For the Dallas Mavericks, the opportunity to compete in the NBA’s Western Conference is now. It’s not necessarily now or never, but perhaps more now or later. In any case, now is certainly an option. And for a franchise that hasn’t been a serious contender since 2011, there’s no time like the present.
With the downfall of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty complete and the demolishing of the Golden State Warriors roster as we know it pending, the Western Conference figures to be as wide-open next season as it’s been in at least a half-decade.
The big picture: The Mavericks finished as the No. 14 seed in the West this season, but Dallas can compete in the conference next season. The foundation is there. If there was ever a time to absolutely splurge in the offseason, it’s right now.
From the ground up: The Mavericks are coming off an unbelievably noteworthy season for a team that finished 15 games out of a playoff spot.
The franchise said goodbye to an all-time legend in Dirk Nowitzki while saying hello to the next big thing in Luka Doncic. Dallas made a splash last offseason when it signed the elusive De’Andre Jordan only to trade Jordan and 2017 first-round pick Dennis Smith Jr. to the New York Knicks for Kristraps Porzingis.
Let’s take a look at what the Mavs’ roster looks like in its current state:
- Dynamic duo: Doncic and Porzingis are perhaps the two most important pieces on this roster, and Dallas’ success over the coming years will depend largely on how these two pair together and, of course, their health. Porzingis spent all of last season recovering from a torn ACL and then reportedly injured his hand in a fist fight in Latavia this offseason.
- On the payroll: Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Justin Jackson and Jalen Brunson are all under contract for next season, while Dwight Powell owns a player option. Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber are restricted free agents. The Mavs field a solid crop of role players in that group and a few capable starters, too.
- The budget: Dallas is entering the offseason with about $30 million in projected cap space, which should be enough to sign at least one difference-making free agent. Additionally, what would have been Dallas’ No. 10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft belongs to Atlanta thanks to the terms of last year’s Luka Doncic-Trae Young swap. Dallas’ first pick this year won’t come until pick No. 37.
Top-tier targets: “Top-tier” is a relative term in this sense. In all honesty, we don’t expect Dallas to be in contention for some of the true “top-tier” guys in this free agency class, such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. But the depth of this free agency class should allow Dallas to grab some serious difference makers this summer.
- Kemba Walker: Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker is probably the single best player that has been consistently linked to Dallas ahead of the offseason. His numbers are quietly similar to that of Irving. Walker was recently named to an All-NBA team, though, making him eligible for a supermax contract and making it less likely he’ll leave the Hornets.
- Khris Middleton: Like with Kemba, Milwaukee Bucks wing Khris Middleton has been linked to Dallas. Coming off his first NBA All-Star selection, Middleton has shown the ability to create his own shots when he needs to but for the most part, isn’t ball dominant. That could pair nicely with Doncic, though NBA insider Marc Stein thinks Middleton will stay in Milwaukee.
- Mike Conley: Unlike the other two in this category, Conely isn’t a free agent, though the Memphis Grizzlies could make him available. With Memphis holding the upcoming draft’s No. 2 pick, which many expect will result in the Grizzlies drafting Ja Morant, Mike Conley’s time with the franchise could be coming to a close. Conely is a strong three-point shooter who quietly averaged 21 points per game last season. He’d be a good fit with the Mavericks.
Other names to consider: Even if Dallas lands one of the aforementioned big-name players, they’re going to need a little extra firepower if they want to seriously compete in the Western Conference.
This year’s Western Conference Finals featured two teams stacked with superstars at the top, but they were also able to go deep off the bench. Dallas is going to need some more rotation-ready guys and mid-level starters if they want to make noise in the 2020 postseason.
- Tobias Harris: After helping the Philadelphia 76ers to the Eastern Conference semifinals this season, Harris will be an unrestricted free agent. He averaged just over 18 points per game this season on 46.9 percent shooting while turning in some solid post-up play for the Sixers.
- Patrick Beverley: People forget that it wasn’t Damian Lillard’s Blazers or James Harden’s Rockets that gave Golden State the biggest fight in their walk through the Western Conference, it was actually Patrick Beverley’s Clippers. Beverley averaged just over 9 points per game in the Clipper’s series with the Warriors, but it was his defensive prowess and relentless trash-talk that got him on this list.
- Julius Randle: After the Los Angeles Lakers let Randle walk last season, the big averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game with the New Orleans Pelicans. The Dallas native could pair well with KP in the frontcourt.
Final thoughts: For the Mavericks, this offseason could be the most pivotal in Mark Cuban’s tenure. They’ve come up short a lot in recent years. They failed to sign Steve Nash in 2004, let Tyson Chandler walk away after 2011 and whiffed on De’Andre Jordan in 2015.
Things are different now. Or at least, they better be. The Mavericks could be serious contenders next season for the first time since Chandler joined the Knicks, assuming they make the right moves. But if they whiff again, as they have for years, they’ll likely end up staying where they are right now: on the outside looking in.