DALLAS – The last time the Mavericks endured a losing season, there was a lot of legitimate, tangible reason for hope.
Michael Finley was an established, young franchise cornerstone. Steve Nash turned a corner in his career midway through that season, when he was 25 years old. And a 21-year-old finesse 7-footer named Dirk Nowitzki had begun blossoming into a star.
Those 1999-2000 Mavs finished the season with a 31-19 run, setting the foundation for the franchise’s dozen-year playoff run that will almost certainly end in six weeks.
Let’s be optimistic and assume these Mavs, who are seven games under .500 with a little more than a quarter of the season remaining, manage to end this frustrating season strong. Is there anything that can happen down the stretch that could benefit the Mavs in the future, much like their last losing season?
“That’s tough to see,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, we’ve got nine guys or whatever we’ve got on one-year deals, so the team might be completely different next year. We didn’t have that scenario (13) years ago. We obviously knew that Steve and Mike and myself were going to be the core for a lot of years, so we had that going for us, which this year is not the case.”
And that might be the most frustrating part of this miserable season. The Mavs aren’t experiencing growing pains that could pay off next season. They’re just passing time.
There was a ton of talk about potentially developing the backcourt of the future this season with 25-year-old rentals Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle continue to dangle that carrot, but it’s extremely hard to envision that being a reality.
If the Mavs see Collison as their point guard of the future, why did he lose his starting job to a point guard they recruited out of his rocking chair earlier this season? And, after Derek Fisher’s departure, why does Collison keep losing crunch-time minutes to a different graybeard point guard that was called up from the D-League?
The Mavs and Collison just don’t seem to be a long-term fit. As far as Mayo goes, that probably depends on the market this summer for the Mavs’ leading scorer whose decision-making and defense have repeatedly drawn Carlisle’s wrath.
The rest of the Mavs’ one-year men are a collection of complementary players, not building blocks, at this point of their careers. They’re essentially financial placeholders, and the vast majority (if not all) of them will be on another team’s payroll next season.
Any hope for a major Mavs rebound would arrive this summer, not be foreshadowed in the final 23 games.
“We went for a big fish last summer,” Nowitzki said. “We didn’t get him, so we decided to go that route with a lot of one-year deals, so the situation could be completely different next year. We’re going to make this push for the playoffs and see what happens this summer.”
The Mavs’ foe for this home-and-home series also looks forward to seeing what happens this summer. However, the Houston Rockets are somewhat reminiscent of the ’99-00 Mavs, albeit with a better record and a good shot at making the playoffs.
The Rockets have managed to put together a tremendous young nucleus while almost totally turning over their roster since last season. Chandler Parsons, the second-year second-round pick who scorched the Mavs for 32 points in Sunday’s rout, is the only player remaining from Houston’s roster last season.
Houston GM Daryl Morey has done a masterful job collecting assets, cashing in many of them to acquire a bona fide, 23-year-old superstar (James Harden) and surrounding him with a strong young supporting cast (center Omer Asik, 26; point guard Jeremy Lin, 24; small forward Parsons, 24; power forwards Donatas Motiejunas, 22; power forward Thomas Robinson, 21, combo guard Patrick Beverley, 24). And the Rockets have the cap space to recruit a co-star this summer.
The Rockets are several steps into their rebuilding plan.
The Mavs’ rebuilding plan begins again this summer.