Mount Everest is 29,029 feet tall, the tallest mountain in the world.
Sitting on the border of Tibet and Nepal, Mount Everest is the ultimate accomplishment for people in the climbing and hiking world.
From spending thousands of dollars to months of preparation, the sacrifice humans make from around the world to accomplish the feat is unfathomable for some. According to a recent New York Times article, six people died trying to climb the mountain in 2017, a common number according to the article.
As for people who spend the money and make the sacrifices to attempt the months-long climb, roughly half of them actually complete it.
In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks completed their own climb up the mountain.
After 30 seasons as a franchise and 12 of them with Dirk Nowitzki, it was time to finally summit the mountain. The Mavericks won their first NBA championship after beating the Miami Heat in 2011.
All of the sacrifice, dedication and hard work had paid off. The Mavericks were kings of the basketball world.
But just like climbing Mount Everest, you eventually have to come back down. It’s inevitable, and never easy. And the Dallas Mavericks did just that.
“Being here 10 years, I knew there was going to be a point where things would take a downturn,” Rick Carlisle said at his exit interview. “It is almost impossible to stay really good forever. Unfortunately, at times, you have to get really bad to get really good again .”
Over the past two seasons, Dallas lost a combined 107 games, capping off the 2017-18 season with just 24 wins. It was just the eighth time in franchise history the club has finished with 25 or less wins.
“Difficult year for all of us. Coaches, players, fans, ownership, management,” Donnie Nelson said at exit interviews on Wednesday . “We do not want to go back to what we just experienced. That is unanimous from the top on down.”
Over the first month of the season, the Mavericks got off to a 2-14 start after an injury to Seth Curry in the preseason. That start put the Mavericks in a hole they could never climb back out of.
“When you have starts like that to the season it is going to be a grind after that,” J.J. Barea said. “A lot of young kids that played a lot of minutes that I think will be great for next year. But for this year, it was tough.”
The season was capped off with a 27-point loss to the Phoenix Suns and a final team meeting the next day that set the tone for the offseason. As each player took his turn speaking to the media during exit interviews, Wesley Matthews loved the demeanor from the meeting.
“Pissed off” is how he liked to describe it.
The message was simple: They have to get better as a team and it starts with each and every one of them.
But even though the total of losses is the most since the 1997-98 season, this isn’t rock bottom. This isn’t the beginning of the rebuild. This isn’t the beginning of the climb back up the mountain.
One of the first steps in the journey to climb Mount Everest is the 10-14 day hike to the Everest Base Camp which sits roughly 17,500 feet up the mountain. It is here that climbers spend time — sometimes weeks — adjusting to the altitude and preparing for the eventual climb to the summit.
The Mavericks are at base camp.
“Ironically, 20 years ago when we first got here to build this thing it started with a point guard,” Nelson said. “Started with Michael Finley, which is our modern day Harrison Barnes. And it started with a floppy-headed German that ended up being pretty good.” The excitement of the future with this year’s draft, Dennis Smith, Harrison, young building blocks. As well as Dwight Powell and some of our other young players, is an exciting part of the franchise moving forward.”
Michael Finley arrived in Dallas via a trade during his second season in the league at 23 years old. Steve Nash came to Dallas a couple of years later in a trade while entering his third year in the league at 24 years old.
On the same day the Mavericks traded for Nash, they made a draft day trade landing a German kid named Dirk Nowitzki.
Dallas had its new big three.
“The good news is we have been through the drill before. We know how it is done,” Nelson said. “We are doing it the same way we built this team 20 years ago when Mark first came in. He had Fin, his leadership piece. He had a young Steve Nash that was just coming into his own. He had Dirk. Those were the three guys we built this franchise around. We have two or three of those pieces. Hopefully in this year’s draft we get a third piece. All of them, whether they are free agents, will have that same DNA that Dirk is going to pass down.”
In fact, it started before Dirk, Fin and Nash. It has been in the DNA of the franchise since the beginning in 1980.
“When you go through retooling and rebuilding situations it is done with the right people, the right character people,” Nelson said. “I think ever since Don Carter launched this franchise back in 1980, it was done with Rolando Blackman, Brad Davis and Derek Harper. Then Dirk and Michael Finley carried the baton. That is what we are committed to. Committed to the right people in that locker room that will take this franchise to the next phase.”
