Just not while wearing a Los Angeles Clippers uniform.
“Now you know why we wanted him,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle deadpanned after Jordan’s 23-point, 20-rebound outing played a major part in the Clippers’ 109-90 rout of the Mavs, a third straight loss for a Dallas squad scrapping for one of the Western Conference’s last playoff spots.
Carlisle could have said the same thing Monday night about Clippers point guard Chris Paul, one of Dallas’ prime targets for the Mavs when owner Mark Cuban made the controversial decision after the 2011 lockout to prioritize creating salary-cap space over keeping an aging title team together. Paul lit up the Mavs for 27 points and seven assists in 28 minutes, outscoring Dallas by himself during the third quarter, when the Clippers turned a two-point halftime deficit into a comfortable lead.
This blowout basically symbolized four long, mostly fruitless years of frustration for the Mavs’ front office.
The Clippers’ two healthy max-salaried players, both once objects of Cuban’s recruiting obsession, performed to the standard of their salaries. Cuban can claim the Clippers will always be the Clippers, as he did back in October before these teams met, but they at least have a prayer of contending with Paul and Jordan, a perennial All-Star point guard who never even granted the Mavs a meeting in free agency a few years ago and an elite big man who broke the Mavs’ heart last summer by reneging on his commitment to come to Dallas.
Dallas’ two max players, their consolation prizes from four offseasons of failing to hook a big fish, delivered duds against the Clippers. Wings Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews combined to score 11 points on 3-of-18 shooting.
This was the second straight offensive stinker for Parsons, but those have been the exception for him since returning to form after a tough recovery from hybrid microfracture surgery on his right knee. He has had the best statistical stretch of his career, averaging an extremely efficient 18.0 points per game over the past two months, playing well enough that he’s expected to get a significant raise with another max contract this summer when he opts out of the last year of his deal to enter a wild market with the cap soaring.
This was as tough a night as Matthews has had in his career, as he was outscored 22-2 by Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick and missed all six of his shots from the floor. However, struggles are unfortunately the norm for Matthews, who ranks 117th of 118 qualifiers in field goal percentage (38.4 percent), leading only the retiring, broken-down Kobe Bryant.
It can’t be considered stunning that a player who ruptured an Achilles tendon last March is struggling, and the extraordinary will and toughness Matthews has shown while leading the Mavs in minutes is to be commended. But a high standard comes along with such hefty paychecks and Matthews isn’t coming close to meeting it in the first season of his four-year, $70 million deal.
That standard applies even in the odd case of Matthews, whom the Mavs were willing to pay significantly more than they originally planned because they knew Jordan was a big fan of his. The Mavs believed getting Matthews on board would be critical to closing the deal with Jordan, and they were right, if only temporarily. Cuban used the unusual tactic of telling Matthews that he’d pay as much as possible depending on Jordan’s decision, a promise that ultimately cost the Mavs an extra $13 million over the course of the contract.
The uncomfortable truth is that the Mavs’ front office, for all of its big plans and creative pitches over the past four years, has consistently put together a mediocre product during Dirk Nowitzki’s golden years.
Dallas has won a grand total of four playoff games in four years since that amazing 2011 title run, making the Mavs the rare one-All-Star championship squad. It’s hard to envision the Mavs adding much, if any, to that total this season.
“We’ve got to get there first,” Nowitzki said, well aware that the Mavs’ next eight opponents have winning records and that Dallas has only a three-game cushion over the ninth-place Utah Jazz. “I think that’s what we need to worry about first. We’ve got a brutal stretch coming up. We’ve laid some eggs against some teams we needed to beat, and now the schedule is picking up tremendously. Now at this point, we’ve got to worry about making the playoffs.”
The Mavs are 2-10 against the West’s top four teams this season, the victories coming Nov. 11 over the Clippers and Dec. 30 against a Golden State squad that was missing MVP Stephen Curry. Dallas has lost seven straight to its potential playoff draws since then with an average margin of defeat of 18.4 points.
It’s certainly fair to ask whether the Mavs, whose 9-20 record against plus-.500 foes is the worst of any team currently in playoff position, lack the talent to compete against high-caliber opponents. It just isn’t a popular question in some parts of the locker room.
“I think we’re just going through a tough stretch right now,” said Parsons, the chief recruiter who was especially crushed by Jordan’s decision reversal. “We’ve got a lot of talent in this room and a lot of experience. We’re just having a lot of mental lapses and not really showing it. Tonight it got ugly.”
The take of Matthews, who was particularly displeased to discuss whether Dallas has a talent problem: “I mean, you guys can pick apart our team all you want. We’ve got talent on this team. So y’all can miss me with that.”
Unfortunately, the Mavs are stuck on the mediocrity treadmill because of the front office’s many misses, two of which dominated in Dallas on Monday night.