The Dallas Mavericks have lost five of their last six games, are 8-14 since Kyrie Irving arrived and, at 37-40, are one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference. This is not where they thought they'd be when they made their blockbuster trade in February.
In an interview with the Dallas Morning News' Callie Caplan before their 116-108 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison acknowledged that the team hasn't jelled, but pointed to a lack of continuity in terms of who has been available to play since the trade and was optimistic about the way Irving and Luka Doncic fit together.
On the Doncic-Irving duo:
The potential is limitless. I think you have a Ferrari and a monster truck, you know what I'm saying? Both amazing and awesome machines, but different styles, which makes us super dynamic. They can play off each other. They can play with each other. The combinations are limitless, really, and there's not that many players in the league that are as good as those two are.
Then it's like, 'OK, how do these guys who are — I don't want to say role players — but filling a role, how do they fit in?' That's really the other part.
And on how the players are responding to coach Jason Kidd:
I think Jason's done a great job, starting with the top, making sure Luka and Kyrie are communicating and on the same page, which he's done well. I think it's tough for a coach every day. A lot of times you guys think we're being cute when you're like 'Hey, are they playing today?' And we're like 'Yeah, we don't know yet.' You're like 'Yeah, they know,' but we're looking at each other like, 'Hey, what do you think?'
If you're Jason, how do you game plan when you don't know who's available? I think he's been put in a tough position. I think what Jason's done really well is he's really dug into being positive with all the uncertainty. It's easy to start pointing fingers. He's really dug into being positive, and I think that's super helpful. I think the guys can feel the positive energy and again, I think he's been in a tough position.
Honestly, we weren't playing good before the trade, so the trade was never going to be a magic pill all of a sudden, but we did expect those guys to play more games together to figure each other out. Again, I'm not really worried about those two figuring each other out. It's the players around them.
A lot to unpack there. First, I guess Doncic is a monster truck? I get what he's saying about the two stars having different styles, but this made me think of a recent string of tweets from former Mavs executive Haralabos Voulgaris, in which he mentioned that:
- Doncic and Irving are both best with the ball in their hands.
- Dallas has not optimized its spacing.
- Irving's partnership with LeBron James was different because James, unlike Doncic, could dominate defensively and make an impact off the ball.
In 336 minutes over 13 games (four wins, nine losses), the Mavericks have scored 117.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed 113.7 per 100 with Doncic and Irving on the court. Their most-used lineup featuring both of them -- Doncic, Irving, Reggie Bullock, Josh Green, Dwight Powell -- has played in 87 minutes over eight games, with a plus-4.0 net rating. No other five-man combination including the two stars has logged more than 38 minutes, and it's worth noting that Dallas has scored 120.4 per 100 in Irving's 632 minutes overall. Generally speaking, it makes sense to be optimistic about the Mavs' ability to score with those two guys playing off each other, even if it hasn't been a seamless fit.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
But what about everything else? If the partnership continues beyond this season, Dallas will presumably be paying Irving a max or near-max salary, which means allocating an enormous amount of resources to two players who -- as different as their particular brands of bucket-getting may be -- have similar strengths and weaknesses. That would leave Harrison's front office with limited resources to find the complementary players he's talking about: guys who can protect the rim, defend at the point of attack, guard multiple positions, space the floor and maintain advantages.
As currently constructed, the Mavs have a top-heavy roster that lacks size, athleticism and defensive versatility. They'd likely have a better record if they'd had better injury luck recently, but they haven't had much success even when they've had all or the vast majority of their rotation players available.
Harrison is right that the Doncic-Irving tandem isn't the main problem, but one cannot neatly separate any of the problems from the decision to pair them. Dallas is desperate for a Dorian Finney-Smith type, and, if it re-signs Irving, it'll have all sorts of holes to fill, without any obvious way to do so.