After years of putting more emphasis on veteran players than on their younger players and not getting the results they wanted, the Dallas Mavericks are finally doing something about that strategy.
Yes, the Mavericks will still try to sign one of the top free agents this summer. But they won’t go all-in while chasing a big fish, knowing that they’ll lose other potential “smaller fish” in the process.
Such was the case in recent years while the Mavericks were pulling out all the stops in pursuit of Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and DeAndre Jordan.
The big plan this off-season is to use their top 10 draft pick to draft wisely, and also develop a cast of young players who they strongly believe could have a bright future in the NBA.
The NBA combine is Tuesday through Sunday in Chicago. The NBA draft lottery is May 16 and the NBA draft is June 22.
“It’s going to be busier with player development internally than it’s been,” coach Rick Carlisle said, referring to this off-season. “Our first-and second-year guys will be back in mid-May for a couple of weeks, then mid-June for a couple of weeks.
“We’re going to space out their workouts so that their bodies can stay fresh and then prepare them for the summer league.”
The Mavericks’ summer roster will encompass five players who just finished their rookie season. That includes point guard Yogi Ferrell, center A.J. Hammons, and forwards Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino and Jarrod Uthoff.
Add a high draft pick and odds are that Dallas should be favored to win the Las Vegas Summer League in July.
“We’ve got to get the Yogis and the Finney-Smiths and the Brussinos and the Hammonses better,” Carlisle said. “The first year there’s always going to be an increase in skill level and things like that.
“We’ve just got to be careful not to let these guys plateau. One of the ways we get better is to get better from within.”
In the six seasons since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavericks have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs four times and missed the playoffs twice. They also are just 5-16 during those brief playoff runs.
Granted, the situation the Mavericks are in is nowhere near as dire as the quagmire they were wallowing in during the 1990s, when they had the worst losing percentage for that entire decade among all the major North American pro sports franchises.
The Mavericks dug themselves out of that deep hole by going young and getting better from within.
On draft day in June 1998, the Mavericks executed a pair of trades that brought them Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Some 16 months before that, the Mavericks acquired Michael Finley — at the time he was 23.
By the time the 2001 playoffs rolled around, the Mavericks not only were one of the 16 participating teams, but they shocked Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz in the first round after falling behind 0-2 in that best-of-five opening-round playoff series.
At the time, the Mavericks’ roster was centered around Calvin Booth (age 24), Eduardo Najera (24), Greg Buckner (24), Gary Trent (26), Juwan Howard (27), Shawn Bradley (28), Howard Eisley (28), Nowitzki (22), Nash (26) and Finley (27). That young roster — mostly players the Mavericks acquired very early in their career — was the stepping stone for a franchise that advanced to the playoffs 12 consecutive seasons.
More important, the Mavericks, who also advanced to the 2006 NBA Finals, accomplished all this without acquiring any big fish. Maybe that’s why owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson have altered their business model.
“We’ve got a plethora of undrafted and call-ins,” Cuban said. “Nerlens [Noel] and Harrison [Barnes] and Seth [Curry] — guys who were contributing, among others, in significant ways.”
And guys whom the Mavericks are counting on being their cornerstones going forward.
“I’m really encouraged by so many things this year,” Carlisle said. “I love the way Mark and Donnie turned over the roster at the All-Star break and just pointed us in the direction of developing younger guys for our young core.
“But we have to have great players. I think Barnes is on his way to being a great player. “
Carlisle was encouraged by the way Nowitzki was moving late in the season after he suffered a strain and sore right Achilles, which forced him to miss 24 of the first 29 games. He also sees a lot of potential in Noel, whom the Mavericks acquired in a midseason trade with Philadelphia.
Noel becomes a restricted free agent July 1, but the Mavericks plan on matching any offer he receives.
“Noel is going to be a guy that we’ve got to get signed,” Carlisle said. “He’s an exciting young talent and I do think he can expand his game, but we’ve got to be careful about doing too much too soon.
“So much of the success in this league is really geared toward a group of guys being tied together in the locker room and having a set of definable skills. We want there to be an element of positive predictability within the team so that everybody knows what everybody can do.”
In less than a year of playing together, the Mavericks are banking on bigger and better things from youngsters such as Curry (27), Barnes (24) and Noel (23).
“There’s guys who you’re depending on to make strides to build your team around like Harrison and Seth and Nerlens,” Cuban said. “Those are guys that are key.
“They have the opportunity to get better and they’ve got the temperament and the mindset to get better and they’ll make us better.”
It could lead to another long — and maybe deeper — playoff run.
“Compared to other teams, I think we’re on par with our top four youngs, and we have a lot of potential upside on our next four youngs,” Cuban said. “And just to say that we have eight youngs that are in the mix, that’s the first time in forever.”
Age of change
The Dallas Mavericks are turning to their young players for major contributions after so many years of depending on older players to carry the load. Here’s a list of the young players on the Mavericks’ 15-man roster.
Yogi Ferrell=24 (on May 9)
Dorian Finney-Smith=24 (on May 4)
May 9-14: NBA draft combine
May 16: NBA draft lottery
June 12: NBA draft early-entry withdrawal deadline
June 22: NBA draft