There was a rare feeling in the Mavericks locker room; it was light-hearted, jovial, fun. The Dallas Mavericks had just held off the Los Angeles Clippers in a 97-95 win. And if anyone had just dropped into this game without context, they wouldn’t know the Mavs were still three games out of the playoffs.
The atmosphere felt like a playoff game. J.J. Barea’s 1 ejection in the 3rd quarter could have easily been a playoff series-altering moment. The Clippers argued2 like their playoff lives depended on the result. The crowd could have passed for a playoff crowd. The game was tight, heated; and in a game like that everyone forgets about tanking or assets or draft picks. Basketball is the best sport in the world and at it’s very best the game is enthralling.
There were not many moments like that this season.
J.J. Redick hoisted a final shot with 0.9 seconds left that hit the back iron to the dismay of the Clippers bench and the surprising amount of Clips fans in attendance3.
By the time media was allowed in the locker room, Harrison Barnes was already waiting in his chair. This was a stark contrast to the start of the season when it would take up to an hour before Barnes made it back to his locker after a game. This situation got so bad that the Mavs PR staff, who have to wait until every player is gone, made a deal with him to go to his locker first before showering.
Barnes spoke and left as a dwindling media crew waited for the player with whom no deals would be made, Dirk Nowitzki. The recently minted 30,000 point4 man walked over to his locker and discussed how Barea’s ejection ‘got the crowd into it more’ and how it was a ‘late arriving crowd’ at the AAC that night. By this point, Barnes had returned from his shower and made the Obama meme face in response to ‘late arriving crowd’ and under his breath cracked, “I’ll say.”
When the media was finished with their questions for Dirk, only a few members remained including the formerly banned Marc Stein and Tim MacMahon. As Dirk sat and put on his socks and shoes he welcomed ‘Stein-y’ back to the AAC and jokingly asked if he was even allowed to even be there.
The group shared a few laughs and Stein joked about Dirk’s struggling defense. As is his practice for nearly 20 NBA seasons, Dirk differed to his teammates saying that’s why his “24-year-old-Max-Money-man has to play on both ends,” because when he was that old he played both ends. Barnes muttered a response about covering Antonio McDyess that had Dirk, Stein, MacMahon, and Mavs Communication Manager Scott Tomlin rolling.
It takes a certain player to be able to spar with Dirk in that way but Harrison Barnes has proven this season he can be that player. Barnes was under immense scrutiny when he signed a four-year $94 million deal back in July that mirrored former Mavs forward Chandler Parsons’ contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Barnes was coming off of a disappointing NBA Finals loss with the Golden State Warriors and some fans thought he would never be as good as Parsons. 81 games into his time with the Mavericks and the ’24-year-old-Max-Money man’ has silenced that entire faction, averaging nearly 20 points per game for the entire season.5
The Mavericks were 31-40 after that win over the Clippers and had twice as many downs as ups during the course of the five-month-old season. After 16 seasons of winning (at least) as many games as they had lost, the Mavs were nine games under that mark with eleven games remaining. History was being made, but not the kind any player wants to endure. Unless you’re an undrafted rookie who is given a chance on a struggling team.
Other than Seth Curry, the undrafted player who proved the most this season was Kevin Yogi Ferrell. After multiple stints in the D-League and being cut twice by the Brooklyn Nets, Ferrell found an instant starting role with the Mavericks. Literally. Yogi signed a 10-Day contract with the Mavericks on Saturday, January 28th and started the next day in San Antonio. Over the course of his 10-Day Contract, Ferrell started in all four games and averaged 17.8 points, 5 assists, 1.8 steals, and shot 52% from three point range. Incredible numbers, including a 32-point outing in Portland where he tied the rookie record with nine made threes. Yogi-Mania, as MFFLs so mundanely put it, was in full effect and secured Ferrell a multi-year contract to stay with the Mavericks.6
Yogi-Mania preceded an unprecedented All-Star break where the Mavericks pulled off a much-needed deal at the NBA Trade Deadline. Arguably the best trade of the Deadline saw Nerlens Noel join the Mavericks in exchange for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut7, and a draft pick that was disguised as a 1st Round selection. Noel’s stats weren’t that much better in Dallas but after months of disgruntled random benching in Philadelphia hopefully, he has found a place to call home for years to come.
Before the season, one of the big questions was where Seth Curry was going to find minutes in a rotation that included Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, Devin Harris, and J.J. Barea. Injuries quickly answered those concerns and Curry averaged close to 30 minutes a game over the first month of the season. Then in an eight-game stretch in late February/early March, Curry averaged 22 points, shooting 57% from the field, and a scorching 55% from three. The Mavs went 6-2 in those games and only two and a half games out of the playoffs playing their best basketball of the season. Curry ended the year with a fairly minor shoulder injury but had eleven 20+ point scoring games and ranked 6th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage.
Between Barnes, Ferrell, Noel, Curry, and (other undrafted rookie) Dorian Finney-Smith the Mavericks finally have a young core to build around. Curry (26) is the oldest of the group but only played in 48 NBA games before this season. MFFLs have been clamoring for this phase of construction for years. And now, the Dallas Mavericks are actually rebuilding. Despite being close several times, the 2016-17 Mavericks were out of the playoff race for the entire season and even Mark Cuban admitted that the club was ‘tanking’ in their own way.
This season likely won’t be remembered by most Mavs fans, but it was memorable. Dirk Nowitzki played in his 19th season, broke records, and scored his 30,000th career point. Harrison Barnes proved everyone wrong and established himself as a franchise player. Seth Curry found his stride, Yogi Ferrell found a spot, Nerlens Noel found a home, and the Mavericks still own their First Round Draft Pick.
For just the second time in 17 years, the Mavericks’ Exit Interviews happened before the playoffs even began. 2016-17 will be looked at as a down year for the Dallas Mavericks franchise but hopefully, years from now, it’ll be looked at as rock bottom and not the beginning of a slide. Those moments with Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes joking around in the locker room were rare but soon they will never happen again. Dirk hinted and established several times during the season that he would return for his 20th with the Mavs. Even after an Achilles scare that culminated in a ‘media availability’ that many speculated to be a retirement announcement. Thankfully that was far from the truth and Dirk will be wearing #41 for another 82 games in the twilight of his career. Another year of Dirk, another year of a living legend gracing the floor of the AAC, and another year like never before. The season has ended, but this era of Dallas Mavericks basketball is just beginning.