It is the transitioning to the next stage in the franchise that can sometimes be the hardest part. But if you have the right people leading you through the process, then it makes it that much easier for the people behind them to succeed.
What better companion to have than Dirk Nowitzki to guide this young core to the next phase of the franchise?
“If you are going with a team like I have for so long, if that is what it takes, that is what it takes,” Nowitzki said on embracing the rebuild last spring. “At the end of the day, I can’t imagine myself in a different uniform. That is why I made that decision. Whatever comes, if we are rebuilding then I’m the face of that. If we are championship, then I’m here for that. I just identified myself with the organization so long, with the fan base, with the city, that no matter what the team or the franchise is going through, I’m right there to push it through.”
Now, after appearing in 77 games during his 20th season in the league, Dirk Nowitzki plans on being back for his 21st season in Dallas. Nelson became emotional when talking about Nowitzki’s decision to return to Dallas for another season.
“What he does for this city and this organization is unique and special, to embrace it in a period of rebuilding,” Nelson said. “For him to step up again for this city and this franchise is inspirational to everyone. That is the kind of leadership and character that Harrison Barnes has in his DNA. And Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea. Those are the things that are special and unique about this team.”
Chemistry and character in the locker room is the key to everything.
“I think if there is a common theme in what we see, it is character. Character has been there all year long in this locker room and it starts with Dirk,” Nelson said. “I can tell you that the chemistry and character in that locker room is as good as it has ever been.”
Dennis Smith Jr. was asked about his rookie season with Nowitzki this year and chose to praise the work ethic from the veteran. Even giving recent examples of seeing Nowitzki after his ankle surgery in the weight room getting in a workout with his medical boot on.
That is the character and work ethic that is contagious.
And that is beyond just the veterans. Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes have taken on bigger roles as leaders and fit exactly the kind of character Dallas is building their roster around.
“We know we have that in some of our young players like Dennis Smith Jr. as the quarterback and a first year guy that was thrown into a difficult situation. Harrison Barnes that is young, but another leader in our locker room carrying that baton through this rebuilding phase,” Nelson said.
With multiple players hitting free agency, a heap of cap space and three draft picks, the possibilities are endless for Dallas this summer. But none is more important than the team’s first round pick that will be somewhere in the top six on draft night.
Nelson, Carlisle and the organization realize the importance of this pick and the potential it has to land the third piece to the puzzle.
“It really helps when you have three or more young guys like back in the day with Dirk, Nash and Fin,” Nelson said. “To have three guys to go through those wars together. It is honestly fun to see those situations manifest themselves and those guys get better.”
How close are the Mavericks to being back in the playoffs?
“I think we are close,” Barea said . “We are a lot closer than we were a couple of years ago. With a couple of free agents we could get and with the young guys experience they had this year and the guys coming back. I think we will be fine.”
“There weren’t but just a handful of games we were completely out of it,” Matthews added. “We just lost the games we shouldn’t have lost. There were games that we had and games we let go.”
Indeed, the Mavs were in their fair share of close games in 2017-18, and the young core will hopefully learn from those experiences. With a few tweaks, some luck on the health side and a successful summer, it’s not unrealistic to see the Mavericks back in the playoffs next season. At least that is the goal.
“This is an important summer for us. Our goal is to make a giant step towards the playoffs,” Mark Cuban said.
“We are very confident. This is a situation we are not used to,” Nelson said. “It is literally a fish out of water deal…our fans deserve better than this.”
As for a message to the loyal MFFLs, Nelson gives hope that there are brighter days to come.
“My message to the fans is this season will hopefully never happen again,” Nelson said. “We are extremely excited about the draft and free agency. Hang with us. There are brighter days to come. This is the way we did this thing back 20 years ago. It has to be done with chemistry and character. Hopefully you won’t have to be too patient. I know our owner isn’t.”
The Mavericks have already begun their climb back up the mountain as bringing in Harrison Barnes and drafting Dennis Smith Jr. got them to base camp. Now it is time to add the next piece and head towards the summit.
“We are not going to have this conversation next year,” Matthews said. “We want to get back to where this franchise should be, to where we as players feel we should be. That is in the playoffs. That is fighting and competing. A chance to bring hardware back here.”
As for how long it will be before the Mavericks taste the postseason again, Smith made it very clear that it is just around the corner.
“A year. I think we will get it next season,” Smith Jr. said.