The 2022-23 NBA season mercifully ended for the Dallas Mavericks Friday night. While they still have one regular season game to play before closing the season, Dallas’ 115-112 loss to the Chicago Bulls officially eliminated them from postseason contention. This isn’t the outcome anyone predicted before the season began, but it’s the one the team wrote for itself.
Dallas looked like a shell of the team that made the Western Conference Finals last season. Despite the brilliance of Luka Doncic and later Kyrie Irving, the Mavericks played middling basketball while it racked up loss after loss. The team built its identity looking for answers while never trying to find them. Now, the front office must do some severe soul-searching to avoid repeating the disastrous decisions that sunk this season.
“I think understanding our record or being eliminated isn’t something that we want to be at, and we got some work to do this summer,” Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd said. “But understand things happen. It wasn’t our season. We’ve got to learn from this, and we’ll get better.”
After a string of late-season losses—none more humiliating than losing to the Charlotte Hornets twice—the Mavericks decided to throw in the towel against the Bulls. Dallas sat key players Irving, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Maxi Kleber. Doncic played just 12 and a half minutes. He likely wouldn’t have suited up had it not been I Feel Slovenia Night, an event partnership between the Slovenian Tourist Board and the Mavericks.
Losing to the Bulls was a strategic decision and one that made sense. By missing the post-season, the Mavericks keep their first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft—the top-10 protected pick would have conveyed to the New York Knicks otherwise—and fall into the NBA Draft Lottery in what is considered a loaded draft class.
“Understanding it’s not so much waving the white flag,” Kidd said. “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. Understanding, again, with this decision may be a step back, but hopefully, it leads to us going forward.”
After a debilitating and defeating experience for the franchise, the draft offers some promise. However, it does little to compensate for squandering an entire season of Doncic’s talents. Last season, the trip to the Western Conference Finals raised expectations, but roster decisions—namely, letting Jalen Brunson walk—quickly tanked any progress the franchise was making.
A trade deadline deal to land Irving, a multi-time All-Star, revived hopes that the Mavericks could salvage their floundering season. Unfortunately, the team’s big swing didn’t pan out. Despite their talents, Irving and Doncic never completely clicked on the floor. Dallas had a record of 5-11 when the two stars shared the court.
The failure and disappointment of the season leave the front office with many questions to answer while doing everything possible to make Doncic happy. ESPN reported there’s an urgency within the team to make moves that return the team to championship contention before Doncic’s patience wears thin. It’s a tall order.
Irving becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. While the players say that Irving liked playing in Dallas, that’s not a guarantee that he’ll stick around. Even Mavericks governor Mark Cuban recently admitted that he guesses “there’s always too high a price” to re-sign Irving, leaving the door open for another team to outbid the Mavericks and sign the controversial point guard.
“He likes it,” Theo Pinson said of Irving’s time in Dallas. “He likes it here.”
Irving is just one of the personnel decisions the front office needs to address. Christian Wood, Dwight Powell, Frank Ntilikina, Markieff Morris, Justin Holiday and Pinson are joining him in unrestricted free agency.
That leaves nine players under contract, accounting for $108.6 million in total cap allocation. The salary cap is projected to be $134 million, with a $162 million luxury-tax line in 2023-24. It’s not a lot of wiggle room, especially if re-signing Irving to a max deal is a priority, but it provides room for improvement.
There’s also the question of Kidd’s stewardship of the on-court product. Even though Cuban indicated that Kidd’s job is safe, there’s no question that he bears much of the blame for the season’s shortcomings. At one point, Kidd compared his role as head coach to that of a spectator. Further, instead of going with what worked on the floor and maximizing his players’ skills, he relied on inconsistent and haphazard lineup rotations.
For example, Dallas’ best five-person lineup— Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Wood and Maxi Kleber—only played 57 minutes despite a plus-33 net rating, per NBA.com. The lineup of Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie—who was dealt in the Irving trade—Hardaway, Reggie Bullock and Wood played 198 minutes and posted a minus-11 net rating. No five-player lineup appeared in more than 18 games.
It was clear months ago that the end of the 2022-23 season would be a relief for the organization and fans. There’s only so much tortuous mediocrity anyone can endure. Now, the focus shifts to the future. The Mavericks’ must do everything possible to move forward and put this organizational failure behind them.
“We trust Cuban and [general manager] Nico [Harrison] to put the pieces together to put us in a position to win a championship,” Kidd said.