It might not have been politically correct for Donnie Nelson to say it in the wake of the Mavs’ winless postseason sprint, but he had a point.
The Mavericks weren’t going to beat this season’s Thunder no matter how many members of last season’s title team stayed in Dallas.
The Western Conference finals provide proof. The Spurs were the toast of the basketball world, having reeled off 20 wins in a row while putting on clinics in team basketball, before the Thunder’s young talent took over the series. Now, Kevin Durant and the rest of OKC’s kids are one win away from their first NBA Finals appearance – and it will be the first of many.
Therein lies the challenge for the Mavs’ front office. Building a team as good as last year’s champions won’t be good enough. They have to build a team that can compete with a Thunder squad that has developed championship chops since being schooled by the Mavs a year ago, yet still has so much room to grow.
That’s why, as bitter as the Mavs’ mediocrity this season might have been, letting Chandler and the other free agent champs walk wasn’t a colossal mistake by Mark Cuban and Nelson. The Thunder learned too much from the Mavs’ clutch clinic in last season’s West finals. The bar in the West has been raised.
The Mavs have to hit a couple of home runs for that to happen, starting with convincing Deron Williams to come home this summer. Honestly, it will probably take OKC slipping a little bit – a possibility if they can’t keep James Harden or Serge Ibaka after next season – for the door to be cracked for Dallas again.
The reality is that the championship parade in Dallas last summer was probably a one-and-done deal. There should be several over the next decade north of the Red River.
The good news: The Mavs made their title run just in time.