The one mistake the Mavs can't afford to repeat

Apologies to Dallas Mavericks fans everywhere, but here comes a reminder about one of the franchise’s biggest mistakes in their history. It’s the 2013 NBA Draft and what may end up a generational pick has landed in Dallas’s lap. With the 13th pick, the Mavs have the opportunity to draft Giannis Antetokounmpo, but in an effort to save about $400,000 in cap space they instead choose to trade down. The plan is to use that extra cap space to entice then-free agent Dwight Howard. 

Fast forward to today and Antetokounmpo is putting up eye-popping stats without the benefit of a developing jumper. Dwight Howard is on his third team since choosing the Houston Rockets. And the Mavs’ eventual 2013 pick, Shane Larkin, is on his fourth NBA team after spending a year overseas.

Mark Cuban says the Mavs aren’t tanking this year. Dallas’s early schedule has been brutal both in terms of time between games and level of competition, so it’s entirely possible that their winning percentage increases to a respectable level. However, they’ve dug themselves into a hole, so it’s also entirely possible that they are again back in the draft with a lottery pick. 

It’s been well-documented that DeMarcus Cousins is a potential free agent target for Dallas. With about $74 million in salary next year and an estimated $103 million salary cap next season, the Mavericks have around $30 million to spend on free agents, including their own, such as Seth Curry and Nerlens Noel. Cousins is expected to make around $30 million in the first year of his contract, so the Mavericks would need more wiggle room to go after him. 

The pieces are all there for history to repeat itself. The Mavericks can choose to trade down in the draft to gain that wiggle room to chase Cousins in free agency, while surrendering what could be another great young player. It’s a possibility no Dallas fan wants to see. However, there are reasons that this time will be different.

Despite all the setbacks, the Mavs’ timing could not have been better. Their biggest needs can be addressed through the draft. Last year’s draft was loaded with point guards, and next year’s draft is loaded with talented big men. The team is determined to rebuild with young players who can grow together. The Dwight Howard chase in 2013 was about extending Dirk Nowitzki’s window. Today, opening a long-term window for Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes is the goal. 

Is that goal achieved with DeMarcus Cousins, who would be the same age next summer as Dwight Howard was in the summer of 2013? Or would they be better served with a 20-year old rookie? The 2013 Draft had a few great players, but the 2018 draft could be much better. The Mavs may value next year’s 13th pick much higher than the 2013 version.

Perhaps Cousins shocks the world and leaves a New Orleans Pelicans team brimming with potential for Dallas, but the Mavericks’ free agent history doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s still very early in the season, so much can change between now and next summer. While fans take a look ahead, it’s worthwhile to look back to learn from the past.

Follow Jeff Mapua on Twitter @JeffMapua

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