In a season that was anything but boring, you could say the Mavericks had a great campaign. The team returned to the playoffs, won 49 games and pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs.
Considering where the franchise was just a year ago, this transformation has been a something of a revelation.
But in these moments, it’s tough to think that way. Days after a drubbing in a Game 7 at the hands of an in-state rival, the 2013-14 season doesn’t exactly feel like a spectacular success.
Zig Ziglar, a well-known American author, coined the famous phrase, “If you learn from defeat, you haven’t really lost.” With that in mind and with the bitter taste of defeat still fresh, there are some valuable things to take away from this Mavericks season.
And it all has to do with trust.
When the Mavericks went 41-41 and missed the playoffs for the first time since the turn of this century, the franchise had hit a bottom. After an unbelievable stretch of 11 straight 50-plus-win seasons, it seemed the Mavs were destined to slide in the opposite direction.
Now the team has righted course. And it didn’t just happen thanks to some magical fairy dust.
Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban and the rest of the Mavericks’ front office orchestrated this return to the Promised Land, and they deserve the trust of the fanbase.
After years of success and a title to boot, the brain trust opted to try their hand at the free-agency game. With gobs of cap room, Cuban and Co. swung and missed at the likes of Deron Williams and Dwight Howard.
And when that strategy didn’t work after two summers, this front office was smart enough to adapt. Cuban himself used his Blog Maverick to talk about their change in strategies after failing to land a marquee free agent.
Cuban specifically said he didn’t want to bottom out, and that with so many teams seemingly opting to tank for high draft picks, he saw a market inefficiency in essentially trying to win games.
What I do know, at least what I think I have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do. Not easier. Harder. It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.
All things considered, the front office is one of the best in basketball.
After losing momentum, it only took them a year to get the team back to the playoffs. They brought in free agents—or "fallen angels," as Cuban called them—that fit perfectly with Dirk Nowitzki and found diamonds in the rough.
Not too many other people would have been so eager to sign Monta Ellis to a three-year contract. And where would this team be if Devin Harris was let go after failing the physical on his first contract? Instead of totally walking away, the Mavs brought him back on a one-year deal.
Now this isn’t to say everything is just perfect and wonderful in Dallas. The Mavs barely made the playoffs and didn’t get past the first round, thanks largely to their 22nd-place ranking in defensive efficiency. Oh, and the roster is aging, and there are a finite number of high-caliber Dirk seasons left.
But the point is that before anybody goes off on the team and their lack of preparation for the years to come or their failure to address glaring needs, take a deep breath and relax.
They’ve got this.
The tremendous turnaround this team has undergone is just more proof that the guys running this franchise know their stuff. Getting back to the playoffs is only the first step; allow a little time for the next steps to materialize.
Just to be clear, this does not mean that the brain trust is free from questioning or criticism. They will make mistakes, of course, and there will be bumps in the road. Just remember that Dallas has one of the best front offices in the business, and the future of the Mavs is in good hands.
Speaking of good hands, Dirk Nowitzki ought to be trusted a bit more too.
In 2012, Charles Barkley said Dirk was done as a first option, and it wasn’t a baseless opinion. At the time, Nowitzki was putting up near career-low numbers, and his stats actually got even worse in the next season, as he averaged 17.3 points per game in 2012-13.
All due respect to Sir Charles and his doomsday comments, but he was wrong.
Nowitzki turned back the clock this season by averaging 21.7 points while flirting with a 50/40/90 shooting line and remaining the focal point of the offense.
Though he’s 35 and not getting any younger, his style of play is sustainable. His game was never predicated on his athleticism, so as long as his jumper is working, he can be a more-than-effective player. Hence this Grantland feature on the deadliness of a Nowitzki pick-and-pop.
And as reported by Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Dirk is pretty sure he’s got some more left in the tank.
So yeah, I still think I’m going to play a couple more years at a high level. And we’ll just have to wait and see, meet with Mark (Cuban) a bunch. I’m not going anywhere for a while. So we’ll figure some stuff out the next couple weeks. But like I said, the year before I was a little worried with the knee injury and not getting going for a long, long time. But this year, I feel a lot better about my body and my health, so I feel like I can still play at a high level for a couple more years.
This season restored the trust. Dirk can be trusted to produce again, and Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle have proven they can still be trusted to make sound basketball decisions. Though times may have changed and a 50-win season is no longer guaranteed, it seems the franchise is primed to start a new streak of excellence.
Breathe easy, Mavs fans, your faith will be rewarded.