You could call this the “Deron WIlliams Chronicles: Part 2,” because I recently wrote about the impending implosion of the Brooklyn Nets. Many fans forget how important Williams’ departure from Brooklyn was, as it meant that Brooklyn had swapped a decent point guard for a replacement level one. Now, Williams plays for the Mavericks, the team whose first round pick is owed to the Celtics with Top 7 protection.
Hopefully, Williams, Dirk, Wesley Matthews, and everyone else on the roster can keep the Mavericks out of the Top 7 but still firmly in the lottery. Through 4 games, the Mavs look like they might be headed for that type of spot. They’ve beaten the Suns and Lakers while losing to the Clippers and Raptors, which are the kind of results that you’d expect from the Mavs this season. Their schedule is relatively easy over the next 2 weeks with 2 games against the Pelicans and a game apiece vs. the Lakers, Hornets, and 76ers. They end that period of games on the 16th vs the Sixers and then come to Boston 2 days later, and the schedule becomes much more difficult after that. Through those 7 games before the one against the Celtics, it’s important that the Mavs win at least 3, and I expect and hope they’ll win 4.
The most important Mavericks outcome for the Celtics’ sake is that Dallas doesn’t start throwing in the towel on this season starting before the New Year. If they get at least 3.5 months to throw away the season, they’ll be able to finish in the bottom 7 by shutting down Dirk and Matthews with the excuse of age and injuries. But if they can play well enough through the end of 2015, they likely won’t consider tanking.
As long as the Mavericks don’t ever go into full tanking mode like the 2012 Golden State Warriors when they traded Monta Ellis for an injured player to retain their own top 7 pick, they should give the Celtics a pick in the 8 to 14 range. The Mavericks are not a horrible team. they have a net rating this season of 2.0, slightly better than the Celtics’ rating of -1.4. If they can hold onto a 2.0 rating for a little while, that’s perfect for the Celtics. I expect the Mavs to regress slightly during the last few months of the season with Dirk’s health/age, Matthews’ injury history, Raymond Felton’s weight, and Deron Williams being Deron Williams. If the Mavs are slightly above average for a few more months and then turn into a slightly below average team, that’s exactly where we want them to be. In the Western Conference, they would have to be definitively above average to make the playoffs, and when they miss the playoffs, that means that their pick will be 14 at worst. In my NBA Season Preview, I picked them to finish 11th in the West, which would mean that their draft pick could be no worst than 12th. That prediction feel about right to me — the 10 to 12 range for the Celtics pick is about right.
It’s hard to know whether or not to root for the Mavericks because of the paradox between wanting the highest draft pick for the C’s but not wanting the pick to fall in the Top 7. For now though, root for the Mavs. They need to win at least 3 and preferably 4 games in the next 2 weeks to keep delaying their decision to tank. The Mavericks, Nets, and Celtics themselves are on pace to give the C’s something like the 3rd, 10th, and 16th picks, which could put the Celtics in one of the best positions in the NBA to compete over the next decade.
November 5 Update:
The Mavs and Rick Carlisle just agreed on a 5 year extension. While a disagreement over tanking likely wouldn’t have ended Carlisle’s run with the Mavs, the extension likely means that he and Cuban are on the same page with this season. Carlisle was a hater of the Warriors’ blatant tanking 4 years ago, so I doubt that the Mavs will be hardcore tankers now. If the season is lost and their guys are wearing down come February or March, I’m sure they’ll shut them down for a little longer than usual, but there won’t be any clear tanking efforts in the first half of the season.