As he reflects on helping the Dallas Mavericks advance to the Western Conference Finals last season, there’s one thing that jumps off the table at coach Jason Kidd as he approaches the 2022-23 season.
Things will be different for the Mavs. How much different remains to be seen.
Gone is guard Jalen Brunson, who left the Mavs after four seasons and signed a four-year, $104 million free agent contract with the New York Knicks over the offseason. But the Mavs, who had all sorts of problems rebounding the ball and protecting the rim, did address those needs by acquiring centers JaVale McGee (7-0, 270) and Christian Wood (6-9, 214) over the summer.
The Mavs also added a pair of quality rookie guards in Jaden Hardy and Tyler Dorsey. All of this led Kidd on Sunday to tell Mavs.com:
“I think this will be a different team. This will be a different season, so we’ll see what we have. I’ve always talked about Christmas being when you kind of know what you have and who you are, so hopefully by Christmas we’ll know who we are.”
The Mavs finished last season with the fifth-best record in the entire NBA and the fourth-best record out West at 52-30. They then proceeded to defeat the Utah Jazz in six games in the first round of the playoffs, and followed that up by upsetting the top-ranked Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals in seven games, including winning Game 7 in Phoenix in blowout fashion, 123-90.
The eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors knocked off the Mavs in five games in the conference finals. However, last season was a success, considering no prognosticators had them reaching the conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“I think it’s huge,” Kidd said, referring to the Mavs’ appearance in last season’s conference finals. “For us to be able to get there, it’s huge.
“It’s a great experience, and we understand what it takes to get (to the NBA Finals), and then also we still came up short. So there’s a lot of things we can learn from that.”
What the Mavs learned is that they have to rebound at a much proficient rate, and they have to protect the rim better. The Mavs finished 24th in the league in rebounds last season with 43 per game, and their lack of work on the boards became a huge thorn in their side.
That’s mainly why the Mavs acquired Wood in a trade with the Houston Rockets, and also signed McGee via free agency.
Wood averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds and shot 50.1 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range last season for the Rockets. McGee, meanwhile, won NBA titles with the Warriors in 2017 and ’18, and with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020, and averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds and shot a robust 62.9 percent from the field while playing just 15.8 minutes per game last season for Phoenix.
“You look at McGee and what he does, he’s a three-time champion, so he can help us not just on the court, but as a veteran, too,” Kidd said. “And then when you look at C-Wood and what he does offensively and defensively, he can help us.
“So we look forward to having those two as part of the Mavs’ family. For us, it’s to figure out what we have and then get to our strengths, and again we’ve got to play defense.”
With Media Day set for Monday and training camp starting Tuesday, the Mavs also have to figure out how to get superstar point guard Luka Doncic some much-needed rest. A three-time All-Star, Doncic played a lot of basketball for his native Slovenia this past summer.
In fact, Doncic was still playing basketball less than two weeks ago when Poland upset Slovenia, 90-87, on Sept. 15 in the EuroBasket quarterfinals.
Kidd said he’ll talk to Doncic on Monday morning to decide how they want to proceed with getting him some rest before the Oct. 5 preseason opener against Oklahoma City, and certainly before the Oct. 19 regular season opener at Phoenix.
“We’ll set out a plan of what he wants to do and then we’ll go from there,” Kidd said. “And it’ll be fluid where we’ll change at some point.
“But I think the big thing is we’ll communicate and talk about what it looks like early.”
Kidd, however, knows the advantage of Doncic still playing competitive basketball less than two weeks ago is that there won’t be any cries of him being out of shape entering training camp, as was the case last season.
“He’s definitely in shape,” Kidd said. “We don’t have to answer that question or worry about that.
“It’s just a matter of how training camp is used for him, especially with him playing a lot this summer.”
Additionally, the Mavs must discover a way to make up for the loss of Brunson, who averaged 32 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists as Dallas went 2-1 in the first three games of the playoff series against the Jazz while Doncic was out nursing a strained left calf.
“You can’t overcome (the loss of Brunson),” Kidd said. “You’ve got to be able to, one, be thankful that we had him last year and enjoy the success that he helped with the Mavs.
That committee in replacing Brunson will largely fall on the lofty shoulders of Spencer Dinwiddie and Tim Hardaway Jr. In 23 games with the Mavs last year – including seven starts — following an in-season trade with the Washington Wizards, Dinwiddie averaged 15.8 points and 3.9 assists and shot 49.8 percent from the floor and 40.4 percent from behind the three-point stripe.
In the meantime, Hardaway will be returning after he underwent season-ending surgery last Feb. 1 to address a fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. In 42 games – including 20 starts – prior to his injury, Hardaway averaged 14.2 points and 3.7 rebounds.
Hardy and Dorsey are also hopeful of being able to carve out some playing time for themselves in the backcourt.
Hardy said: “I’m just looking to come in and show the guys what I can do, show the team what I can do, and just come in and try to help the team get back into being contenders.”
“It was a good year and a good learning experience for sure, playing in the G League from high school and making that jump to the professional level,” Hardy said. “But going in I feel like I did a great job.
“The coaches helped me, the staff helped me, the players helped me. So I felt like it was a good experience and it’s going to help me in the long run.”
Kidd saw enough of Hardy on film and in the summer league to know that he can help the Mavs as soon as this season.
“Hardy’s a rookie and he’s going to be able to get some (playing) time,” Kidd said. “The big thing is we’re not going to put him in a situation where he can’t be successful.”
As far as his team being successful in his second season coaching the Mavs, Kidd is prepared for the adjustments he’ll have to make with so many new faces on the roster.
“I’m ready,” he said. “When you look at the roster, it’s different, so I’m looking to continue to build to have that championship team.”