‘THINGS CHANGE’ AS MAVERICKS HOPE STEP BACK WILL VAULT THEM FORWARD
What the Mavericks did Friday was make a decision that gives them the best chance to protect a valuable asset.
They switched gears and elected to sit six key players, including Kyrie Irving and, for almost three full quarters, Luka Dončić.
The bottom line is that a top-10 draft pick is worth more than a long-shot try in the play-in tournament and an even longer-shot try that they would have had if they could have made the playoffs.
If they are in this to win championships, doing everything possible to keep that draft pick is the No. 1 priority.
It’s no different than protecting a star player when they are injured. You do whatever you have to.
The Mavericks lost 115-112 to Chicago on Friday and were officially eliminated from any postseason action.
Before the game, the team announced that Irving was one of five key players who would sit out against the Bulls while Dončić was shelved after one quarter and one possession in the second quarter on “I Feel Slovenia Night” at American Airlines Center.
Coach Jason Kidd said it was an “organizational decision” to switch gears and emphasize the future of the franchise rather than push all in on an Oklahoma City loss to Memphis on Sunday, which is what would have been needed (along with two Mavericks’ wins) to get into the play-in tournament.
“It’s not so much waving the white flag,” Kidd said postgame. “Decisions sometimes are hard in this business. And you have to make hard decisions and we’re trying to build a championship team and sometimes, you got to take a step back.
“We trust (governor Mark) Cuban and Nico (Harrison, general manager) to put the pieces together to put us in a position to win a championship and so that’s just starting the process today.”
It’s certainly not the first time this has been done, nor will it be the last.
Kidd outlined the process before Friday’s tipoff about how the desire of Dončić to play until there was no hope of the postseason now had to change to do whatever the Mavericks could to protect their first-round draft pick, which remains theirs only if it is in the top 10. Missing the postseason obviously helps that goal.
“Things change,” Kidd said pregame. “We still have to be professionals, go out there and put our best foot forward with who can play. We were fighting for our lives, and understand this is the situation we’re in.
“But the organization has made a decision to change and so we have to go by that. That’s just something that happens. We talked about that this afternoon and the guys that are playing are going to go out and try to play to win. You got to be pros. You can’t cheat the game. And so, those guys that are playing are out there to win and we’ll go from there.”
The Mavericks’ decision may have been made Friday, but it was rooted much, much earlier. Go back to all the bad losses they had to teams they felt they should have beaten in November, December and January.
Or just look at eight losses in their last 10 games in the past three weeks.
On Friday, in addition to Irving (right foot), sitting out were Tim Hardaway Jr. (left ankle), Maxi Kleber (right hamstring), Josh Green (rest) and Christian Wood (rest).
Luka’s availability is a result not only of the numerous Slovenians who were at the game, but also his desire to play.
“He wanted to play,” Kidd said pregame. “So, understanding that, we talked about the minutes, especially with the other guys that are not playing. That’s what we came to as an agreement. He wanted to play. The minutes will be normal for him in that first run. From there, he’s done.”
This is a major change from Tuesday, when Dončić said that “When there’s still a chance, I’m going to play.”
Said Kidd on Friday: “We all said that. We want to have the opportunity to find a way to get in and we want to play until told otherwise. And today’s the day we’ve been told that we’re doing something different. He’s going to participate in the first quarter and then he’s done for the season.”
“Things change fast here. He’s going to play this quarter and then we’ll see where we sit going into Sunday, but most likely, he’ll be out.”
The Mavericks went into Friday’s play in 11th place in the Western Conference. Teams that finish seventh through 10th go to the play-in tournament. Oklahoma City has one game left on Sunday against Memphis, but that game is moot now.
The loss Friday ended any potential drama on Sunday.
The Mavericks have been disappointed with the twist the season has taken since acquiring Irving before the February trade deadline. They entered Friday’s game with a 9-16 record since Irving’s first game at the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 8.
They also feel like the talent on the roster to do some damage in the playoffs if they could have gotten there. Last year, they got hot a tthe right time and reached the Western Conference finals.
This year, there will be no such run.
Kidd said changes will be coming, as they do every offseason.
It’s just going to start a lot earlier than the Mavericks had hoped it would.