Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. will start for the Mavericks this season, and will be the focus of coach Rick Carlisle and the entire franchise. Tony Gutierrez AP
Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. will start for the Mavericks this season, and will be the focus of coach Rick Carlisle and the entire franchise. Tony Gutierrez AP

Mac Engel

Forget the playoffs — here’s what the Dallas Mavericks are all about

October 18, 2017 02:47 PM

UPDATED October 18, 2017 06:20 PM

DALLAS

Philosopher and fearless truth-teller Charles Barkley said it all when he admitted how hard it’s going to be to fake the suspense around the NBA season when we all know it’s going to be a repeat of Warriors vs. Cavaliers.

And with prized free-agent forward Gordon Hayward suffering a disgusting broken ankle six minutes into his career with the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the East is over. LeBron is going back to the Finals.

The West? Never has one conference looked so ungodly weighted in any sport.

There was a run in the 1980-90s when the NFC won the Super Bowl 15 out of 16 seasons. The NBA is stuck with that now.

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I asked Mark Cuban if he can recall when it was this bad. He has owned the team since January 2000.

“No. It’s crazy. Maybe at the beginning when the Lakers, Portland, top to bottom it was pretty tough,” Cuban said. “There were years when teams win 45 games and were ninth or 10th in the Western Conference. I don’t know what it would take for us to move to the Eastern Conference. We’d be talking about a top four seed. It’s what it is. Either way, we’ll get better.

“The good news is, nobody plays forever.”

That’s not exactly a great season ticket campaign: “Hey, Mavs fans, eventually all of the other guys will retire, so get your tickets now!”

In keeping with depressing news about the Mavs, according to VegasInsider.com, the over/under on the Mavs’ season win total is 35  1/2 .

Give me the over. Barely. By one-third of a win, even though that’s not possible. The Mavs won 33 games last season, which wasn’t a deliberate tank job even though it played out that way.

Where does this leave the team and Dirk Nowitzki? Banking that rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. can play and maybe they can make it to eighth in the West. The progression of center Nerlens Noel and hitting on Smith are the priorities.

Last season was about Dirk surpassing 30,000 career points. This season is entirely about next season, when Dirk will be 58 and preparing to play his 21st NBA season. The Mavs need one more player.

You do the math and see where a team that has Dirk, Smith, Noel, Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews squeezes in among the best eight teams in the West. You will see the best the Mavs can hope for is a lot of guys retire in the next couple of months.

1. Golden State. Forget it. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And — and — baller Javale McGee, who puts them over the top against every team.

2. Houston doesn’t play defense, but it has James Harden, Chris Paul and some other nice pieces in Nene and Trevor Ariza.

3. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich might be too distracted to coach his team as he focuses on his hatred for President Donald Trump, but he still has a good team. Pop has rebuilt the Spurs around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and still has Rudy Gay, Tony Parker and Patty Mills.

4. Oklahoma City has Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to complement Russell Westbrook, but just one basketball. I have no idea how this team flows offensively with three players who need the ball like a baby craves milk, but talent-wise these guys are a matchup from hell and death in transition.

5. Not that anyone outside of Minneapolis knows it, but the Timberwolves are on the fringe of being a major pain for every other NBA team. Be patient. This ownership group will screw it up. Until that happens, the Wolves have Karl Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler.

6. Denver went through hell after it dealt Melo to the Knicks, but has a real team with Emmanuel Mudiay, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokić.

7. The LA Clippers lost their heart when Chris Paul left to Houston, but any team with DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverly and Danilo Gallinari is not going to be trash.

8. The Memphis Grizzlies’ period of relevance as a potential threat to reach the semifinals in the West is over. Center Marc Gasol and guard Michael Conley will get this team to the playoffs.

This leads us to MAGIC EIGHT BALL: Where or how do the Mavs fit in for the eighth spot?

Well, they don’t. Vegas likes Utah, Portland and New Orleans more than our beloved Mavs.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have center Anthony Davis and forward DeMarcus Cousins. That pair played awkwardly together last season after the Sacramento Kings gave Boogie away to New Orleans, but this team can’t screw this up, can they? Well, yes.

10. The Utah Jazz lost Hayward, and are dealing with a major injury to Dante Exum. But they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

11. The Portland Trail Blazers barely made the playoffs last season. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard are it.

12. Mavs. We think maybe, ahead of the Kings and Suns and Lakers.

At 19, Smith will become the youngest player to start for the Mavs. He’s younger than Dirk, and franchise great Bruno Sundov, the previous youngest players to play for the Mavs in season openers.

“Last year, we were probably 12 sprained ankles away (from contending), this year we are maybe three or four from competing, if the right guys sprain their ankles,” Cuban said. “I am excited about this team.”

We’re excited about Smith, curious about Noel, will forever love Dirk. We should just hope for that Magic Eight ball.

The West is simply too deep, and Barkley is right.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof