On Wednesday, the Mavericks start phase 2 of a process that they hope only has three steps.
They have endured the distasteful part – rebuilding. They had to take a lot of hits and build assets through losing. That part worked. They emerged from three lottery-bound seasons with enough assets to trade for Kristaps Porzingis while keeping their only untouchable asset at the time – Luka Doncic.
Now starts stage two. They must get Porzingis and Doncic together and let them marinate. Let them grow. Let them learn.
At some point, stage three will begin. That will come after Doncic and Porzingis know each other like the back of their hands. That will be when the playoffs are not a question, but a given. And the Mavericks will be looking to hook bigger fish.
In the meantime, there are two pressing questions that are not easy to answer: Who is this team’s third best player? And is he good enough to help this team accelerate the process and arrive in the playoffs this season?
Peering into the future is always dicey stuff. Coach Rick Carlisle didn’t want any part of it on Tuesday.
“We’ll see as this thing unfolds,” he said about who the third scoring option might be. “I don’t see any reason to try to define those things before we even throw the opening jump ball up.”
That said, it’s a legitimate question about who might step up as the third peg that the Mavericks can plug into the offense when one or both of Porzingis and Doncic need help.
Here, we’re going to look at the options for their third-best player. And not all the possibilities are as obvious as you might think.
Option No. 1: Tim Hardaway Jr.
OK, maybe this is sort of obvious.
Hardaway has been a quality scorer the past few seasons and he’s going into this season 100-percent healthy, something he hasn’t been able to say for a while.
Hardaway’s role is to be determined. But whether he starts or comes off the bench or does a little of both, he’s going to get lots of chances to be a heavy lifter.
“He’s going to be one of our most important players, no doubt about it,” Carlisle said. “The No. 1 thing this year is that he’s healthy for the first time in about two years. I know he’s excited about that. Regardless of the role, he’s going to be aggressive, play his style of attacking game at both ends. And he brings attitude.”
That’s a major asset that the Mavericks are going to need.
Option No. 2: Delon Wright.
One of the great unknowns going into the season is exactly what Wright will be for this team.
He was a triple-double machine at the end of last season, with two of those gems coming at the Mavericks’ expense.
But Memphis was playing out the season and Wright got an opportunity to take the ball and run with it, literally. And he did so with authority.
But the Mavericks need different things from him. Is there anything in the rulebook that says your third-best player can’t be a defensive-minded, solid-rebounding guard alongside Doncic?
“We feel one of the real strengths of the team is the depth,” Carlisle said. “He’s really added to our depth at the point position. His versatility is very important.
“In terms of exactly what everybody is going to do statistically? No one knows. And he’s a guy whose contributions I wouldn’t measure necessarily statistically anyway. He’s a guy who brings a different kind of presence to an NBA team. And I like the way he fits with the guys we have here.”
Option No. 3: Nobody on this roster
The Mavericks are not a complete product. There will be changes.
Perhaps even before the trading deadline in February.
The key word here is patience. The Mavericks will see how the first couple of months of this season develop and go from there. That’s the wonderful thing about the start of a new NBA season. We just don’t know exactly how things are going to evolve.
But the Mavericks have never been shy about rolling the dice. That’s the beauty of having Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson running the show with Rick Carlisle. And there’s always the draft next summer, which is expected to be fertile.
In short, anything can happen.
Option No. 4: Nobody, period.
As Carlisle mentioned above, and as a lot of teams have proven in recent years, you don’t need a clear No. 3 to be championship material.
Last season, Toronto had a third cog after Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. His name was Pascal Siakim.
But there have been champions that did not have a clear No. 3.
“We’re a team that’s going to have to have a certain level of balance,” Carlisle said. “I don’t want a team with top-heavy scorers. We need a lot of guys averaging double figures if we can manage to do that. It makes us harder to play against.”
Whatever option happens, what the Mavericks become beyond Doncic and Porzingis is going to be a subplot worth watching.