The Mavericks’ last three seasons have produced 33 wins, 24 wins and, with six games to play in 2018-19, 30 victories.
By any definition, this is what is known in sports as rebuilding.
It’s not easy to stomach while it is going on and the Mavericks feel strongly that they have cleared the proverbial hump when it comes to getting past the hardest part of rebuilding, which is generating hope via the acquisition of talent that provides a fighting chance to be relevant as quickly as possible.
On Monday night, the Mavericks will see the poster team for rebuilding.
The Philadelphia 76ers went through their self-described “process,” which started painfully in 2013-14 – the first season Brett Brown coached the Sixers. The Sixers won 19 games that season. They won 18 and 10 in the ensuing two seasons before upgrading to 28 wins in 2016-17. Last season, they made the playoffs with 52 wins, just the second time since 1990 that a Sixers team passed 50 wins.
That Brown remains as coach of the Sixers after so many difficult times is a testament to ownership and Brown’s patience.
On Monday morning after the Sixers’ shootaround at American Airlines Center, Brown sat down with mavs.com and talked about the anatomy of “the process” and how it relates to what the Mavericks are going through. He laid out three keys points that are crucial to the success of a rebuild – buying in, developing key, young personnel and staying the course through inevitable storms.
“Let’s start with the partnership and the linear vision that you have to have with ownership and the GM and coach and the city,” Brown said. “Really. You can choose whatever order you want. But let’s start with that. And let’s assume that most of the people I just said will buy in and hopefully understand what needs to happen to get back to a championship-type level, which is the reason you do it.
“When you cut to the chase, you’re doing it to try to find a way to win a championship. Now, it ain’t the only way, as you guys (the Mavericks) have proven. And I (saw it done) in San Antonio. But it was our best way back when I first accepted the position, I knew what the plan was and I bought in. I wasn’t young. I had experienced success. And I loved it. Development ruled my day. And so, just start with the buy in.”
It helps, he said, to have a strong leader or two.
“You’re not just going to click your heels and roll out stuff and think this is it, because it ain’t,” he said. “Fortunately for you guys, Rick (Carlisle) has done it.
“Then you get into, somewhere, stuff like this: how do you help people? Like, how do you help Porzingis, how do you help Luka, as starting points, understand really what a championship DNA is, what really is a culture, what really is professionalism, what really do you have to do to be the last man standing in June?”
In that respect, having Dirk Nowitzki around this season (and, perhaps, longer) and having J.J. Barea in the mix is invaluable. They have been there, done that when it comes to having skins on the wall. They can be the mentors for young players, especially young international stars.
“Then,” Brown said, “it’s going after your big boy, and telling them, here’s the deal. You are the gatekeepers to our program. Culture equals behavior. And behavior equals respect. And so, you go to your big boys, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and you start trying to get that as right as you can. Then you fill in the peripheral pieces.”
In Philadelphia’s case, that meant having players like Robert Covington and Dario Saric, who were good enough that they could turn them into Jimmy Butler via trade.
And through it all, Brown and the Sixers weathered some mistakes, too, because everybody in the NBA and in life makes them. Their path?
“It’s been from 10-win seasons to Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and Michael Carter-Williams and Markelle’s situation (No. 1 overall draftee Markelle Fultz in 2017) and (various GMs) and here we are. What I should have been doing is taking great notes and I got a story to tell.”
That story has yet to be fully written.
The Sixers are headed to a high playoff seeding again this season, probably No. 3 in the Eastern Conference. That will set them up with the home-court advantage in the first round and continue their ascent. They have a solid chance to make noise deep into the playoffs.
They are going to win 50 games in a row for the second consecutive season. And they now have become synonymous with any organization that must go through a “process.”
“The rules change, I have learned quickly,” Brown said. “Especially in Philadelphia. We get greedy quick. Your standard is either you’re winning a championship or going really, really, really deep or – not so long ago, I was advised, be careful, you can’t tell them the goal is to make the playoffs. This was last year. I felt like a coward if I didn’t say that. And I said it and we ended up doing OK and we lose to the Celtics and life kind of caved in for a second.
“But I’ve felt confident in what I wanted. To set up the pieces (from the start of the process) has been fun. But somewhere, with all of it, coaching your big boys, buying in from the city and the coach and then starting to build slowly, that’s what it was about.”
By all appearances, and with a little luck and some more patience, the Mavericks are closer to the end of their personal process than the beginning.