericks acquiring assets in case a big trade is available.
I know a lot of fans like this. The constant hope, the concern about draft order and who will be drafted and how good will they be. But I don’t. I’ve followed the NBA for about two decades now, and I know the draft is a crap shoot. Even the best basketball minds have no idea how players will turn out, so what chance do I have?
I’ve seen these rebuilds last ten years when they were supposed to yield a playoff contender in three. For every Philadelphia there’s an Orlando. For every Kevin Garnett there’s two Jonathan Benders. I don’t get excited about rebuilds because they can go horribly wrong, and like I said above, I’m spoiled. All I’ve known is the Mavericks winning.
But this is where we are. I’m excited the Mavericks have finally given up on a win-now-and-at-any-cost strategy. They’re finally willing to build with youth, acquire assets, and play the long game instead of piecing together a team like Frankenstein.
I hope they don’t end up with a long rebuild and that all these talent acquisitions and smart free agent signings lead to a big trade for one or two superstars. I’ve always wanted the Mavericks to have their version of the Harden trade, or the KG/Ray Allen trade. Now they can finally get in a position to do it.
A lot of Mavericks fans are like me–they’ve never been down this road before. Hopefully Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and company can make it a short trip.