The lesson the Mavericks have learned from the Rockets
The Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks entered the 2022-23 season in two completely different predicaments. The Mavericks had reached the Western Conference Finals the previous season and had won over 60 percent of their games.
But more importantly, the Mavs had an established superstar on their roster in Luka Doncic, who figures to win an MVP at some point in his career. The Rockets, on the other hand, were coming off a 20-62 season that saw them land Jabari Smith Jr. in the draft, who they didn't expect to be able to land, as they had been enamored with Paolo Banchero, who was selected first by the Orlando Magic instead.
With no incentive to contend and a roster not quite ready to contend, the Rockets traded Christian Wood, their leading scorer and leading rebounder to the Mavs. This was a move that the Mavericks deemed necessary to help Doncic load up for another run, while also hoping to replace the offensive production from Jalen Brunson, who bolted during free agency, in favor of a rather hefty payday from the New York Knicks.
With their sights set on rounding out their rebuild and vying for the services of French big man Victor Wembanyama, the Rockets knew almost immediately that they were on the path to successfully position themselves for the generational talent, as they were 2-12 through the first 14 games and 13-45 heading into the All-Star break. The Mavs, on the other hand, were 8-6 through the first 14 and 31-29 heading into the break.
What the Mavericks have learned from the Houston Rockets
When Kyrie Irving became available, the Mavs sought an opportunity to give Doncic a legitimate co-star and form a Hall of Fame backcourt, an obvious attempt to go all-in for the postseason. However, the Mavs would go 8-12 with Irving, causing them to drop to 11th place in the West, just a hair outside of the play-in tournament.
Granted, the Mavs had a chance to still fight for that final spot in the play-in until they made a rather surprising move. With a shot at postseason action well within reason, the Mavs decided to sit all of their key guys, including the aforementioned Irving and Wood, and Tim Hardaway Jr., while playing Doncic for only the first quarter of Friday's game against the Chicago Bulls, which they unsurprisingly lost.
The Mavs employing this tactic meant that they would surely be doing the same thing in their final game against the Spurs on Sunday (which will be a true tank-off, as the Spurs are 21-60, and also vying for Wembanyama). So how did we get here?
The Mavs decided at the last minute to abandon their pursuit of the play-in tournament so they, too, could tank and try to obtain the 10th pick, giving them a shot at Wembanyama. But if this was the goal of the franchise, they would've been better off establishing that before the season started, much like the Rockets, or even before the last two games.
If there's anything the Mavs could've learned from the Rockets, aside from what to expect from a heliocentric superstar, it's that the way to jockey for a lottery draft pick is to embark on that goal early in the season, as opposed to the last minute. Waiting at the very end could make the mission much more difficult, as the Mavs already have 38 wins.
Getting on the same page and direction earlier in the season as a franchise would've not only helped secure the lottery odds, but it also would've prevented an investigation from Adam Silver and the league office, due to the blatant nature in which they went about it.
Hopefully they've learned their lesson from the Rockets.