Note: I actually wrote this post as a request from another site, but it never got published when the original concept never came to fruition. However, the site admin suggested it was good enough as a stand-alone and I should drop it somewhere so it wouldn't go to waste. Hope you enjoy!
The burning question for last season's 2-seed in the Western Conference playoffs isn't 'Can we do it yet again? Be a top two seed?,' but rather 'Will we ever get past the 2nd round again?'
The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the best regular season teams in what may well be the toughest conference the NBA has ever seen, let alone what had consistently been it's toughest division. Since the 2004 divisional realignment, up until last season when the Northwest took over the tag, the Southwest Division had sent at least three of it's five teams to the postseason very year, even sending four of their five twice.
So to have been a 50-win team that's made the playoffs for ten straight years, winning the division two times and the Western Conference once, expectations are always high. Yet they have yet to live up to standard that you may expect to see from the third most valuable franchise in the league (behind only the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers) led by it's most polarizing owner, Mark Cuban.
Don't worry, Mavs fans, we aren't going to make you relive those nightmarish series with the Warriors or Heat. But our readers do need to understand just how good the Mavericks have been in the regular season, and on the flip-side, how disappointing in the postseason.
It's not for lack of trying. Cuban has opened the pocketbook, made what seemed at the time all the right moves, tweaked and fiddled with personnel, roster spots, and the coaching staff, all in vain.
The Dallas Dirks just can't seem to get over the proverbial hump, despite Nowitzki holding what is widely considered the title as 'All-time Best European in the NBA.' The pieces around him certainly have seemed like the right ones many times now, from Steve Nash to [this list is too long and will put you to sleep. Suffice it to say it's an illustrious list of All-Stars and HOFers] the Washington Wizards' firesale attended by Cuban last February that brought in a couple of players that were supposed to help them compete with at least the Denver Nuggets, if not the Lakers themselves.
Problem is they yet again got ousted by a lower-seeded squad, this time the geriatric San Antonio Spurs.
So after briefly toying with the idea of landing a big-name free agent in the vaunted Summer of 2010 Cuban once again opened his ample wallet and broke out his box of Tinker Toys to play with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Nothing I'd call 'key,' but the offseason trade involved Eduardo Najera, Matt Carroll, and Erick Dampier (an expiring trade chip this year).
The Mavericks needed to move Carroll's substantial contract and the Bobcats were willing participants in getting back Dampier's expiring contract.
The opposite end of the trade brought back Alexis Ajinca (I know, I know..."Who?") and Tyson Chandler.
The prevailing thought here is that the New Orleans Hornets will finally break down and give up Chris Paul for the also-expiring contracts of Chandler and Caron Butler, who like Josh Howard never panned out as that elusive swingman that would make all the difference to the Mavs finally making the grade. So it's once again back to the two-man game for Dallas if they can sway 'N'Awlins.'
If they can't swindle anyone into taking an overrated Chandler Mavs president of basketball operation, Donnie Nelson is still "excited to add Tyson Chandler," to resigned Brendan Haywood, saying, "he is one of the most versatile big men in the league today. He gives our front line a defensive, shot-blocking, athletic punch we haven't had here in a while."
If you say so, Donnie...
Sounds like he's selling something in a generally easterly direction, to me.
Furthermore, isn't that what Haywood was supposed to be as well?
Also added (snuck in the back door?) was free agent Steve "Champagne-Super" Novak, a player that shows flashes of understanding at times, who had 17 points in a preseason win over the Detroit Pistons, as well as Ian Mahinmi and Dominique Jones, who probably won't see much PT.
Nevertheless, Dirk and Dallas will once again make the playoffs, so here's who you'll tune in to see, because they are that fun to watch.
The always-dynamic Dirk
The ever-efficient Nowitzki will easily lead his squad as always, making a 10th straight All-star appearance and should see a 6th straight season in the top ten in the league for FG%, despite being a jump shooter much of the time. There isn't another 7-footer in the league that can stick a shot from 17 feet out better than he can, indeed, few under that enormous height can do so either. You can simply pen in 23 points and 8 rebounds a night for him.
But he doesn't do all his work from the perimeter. Dirk, who says he's "ready to go," is also a perennial leader from the free throw line in both attempts and percentage. He'll mix it up with you on the offensive end without thinking twice about it.
Many don't realize how durable Dirk is. He's to be commended for playing in at least 92% of available games every year after his rookie season.
As always he has a picture of the Larry O'Brien Trophy hanging in his locker, a gentle reminder of just how close the Mavs came to getting the coveted ring. "That's been there for a while,'' said Nowitzki, who, as expected, opted out of his contract then resigned for four more (this was a preemptive move as the league's collective bargaining agreement is about to expire and could get nasty). "It's going to basically stay there hopefully for the next four years. I don't think I personally have to prove or achieve anything, just winning the ring. So that's what I'm working on."
Who will help?
Father Time...er, Jason Kidd
What's that you say? He's washed up and you don't want him anymore? Even though he's still top five in assists and steals (9 and 2)?
Without Kidd Dallas wouldn't be a top assist team (3rd in NBA last season). Like it or not, he's gonna play. And contribute. He's also coming off the best 3-point shooting season of his career, something he's worked tirelessly on throughout, and it's shown. He's timeless and without him young guns like Roddy Beaubois and Jose Barea would run wild.
Rodrigue Beaubois/ Jose Juan Barea, Lightning in a Bottle
Two of the most electrifying little talents (6' each. OK, "listed" at 6'. Barea surely isn't...) in basketball will again take turns sparking the Mavs whenever they grow stagnant, predictable. Beaubois may miss the start of the season due to breaking his pinkie toe while training in his native France, but it's not serious, and he will look to continue to improve, adding onto his radiant rookie playoff performance that adds a nice contrast to methodical work of Kidd.
As for Barea, "Go look at our team’s record when he starts at the 2," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We’re winning about two-thirds of our games, at least. He’s proven who he is and what he can do. We need him."
Caron Butler, The Burger King
Having lost 10 "LB's" in summer workouts, and moving better through the lanes in preseason, if the Mavs can't move Butler in a deal for Paul it might turn out to be one of the better moves they never made.
A recent win over the Bulls showed Butler and Nowitzki are beginning to feel out each others game on the court. Butler put up 18 points and 5 rebounds in a couple of quarters, prompting Dirk to quip "When Caron mixes up his game, it makes all the difference."
Butler is a guy that can really get it going given a chance, something that proved difficult in the short time he had to fit in last year with a Mavs team that has relied solely on Dirk for so much of it's offense for so long.
Could he finally be that missing link in another title run for Dallas? Maybe, but don't bet your burger on it...
The 6th Man
Betcha thought I was gonna say Jason Terry, didn't ya?
Well this year it's likely Shawn Marion.
One of the leagues best all-around utility men, Marion will reportedly be relegated to 2nd-unit spark. That can't be easy for a guy who's started an astounding 98% of games he's played in his extensive NBA career. Coach Carlisle says much of the 2nd-squad's offense will be run through Marion.
Jason Terry call the Mavs bench, with himself, Marion, and Chandler present, "the best bench in basketball." For a team that feature 9 players with substantial starts in the NBA, this is hard to argue against.
Probable starting lineup
PG Jason Kidd
SG Rodrigue Beaubois (when healthy)
SF Caron Butler
PF Dirk Nowitzki (Duh!)
C Brendan Haywood
Probable win/loss total
1st in the Southwest
Edit addition: Yesterday, while playing along with an NBA Roundtable predictions show, you might be interested to know I predicted Dirk will win the MVP again this season as Dallas takes the regular season West crown.