Kemba Walker is expected to sign with the Dallas Mavericks as early as this week. In doing so, the former four-time All-Star will slot into the role of the third point guard, helping run the offense alongside Luka Doncic and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Signing Walker wasn’t Dallas’ Plan A, and bringing him in doesn’t guarantee success, especially given his recent history of knee troubles. But the Mavericks are desperate for additional ball handling and had to do something. Yet, in signing Walker, Dallas is reluctantly signaling that its offseason signings did little, if anything, to improve the roster.
The most impactful move the Mavericks made last summer was letting point guard Jalen Brunson leave in free agency and receiving nothing in return. The ramifications of that shortsighted decision continue to ripple through the organization. It’s the reason Walker is not joining the club after being passed over by every team in free agency.
Dallas never thought to address Brunson’s departure seriously. The team traded into the 2022 NBA Draft to get Jaden Hardy in the second round. It’s a move that looks more and more like compensation for Brunson preparing to leave. While Hardy is turning heads in the G League, leading the league in scoring, he hasn’t had the same opportunities in the NBA.
Once free agency started, Brunson was out the door and headed to New York; the Mavericks signed JaVale McGee rather than filling the vacancy he left behind. The McGee signing has Jason Kidd’s fingerprints all over it. McGee and Kidd were both members of the Los Angeles Lakers—McGee a player and Kidd an assistant coach—when the Lakers won the championship in the NBA bubble in 2020.
Signing McGee ran counter to how the Mavericks found success in their run to the Western Conference Finals in 2022. Dallas ran a two-guard offense with 3-and-D wings and either a rolling center or stretch big. They faced some of the league’s best centers in Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton. They also saw McGee. Dallas’ offense ran those centers off the floor.
Despite this, McGee signed a three-year deal with the Mavericks and was promised a starting spot. After seven games, McGee lost his starting job and moved to the bench. He plays less than 10 minutes per game now if he plays at all. Signing McGee rather than addressing the immediate need for another ball handler continues to be blunderous.
Kidd and the team’s mouthpieces proclaimed before the season that Josh Green and Frank Ntilikina would pick up the ball-handling slack. Green has played well this season, albeit inconsistently, but he doesn’t have the ball in his hands much. Ntilikina has only appeared in five games.
Dallas’ front office left themselves a fallback measure if things got tough. They got cute and left a roster spot open in case a player came along that caught their interest. They were forced to fill it with Facundo Campazzo when it became clear that things were going sideways. Dallas waived Campazzo this week to make room for Walker.
In theory, Walker fills some holes left by Brunson’s departure. He’s a former competent guard who has run high-octane NBA offenses. What he is now is anyone’s guess, however. He only played 37 games with the New York Knicks last season, falling out of favor with head coach Tom Thibodeau at one point and ending his season prematurely to address a lingering knee issue.
New York traded him to Detroit over the summer, where Walker and the Pistons eventually reached a buyout agreement. Since then, he sat unsigned until a distressed Mavericks team came knocking. For the organization’s sake and the fans’ fraying sanity, hopefully, Walker can recapture some of his former self.
Still, his signing is indicative of a team in disarray. It’s not just the losing streak that Dallas is currently experiencing that’s the problem; it’s the entire process that led to this point. Walker can only do so much to remedy what ails the franchise. The team’s leadership needs to take a hard look at what led to this point to ensure that it isn’t so smug and shortsighted moving forward.