Lottery Time

A little luck in the NBA Draft Lottery could put the Dallas Mavericks back in contention

A little luck in the NBA Draft Lottery could put the Dallas Mavericks back in contention

The statistic was meant to underscore the tough road the Los Angeles Lakers face to make the playoffs. But it might as well have been related to the Dallas Mavericks. Just five NBA teams in 15 years have made the playoffs when they started the season 15-20. After 35 games, the Mavericks were 13-22.

It’s getting ugly. Dirk Nowitzki is frustrated. He says you can’t build a team on the hope that you’ll sign a big name one day. He’s not asking for a trade — yet. But Nowitzki might become so frustrated that he wants out, and if he ever reaches that point, he’ll have to go through owner Mark Cuban to do it.

Cuban told the Dallas Morning News on Sunday that he’s not going to trade Nowitzki. Cuban also said the team would pursue a trade by the February 21 league deadline.

 If the draft were held today, the Mavs would have a top 10 pick.

The likelihood of a big-time free agent coming to Dallas this summer gets more remote by the day. But what about a high draft pick?

The lure of the lottery
If you’ve been a Mavericks fan for the last 10 years, you might not be aware of this little thing they call the NBA Draft Lottery. That’s when the teams that don’t make the playoffs get together at the NBA’s home offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, and have a made-for-TV lottery to see who gets the NBA’s top three picks.

You can be forgiven for not knowing. The Mavs haven’t participated since 2000, the year Mark Cuban bought the team. That year the Mavs selected Etan Thomas of Syracuse.

Perhaps the fact that Thomas was such a bust prompted Cuban to spend enough money to have enough talent to avoid the lottery. It also underscores the incredible streak of success this franchise has had since those dark days in the 1990s, when participation in the NBA Draft Lottery was a given, like death, taxes and Dallas reruns.

But it looks like these Mavericks may be lottery bound. If the draft were held today, the Mavs would have a top 10 pick, with the potential of a top 3 pick if their ping pong ball came out of the hopper.

Actually, the hopper is backstage and spits out the ping pong balls before the TV event begins. NBA Commissioner David Stern opens envelopes with team logos. It’s all very dramatic, if you think opening envelopes at halftime of a NBA playoff game is dramatic.

Few options remain
The Mavericks are not as attractive a destination as they were two years ago. It’s going to be harder to lure a true superstar to a team with an aging former MVP and a bunch of guys on one- or two-year contracts — no matter how talented they are.

 The Mavericks have a deficit of young talent and a deficit of great offensive players to match with Nowitzki.

Chris Paul is a free agent. Do you really think he would leave the front-running Los Angeles Clippers? Dwight Howard is a free agent. He looks nothing like the dominant star he was just two years ago. Plus, not the best attitude in the world.

J.R. Smith? Maybe. Andrew Bynum?  He’s been hurt all year.

No, it looks like the Mavs are going to have to start the long, painful path toward starting over. That probably won’t make Nowitzki feel any better. But, sometimes, down-on-their-luck teams get lucky.

Look at San Antonio. Some time back, David Robinson was the man for the Spurs. But he came up lame one year with a balky back and missed most of the season.

The Spurs went into the tank. Gregg Popovich took over as head coach at midseason. The Spurs went into the Draft Lottery and ended up with the No. 1 overall pick.

Their selection? Tim Duncan. Four NBA titles later, the Spurs are the league’s model franchise.

There isn’t a Tim Duncan in this draft. However, there are some good, strong players worth consideration. The Mavericks have a deficit of young talent and a deficit of great offensive players to match with Nowitzki.

Perhaps the Mavs can kill two birds with one draft pick? The way they’re playing, we’re going to find out.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki may have to play through a rebuilding effort before he gets to challenge for another title in Dallas. Courtesy of Dallas Mavericks
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
The Mavs haven’t participated in the NBA Draft Lottery since 2000, the year Mark Cuban bought the team.
O.J. Mayo of the Dallas Mavericks
O.J. Mayo is one of the few bright spots in the Mavericks 2013 season.