What can the Western Conference runners-up do to take that next step? Boardroom takes a look.
The Dallas Mavericks‘ 2021-22 season ended in heartbreak with a Conference Finals loss to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors, but it is abundantly clear that the Mavs are ready to contend. Their crowning team achievement was stunning the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the second round of the NBA Playoffs with a blowout Game 7 win behind do-everything superstar Luka Doncic.
But every team needs to tinker in the offseason, and Dallas is no different. Boardroom breaks down a few key priorities the Mavericks should focus on in order to reach the Finals for the first time since 2011.
Priority 1: Figure Out Life After Jalen Brunson
Guard Jalen Brunson showed periods of great improvement headed into his free agency. Brunson increased his points per game total from 12.8 to 16.3 and proved he can be a viable complementary piece next to Doncic. While Doncic had the ball in his hands the most — his usage rate was nearly 40% during the playoffs — Brunson was another offensive threat that could create scoring opportunities.
While Dallas reportedly offered Brunson a four-year deal valued at around $106 million, the Knicks’ offer of $104 million proved to be the winner. Brunson is now with the Knicks and that means the Mavericks will have to find other ways to spend that money.
Dallas will have to replace Brunson’s playmaking and scoring with the remaining free agents on the market. There are unrestricted guards available, such as James Harden — though he seems likely to rejoin the Sixers. Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton is a restricted free agent, so Cleveland could match any offer the Mavericks make. But no matter which way Dallas goes, its first priority is filling in the void that Brunson leaves behind.
Priority 2: Find an Interior Threat on Both Ends
Although the brief pairing of Doncic and skilled big man Kristaps Porzingis didn’t work out, it does show the Mavericks’ attempt at addressing a very real need for the team. At 7’3, Porzingis is capable of scoring and defending at a high level. The chemistry was apparently not quite there between him and Doncic, and Porzingis was sent to Washington before the trade deadline, leaving the Mavericks with a roster full of guards and forwards.
As of July 1, Dwight Powell is the Mavs’ only player listed as a center. The Mavericks need a player to finish at the rim on offense and help deter finishers at the rim on defense. The Mavericks are currently about $7 million over the luxury tax threshold so the front office will have to tinker with contracts and make roster changes, regardless of which players they choose to target.
Priority 3: Another Star Scorer
Porzingis didn’t work out as the star to pair with Doncic, but today’s NBA requires at least two stars at the core of the team’s construction, and usually that’s not even enough. For perspective, the New Orleans Pelicans have two players under 25 years old who have been selected to an All-Star game in the past three years in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, and they finished 10th in the Western Conference. Teams like Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers will likely not be as bad or as injured as they were last season. Then there’s the three teams that finished ahead of the Mavericks in the standings — Golden State, Memphis and Phoenix — who are still presumably going to be good next year.
Dallas needs another All-Star. Maybe more. The roster is filled with solid complementary players such as Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber. But that wasn’t enough to win the West last year, and the West will be tougher next season. Maybe a package with some future picks needs to be created in order to pry a star on another team in need of a change of scenery.