CHICAGO – Sitting prominently on Michael Finley’s check list are three important things that he explains will assuredly prevent the Dallas Mavericks from being back in the dreaded NBA Draft Lottery again next year.

And like Santa Claus, Finley made this list and checked it twice before revealing it to the media.

“I think you have to be good in the draft, you have to pick up some good free agents, and the third thing I think you have more control of is the guys who are coming back has to get better,” Finley said. “If those guys take it upon themselves to get better, I think that sets it up for usually a successful turnaround.”

The Mavs’ assistant vice-president of basketball operations, Finley pointed out that it’s more than just the capacity of having a successful turnaround that fans the flames in his fire. He added that the turnaround will be swift if the aforementioned three mandates are collectively met.

To drive home his point even farther, Finley used forward Dirk Nowitzki as a prime example. The ninth pick of the 1998 NBA Draft, Nowitzki has often discussed the struggles he endured as a rookie out of Germany, and there were even whispers from some corners early in his career that he was a bust.

But during numerous offseasons of hard work and long hours, Nowitzki would come back to Dallas after adding a new wrinkle to his game. New wrinkles that by the time the 2001-’02 season rolled around, Nowitzki had polished his game to where he started a string of landing in 13 of the ensuing 14 All-Star games.

Coincidently, the Mavs also took off as a franchise during that stretch as they advanced to the playoffs 15 out of 16 years from 2001 through 2016. And long-time Mavs followers remember before that successful stretch fueled by Nowitzki and his enormous talents, the struggling Mavs missed the playoffs every season from the 1990-‘91 campaign through the 1999-’00 season.

“The reason the Mavericks turned it around, in my opinion, is the great jump that Dirk had over the summers to improve himself as a basketball player,” said Finley, who was Nowitzki’s teammate from 1998-2005. “And once that happened, the sky was the limit for the organization.”

In essence, Finley is saying that the blueprint that made the Mavs a success during the majority of Nowitzki’s 20-year career can still work today.

“I told our team this year if we want to be a better team everybody in this room – I’m talking to the team – has to improve,” Finley said. “If everybody takes it upon themselves to improve, nine times out of 10 the team will improve.”

Even though the Mavs didn’t walk away from Tuesday’s Draft Lottery with the No. 1 pick, they did walk away with the No. 5 overall selection in the June 21 NBA Draft. While those lottery results didn’t bring out the confetti in Dallas, the depth of this draft assures the Mavs of at least drafting a can’t miss prospect.

Or does it?

“Well, you can miss,” said Finley, who is a Chicago native. “I think Portland missed (with the second pick in the 1984 draft) when they took (Sam) Bowie (over Michael Jordan). But that’s just coming from a Bulls fan.”

With the Mavs coming off consecutive seasons of 33 and 24 wins, respectively, Finley acknowledged that he and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson doesn’t have a specific position they’ve locked in as the one they need to improve on the most.

“We’re just trying to make the team better, but we don’t know who that player is and what position he’s at,” said Finley, who represented the Mavs on the dais at the lottery. “Once we sit down with Donnie and our scouts and take away the pros and cons of selecting a particular player, then we’ll make that decision.

“But as of today we haven’t even decided on what position we’re even going after.”

In addition to the fifth pick in next month’s draft, the Mavs also own a pair of second-round draft choices – Nos. 33 and 54. Indeed, the Mavs are hoping the overwhelming depth in this draft will work in their favor.

“We have three picks in this upcoming draft if we keep them all, so we can have a chance to get, I think, some pretty good players that can help us,” Finley said. “We’ve got to pick the player who we think is the best fit for us to get us over the hump, so to speak.

“We just have to be due diligent in our selection process. Even though we have the fifth pick (in the first round) we have a good group of guys that we’ll have a chance to choose from. It’s just a matter of us choosing who we think is the best guy for us.”

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