It's not hyperbole to call the 2013 NBA draft one of the most important in Dallas Mavericks history. The team desperately wants to appease its aging superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, with another polished superstar — or two — and make another run at a championship.
That means going after the game’s two most coveted free-agents to be, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. The Mavs want you to believe that’s a possibility. But now that Celtics coach Doc Rivers is with the Los Angeles Clippers — a move many believe has the blessing of Paul — the All-Star guard likely isn’t going anywhere.
If Howard leaves the Lakers, it's poised to be in a sign-and-trade so the Lakers get something in return. Aside from Nowitzki, there isn’t much to give the Lakers.
The Mavs’ 2011 NBA title was built on free agency, and that’s part of the reason they’re in this predicament.
Then you’re back to the draft, where the Mavs have a suspect history. The team's best draft pick in the last 15 years is Nowitzki. Actually that’s not true. The Mavs didn’t draft him in 1998. Milwaukee did. The Bucks drafted Nowitzki and then traded his rights to Dallas for the rights to Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
So, technically, the best Mavs draft pick in the last 15 years is Josh Howard. After that, you could have a long debate about No. 2. A very long debate.
Can we trust this Mavs brain trust to get it right during the NBA draft Thursday night? That seems an awful lot to ask.
This is not considered a great draft. The Mavs have the No. 13 pick, and most believe the few franchise players will be gone by then. One advantage for the Mavs if they keep the pick is that they need a good player at every position. They don’t have to match the player’s value with their needs. (Ask the Dallas Cowboys how well that works out.) But it’s hard to see the Mavs getting a guy that will score 20 points per game next season out of this pick.
So do you keep the pick or trade the pick? Trading sounds like something Jerry Jones would do. Mark Cuban and company could do it Thursday night. Trading down means you’ll get at least one more selection, but it also means you have to be adept at finding that gem of a player late in the first round.
The Mavericks have not shown that ability. They are not the San Antonio Spurs, who have turned late draft picks into NBA finals-level talent on multiple occasions. How good is San Antonio at drafting? Eight of the 15 players on their roster were home-grown draft picks. Four of them started game 7 against Miami.
The Mavs’ 2011 NBA title was built on free agency, and that’s part of the reason they’re in this predicament. So many of their previous draft picks either didn’t pan out or were traded away.
There once was a time the Mavs built through the draft. That was in the 1980s. In a six-year period the Mavs drafted the core of their great teams in the late 1980s, including the ones that challenged the Lakers — Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Jay Vincent, Dale Ellis, Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf and Roy Tarpley.
The Mavs haven’t had a run like that in two decades. If they intend to return to the postseason and remain a long-term contender, they must start drafting better. And it must start Thursday night, whether it means Nowitzki stays in Dallas past 2014 or not.