With the Mavericks set to play the Knicks on Saturday for the first time this season, Jalen Brunson will get an opportunity to face his old team, while the Mavs will get the chance to see what they’ve been missing since losing the standout point guard in free agency over the summer.
Asked by Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News about whether the team regrets how Brunson’s free agency played out, Mavericks president of basketball operations Nico Harrison was quick to point out that Brunson’s departure “wasn’t our choice” and that Dallas made a competitive offer.
Still, as Tim Cato of The Athletic writes, there’s “no question (the Mavs) mishandled” the Brunson situation, given that they could’ve locked him up well before his free agency if they had been willing to offer a four-year extension worth approximately $56MM — the same deal Dorian Finney-Smith signed last season. By the time the Mavs put that extension (the most they could offer during the season) on the table for Brunson, he had outperformed it and was headed for a bigger payday on the open market.
In the wake of Brunson’s departure, the Mavs could have pursued a veteran free agent replacement – perhaps Goran Dragic – in July, but opted not to do so. Instead, they’ve used their 15th roster spot so far this season to audition veteran play-makers on non-guaranteed salaries. They began the season with Facundo Campazzo in that role and have since waived him to sign Kemba Walker.
Asked by Caplan whether the Mavs should have done more to address that third point guard spot in the summer, Harrison said it’s easy to second-guess the team’s thinking, but that he still has confidence in the current roster.
“You can look back at it and say that, but I also have faith in the guys that we have here,” Harrison said. “… Guys haven’t made shots, but we’ve seen them do it, and I have faith in them. I think if guys make shots just at the rate or slightly below what they normally do, we’re not even having this conversation. I think that erases a lot of the doubt or the feeling that we’re not quite achieving what the expectations would’ve been. The law of averages, they eventually equal out, and guys will make shots.”
Here are a few more of the most noteworthy quotes from Harrison’s Q&A with Caplan, which is worth checking out in full if you’re a Mavs fan:
On his thoughts about the Mavericks’ up-and-down performance so far this season:
“It’s no secret — we’ve lost some bad games, and we haven’t played good on the road, and our guys who shoot the ball well haven’t shot well. If you add those three up, I’m not surprised where we’re at, but I wouldn’t have expected all three of those things to happen.”
On whether the Mavs felt the need to use the 15th roster spot to address a lack of ball-handling rather than leaving it open:
“I just think it’s one of those things that you’re just constantly evaluating the team. When you see that there’s a hole, then you’ve got to try to fill it. I mean, you say lack of ball-handling, but at the end of the day, whoever that person is that we bring in, whether it was Facu or whether it was whoever, it’s not like they’re in the regular rotation. If we have one of the best, one of the best point guards in the league who’s one of the highest usage rates, it’s kind of a gift and a curse.”
On the Mavs’ expectations for Kemba Walker:
“I don’t think there’s any expectations, really. One, I hope his body holds up. I think that’s the first and foremost thing. I hope his body holds up. If it does, he’s a veteran guy. One, he’s an amazing person — I think that’s the point. He’s an amazing person. He’s been through everything in the league. He obviously can handle the ball and everybody knows he’s an ex-All-Star. I won’t even say ex-All-Star. He’s an All-Star. He’s a scorer. Adding that veteran presence for if and when we need it ready will be helpful.”