After DeAndre Jordan’s dramatic, day-long rendition of “I’ve made a huge mistake” ended with him deciding to return to LA and his dysfunctional Clipper family, the only thing suffering worse than Jordan’s rep––to an unfair extent, but hey––is the roster of the Dallas Mavericks, who lost their prized free agent in the process.
By changing his mind so late in the moratorium period, Jordan left the Mavs high and dry in Dallas, as most of the quality free-agent options had already made decisions and were ready to sign their own contracts Thursday. Since last Friday, the Mavericks had been operating under the assumption that Jordan would be wearing their jersey next season and spending their money accordingly, inking veterans like J.J. Barea, Richard Jefferson, and Jeremy Evans to short deals in hopes of building contender-like depth.
Without the additions of Jordan and Wesley Matthews, the former Portland shooting guard who was Dallas’s other prized signing, the Mavs would never have made those deals. Owner Mark Cuban literally said as much after he believed the team had secured Jordan, elaborating on the team’s plans to tank next season had they struck out of free agency again.
Now, the big man has changed their plans completely, but without giving Dallas enough time to plan a suitable counter-plan for this offseason. The Mavericks are faced with an old, expensive roster that was built with the expectation of having an athletic, 26-year-old rim-protector in the middle of everything.
Guys like that are hard to find, and at this point in the offseason, damn near impossible. Dallas knows this pursuit well; they’ve been chasing those types of players since letting Tyson Chandler leave in 2011. Ironically, after re-acquiring him from the Knicks last summer, they let him walk again this offseason to chase Jordan, and, yeah.
In running down the Mavericks’ options over at SB Nation, Tom Ziller actually suggested trying to get Chandler to renege on his Phoenix deal as a possible option for Dallas in trying to fix this fiasco, but that’s no longer on the table since Chandler formally signed with the Suns on Thursday afternoon. Attempting to pry a player away from an agreement like that would be unlikely on the Mavs’ part anyway, given what just transpired between them and Jordan.
The fact that they don’t even have the option, however, highlights just how limited the Mavericks’ options are. It’s unfortunate too, given the number of centers that were initially available in free agency and via trade: Jordan, Chandler, the Lopez brothers, Greg Monroe, or even guys like Roy Hibbert, Omer Asik, and Kosta Koufos.
Enes Kanter, whom some thought Dallas might chase as the last big-name center on the market, signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday afternoon, removing his name from the list of options as well.
With his defensive issues, signing someone like Kanter at the 4-year, $70-million price he commanded from Portland would have represented a potential long-term bad fit for the Mavericks whom they settled on after panicking. That’s would have been a bad plan.
If Dallas wants to spend their remaining cap space––almost $22 million for this season––and settle to be a semi-competitive team in next year’s Western Conference, that doesn’t seem like a great plan either, given the thin market remaining on both the free-agent and trade fronts, plus the general brutality of the Western Conference.
That type of deal has got to be tempting for the Mavericks, though, given that their all-time franchise star Dirk Nowitzki was supposed to be playing his victory tour and retiring after next season. If Jordan was only going to make Dallas a fringe contender, then any Plan B would have simply pushed them into the playoff race, and now the Mavs are staring down something more like Plan F, which means tanking might be their best option.
The possibility of a tank job seems especially real since Cuban mentioned that it had been their plan if Dallas had busted in its pursuit of Jordan. Well, now it’s busted, only it’s been much messier than they anticipated, leaving them half-in for next year.
With both Matthews and Chandler Parsons both returning from serious injuries, as well as a thin roster in general, trying to force this team into faux-contender territory seems totally misguided, putting aside the legacy of Nowitzki’s last year hanging over everything.
From a team-building and business perspective, it’s better to simply move on and start rebuilding right now, especially since the Mavericks only get to keep their 2016 first-round pick if it’s in the top 7, thanks to the Rajon Rondo trade. Holding on to that big would help immensely, but it would require a lot of losing.
The Rondo deal was the type of go-big-or-go-home move that helped the Mavericks snag a title in 2011, and they’re also the type of moves that have now left them in a precarious position devoid of assets and full of old players.
Nowitzki is the only member of the group whose fate really matters, as one of the league’s best players of all time is now faced with the possibility of a total teardown in his final season. Will he take the money that Dallas will surely offer him and retire, or will the Mavericks look to craft a trade around him? Both options are hard to imagine, but any frantic deal to save Dirk’s final season would probably only result in Dallas losing fewer games and could potentially handcuff the franchise’s finances in the future.
So while it’s sad, it seems like the end of the Dirk Era in Dallas, undone by DeAndre Jordan’s flip-decision. Now the Mavericks have to make a decision about how soon they want to move on, and it should probably be ASAP.