Did the Mavs Retool Enough to Truly Contend with Doncic?


Heading into this offseason, one objective remained clear for Dallas: get Luka Doncic more help. Urgently.

The Mavericks disappointed this past season coming off a 52-win campaign and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2022. In 2023, Dallas regressed by 14 wins and ended up closer to middle of the pack in the draft lottery than a legitimate playoff team.

Clearly, there was a need for a change, and fast.

Most of that success in 2022, as well as generally, mostly started and ended with Doncic. Up to this point, his production makes him one of the surefire franchise cornerstones in the league. And, despite a limited roster, Doncic helped carry the Mavs to a near-upset over the Los Angeles Clippers in both 2020 and 2021 before taking his game to another level in the playoffs two seasons ago.

Unfortunately, Dallas fell flat on its face this past year. Even with the acquisition of All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, the Mavs ended the 2022-2023 season 9-18 record following the Irving trade, including 5-11 when the guard duo suited up together.

Obviously, Irving wasn’t the only answer to the Mavs’ troubles last season. As one of the must-watch franchises heading into this offseason, it was clear Dallas would make some moves. The Mavs needed to reshuffle a bit, especially with Doncic’s future in Dallas up in the air.

Dallas accomplished a lot, but was it enough? Let’s break it down.

Doubling down with Kyrie 

Dallas’ main priority this offseason revolved around re-signing Irving. Even after a disappointing flameout towards the end of last year, Dallas possessed no other option.

The Mavs acquired Irving to take the scoring load off Luka. Irving’s production (27.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game on 51/39/95 shooting splits) remains one of the best in the NBA. The Doncic-Irving combo easily ranks as one of the best offensive duos currently, and without question.

What is a question is how Irving can incorporate himself now that he’s with Dallas at the start of the season, rather than in the middle of it. This is a consequential but necessary gamble for the Mavs.

Irving’s availability remains a lingering concern on the court. He hasn’t played over 70 games since 2016-2017, including four-straight seasons playing 60 games or less. The statistical production since 2019-2020 (27-5-6, 49/40/91 shooting splits) is incredible. Missing 20-plus games a season, however, is anything but.

Irving re-signed with Dallas on a three-year, $126 million contract. Clearly, the Mavs invested on the Luka-Kyrie pairing working out, at least for the next few years.

Then again, so too did Cleveland, Boston and Brooklyn — all of which dealt with constant turmoil, inconsistent chemistry and eventual exits. Will Irving (finally) change the narrative?

Filling in around the margins

Even with Irving in the fold, Dallas needed more playable options on the court.

Part of the Mavs’ winning formula in 2022 included putting out the sixth-best defensive team in the league. With Doncic and Irving ramping up for this coming year, Dallas seems to be following a similar formula based on their moves so far.

The most headline-worthy deal was a sign-and-trade for Boston’s Grant Williams (8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, 45/40/77 shooting splits). For starters, Williams gives Dallas a legitimate defender who can move up and down the positional ladder. He’s defended everyone from Jimmy Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo to Joel Embiid and even some perimeter-oriented guards.

His outside shooting (career 38% on 2.7 attempts per game) is also enough to be valuable in the Mavs’ system. Williams basically replaces Dallas’ wing need left behind by losing Dorian Finney-Smith in the Irving trade.

The investment is a notable one, both because of Williams’ new deal (four years at $54 million) and what Dallas had to give up (Reggie Bullock, two second-round picks and an unprotected first-round pick swap in 2030).

Dallas also added veteran big Richaun Holmes from Sacramento around the draft, who looked great two years ago but has since fallen out of favor with the Kings. Ditto for the newly-signed Seth Curry and Dante Exum, two guards who shined ages ago but have since been out of NBA rotations.

Lastly, the Mavs added two intriguing prospects in Duke’s Dereck Lively II and Marquette’s Oliver-Maxence Prosper. The former profiles as a rim-protecting, interior force with some outside shooting potential, while the latter projects as a (hopefully) ready-now wing who can play valuable minutes down the road.


How much better did Dallas really get?

The quick answer: significantly.

Compared to last season’s team, Dallas looks deeper.

Bringing back Irving plus the Mavs’ additions of quality rotation players means this team can at least survive without Doncic needing to produce at a superhuman level every regular-season game. More importantly, Dallas also positioned itself for any issues with absences or injuries to its top stars.

Their rotation is pretty solid to date. Next to the Doncic-Irving combo, the likes of Curry, Josh Green, Tim Hardaway Jr., Jaden Hardy and Exum can hold down the fort at the guard spot. Even if Lively isn’t immediately ready to go, Dwight Powell, Holmes and even Williams will bring stability in the paint.

The Mavs’ biggest concerns remains on the wing. Prosper might not be ready to contribute to winning basketball right away. Green feels like a solid piece, but nothing more. Williams does fill a lot of holes, but with the Celtics, his impact was magnified within the context of the rest of Boston’s team.

Dallas will likely move on from Hardaway Jr. in search of a starting-caliber wing. It will need to do so to get past the Western Conference’s most threatening teams.

Overall, Dallas over/under win total sits at 44.5 for the 2023-2024 season, at least 6-to-7 games better than the 2022-2023 season. At a bare minimum, barring catastrophe, the Mavs should be in next season’s playoffs.

But will that be enough of an improvement to appease Doncic? What happens if the Mavs start off slow? Is there a fallback option?

Yes, Dallas did improve its situation over the offseason.

By how much? That remains to be seen.

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About Dominic Chiappone

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