For once, the Mavericks’ slow start to free agency isn’t their fault

If you’re a Dallas Mavericks fan, you’re familiar with how the summer usually plays out. As NBA finals concludes, and the basketball world begins gearing up for the offseason, Dallas is usually at a critical juncture of needing to upgrade the roster without a ton of funds to do so. And their misfortune in that area has been a comical story of self-inflicted wounds.

For years, the front office completely neglected the draft. After the 2011 championship era, Cuban and company put all their eggs in the “big fish” basket and tried desperately to woo star free agents to Dallas to no avail. Time and time again, the hope and optimism of the fanbase quickly turned to frustration and anger as the brain trust failed to execute plan A and turned to the bidding bucket in an attempt to put a better product on the field. Sometimes they hit cheap targets (Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, etc.). But more often than not, the breaks were characterized by disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Since the infamous 2019 offseason disaster where Dallas had max cap space and basically did nothing about it, the Mavericks have been hampered by a lack of assets and cap flexibility. Their draft was tied up from the Kristaps Porzingis trade, and they had no cap space to overpay for free agents. They also showed a stunning lack of creativity and made outright bad decisions.

In 2020, they split the mid-level exception between Trey Burke and Willie Cauley-Stein and added Wes Iwundu and James Johnson. Yikes. In 2021, they signed Reggie Bullock, Sterling Brown and Frank Ntilikina while retaining Tim Hardaway Jr. This was probably their best offseason in the Luka era and it wasn’t even very good! In 2022, they gave JaVale McGee a contract that was a disaster from the moment he signed it and traded their first round pick for Christian Wood. They also lost Jalen Brunson for nothing.

When you see it all there in black and white, it’s honestly unbelievable how bad the last few years of free agency have gone for Dallas. Almost every transaction they did range from redundant to downright stupid. During those years, they have also managed to use up almost all of their tradable second rounders, leaving them with very little to grease the wheels on the trade market. In short, things have not gone well. And fans are rightfully frustrated with the front office for this comedy of errors.

So with three days gone into the 2023 offseason and the Mavericks having done very little in the way of meaningful upgrades to the roster, it’s understandable why MFFLers are getting mad. It’s very easy for the “here we go again” voices to creep into your head when you’re used to the kind of failure we usually see this time of year. And trust me, I’m the very last person to give the Mavericks’ front office a pass. But looking at this year’s free agent market and the trade landscape, it’s hard for me to be too upset with the way things have gone so far.

While he might not have a market outside of Dallas, the Mavericks signed the league’s best available free agent in Kyrie Irving. They gave him less than the maximum, which gave them access to the full MLE, and committed less than four years. Aside from the noise off the court, this was a good trade for a player of Irving’s caliber, and Dallas had no choice but to keep him. The Seth Curry deal is nice, it’s insignificant money-wise, and more shooting is always a plus. With Dwight Powell back for three years, $12 million is nothing to be upset about either. The Dante Exum deal was vexing because it highlights how the Mavericks love to dumpster dive after washed-up past lottery picks, but at a veteran minimum, it’s largely meaningless.

It is true that the deals they have made so far have not met the pressing needs of the list. But if you look around the league, who are the potentially helpful players signed at numbers within Dallas’ price range? All the Mavericks have to offer is $12.4 million MLE and veteran minimum requirements. Dillon Brooks signed for $20 million per year. Bruce Brown signed on for even more. The wing market is thin and the center market is even worse. Are we really going to lose sleep over the Cam Reddish, Keita Bates-Diop and Oshae Brissetts of the world? The two names that I thought could have been good, affordable fits were Taurean Prince and Jalen McDaniels, and as far as we know, Dallas was not in contact with either of them. You can blame them for not pulling off reported Deandre Ayton dealbut we really don’t know exactly what was on the table there.

So this isn’t a case of the “nobody wants to come to Dallas” phenomenon. It’s certainly not the pesky “nobody wants to play with Luka” narrative I’ve seen floating around. This is a mediocre free agent market where the best available guys are out of Dallas’ price range and the middle players aren’t perfect fits. It has been reported ad nauseam that the Mavericks are going after Grant Williams and/or Matisse Thybulle, both of whom are restricted free agents. They can’t sign offer sheets until July 6, so Dallas will likely be dormant until then. And honestly, that’s probably okay. This is a year where you can afford to be patient and test the RFA market. The guys they miss aren’t difference makers. I’d obviously prefer Williams over Thybulle, as the former is a much better basketball player, but Thybulle is a defensive monster who has shown flashes of being able to shoot well enough. Who knows, maybe they kick the PJ Washington tires or make a trade that no one sees coming.

There is still time for a productive offseason to emerge for Dallas. If they are able to acquire Williams and trade for a center upgrade, it would be a huge success. If they are only able to do one of these things, that will be fine. If they fail on both of these fronts, we can grab the pitchforks. But until we see them crash and burn, it’s okay to be patient and let things play out. The Mavericks still have options. Just try to ignore the decade-plus of off-season misery and let yourself cling to hope until it becomes impossible to do so.

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