Mavs place health, fostering young talent atop offseason wish list

DALLAS — Coming up short of their goal of reaching the playoffs after a 33-49 regular season, the Dallas Mavericks still feel like they have something to build on after the emergence of their young contributors to close the 82-game schedule.

Getting off to a lackluster 4-17 start to the regular season after seeing 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki go down with a right Achilles strain, the Mavericks battled back to find themselves in the postseason conversation at the end of the year. However, the Mavs’ list of nagging injuries to their veterans would eventually prove to be too much to overcome by the end of the season, finishing eight games behind Portland for the final playoff position in the Western Conference after dropping five of their last six outings. Still, after seeing the Mavs’ young contributors grow throughout the course of the season, coach Rick Carlisle says there were positives to pull from the injury-riddled campaign heading into the summer.

“The continued development of our young guys is the biggest thing, and then we’ll focus on the draft immediately,” Carlisle explained. “I’ve already looked at the top 15 prospects, and it’s a great draft. There’s great opportunity there. I don’t know which player, obviously, at this point we’re going to draft, but we’re going to get a good player. I’m really excited about it.

“It’s going to be busier (this summer) with player development internally than it’s been. We have a schedule in place. Our first- and second-year guys will be back in mid-May for a couple of weeks, and then mid-June for a couple of weeks. We’re going to space out their workouts, so that their bodies can stay fresh and then prepare them for the Summer League. We’ve got to get Yogi (Ferrell) and (Dorian) Finney-Smith and (Nicolas) Brussino and (A.J.) Hammons better. The first year there’s always going to be an increase in skill level and things like that. We’ve just got to be careful not to let these guys plateau. One of the ways we get better is to get better from within.”

This season, the Mavericks saw the emergence of a young core that could be vital to the franchise’s success moving forward. The Mavs were also reliant on their young contributors throughout the season after seeing Nowitzki play in just 54 games, which is the fewest since his rookie campaign.

The Mavs featured nine players 26 years old and under by the end of the season as well. And according to both Nowitzki and leading scorer Harrison Barnes, that young core gained valuable experience that will serve the franchise well in the future.

“We have a great organization. We definitely had a lot of guys in and out, but I think that group we had at the end of the year really fought like heck,” Barnes proclaimed. “I’m proud of our young guys for stepping in. They were being put in a tough situation with a lot of minutes, and I thought we had them do a lot of responsibilities. I think we have something to build off for next season.”

“Well, it’s no secret we’ve got to get better,” Nowitzki added. “We’ve got to get better in all phases. The young guys have got to get better, and the old guys have got to stay healthy and work on some stuff. We’ll see what the draft brings, and we’ll see what free agency brings. I’m sure [Mavs owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson] are going to look to make this franchise competitive again, and the young guys are going to work on their games, get better and bring more to the table next year. But it’s been a tough year injury-wise. I think we still could be playing if we were healthy all season, but it just wasn’t in the cards. We tried making the best out of it. We competed as long as we could until the playoffs were no longer possible, so I think we gave it a great shot. I’m proud of the guys for not giving up all season. We started 4-17 or something, and we still kept fighting and plugging. We actually came close, and I think we at one point came within two games of the eighth spot. We gave it a valiant effort. It just wasn’t enough.”