If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the better part of the last five years obsessing over every move, news or acquisition that has taken place in the NBA. You’ve probably evaluated them from a Mavs-centric point of view. Your NBA seasons have started during the summer, as you’ve marveled at Gerald Green, Reshawn Terry, Jeremy Lin and many other prospects knowing they had no chance of really contributing.
We obsess over all these little things and for what? Well, the simple answer is that you, me and every other Mavs fan, have had a dark cloud over our heads since the 2006 Finals debacle. We became a punch line for the national news outfit, as well as many other fans in the NBA (Spurs, Lakers, etc...). We were told that our team was too old, soft and generally no killer instinct. We were chokers, unable to win with Dirk. We didn’t have 4 rings (yes, I am referring to you Spur fans); We didn’t have the Black Mamba (hat tip to Lake fans). Our point differentials were somehow not competitive enough to be an elite team (howdy, John Hollinger).
As a Mavs fan, this drove me to study the Mavs not only during the season, but especially in the off season, as I found it to be longer every year due to first rounds exits to (Golden state, Hornets, Spurs). I obsessed over seeing Dirk winning a championship so much, I found myself sometimes thinking that trading him was the only way he would ever win a title. I mean, how were we realistically going to defeat an evil dynasty of (Lebron, Wade and Bosh)? The Mavs fan in me said we could, but in my heart of hearts, I thought: getting past the Lakers alone would take an immense amount of things going our way. I believed we could do it, but it would have to involve a break here or there. As a sports fan, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as I wanted a Championship for the Mavs.
I prefaced this article with that interlude because, with one minute to go in game 6, and the Mavs up by a cool 11 points after a masterpiece layup by the Dirk-man himself, I sat in my living room in disbelief. I thought David Stern was going to appear in mid-court in an evil robe, stop time and shoot 12 free throws in favor of the Heat while humming "The imperial March" (stars wars theme song). I simply could not fathom that the endless hours I had spent blogging, and discussing fantasy moves on Maverick forums, had finally amounted to a championship. I have a feeling many of you, had this exact same disbelief at that moment and know exactly what I am referring to.
But after I finally overcame that this summer, I found myself at the "now what?" moment. I mean, I am still a diehard fan. I still feel emptiness this summer, not having the Vegas league to watch. But, I have also found that I have a Championship hangover. That is to say, I have nothing to obsess over because, well, we won the freaking championship!! That exact feeling brought me to my next point.
There are numerous games during the Mavs Championship run, which I feel were won, solely based on Hunger for a championship. That is to say, Dirk, J-Kidd and Jet put the team on their backs and said, 2006 cannot happen again, because this might be our last crack at it. Several examples include Game 6 in Portland to close out the Blazers; the Game 4 blowout of the Lakers; that Game 3 fifteen point comeback in Oklahoma and the Game 2 defiant comeback in Miami. Wins like those, take a special level of "Win or Go Home" mentality. Something, I personally believe comes with that hunger for the first ring. This is not to say, that I believe the Mavs will just relent this coming season if things get tough. I just believe that the team must find a reason to want that 2nd ring, if we are going to be able to pull this off. Guys like Dirk? I believe will show up every night and just leave it all out there every night. But an unbiased opinion of mine is that, the Mavs need to do something about J-Kidd because he tapped into a fountain of youth to pull this championship off, but I believe asking him to replicate that same level of play next year, is asking too much.
The fact is, these guys are human, and many of them (Jet, J-Kidd, Shawn Marion, Peja, JJ Barea) played well above what is expected of them in order to accomplish the goal this season. Who could have predicted Jet outplaying Lebron? Or, predicted JJ, dissecting the Lakers. Or, Shawn Marion picking up the scoring to the tune of 20 points against the Blazers. Or, Jason Kidd hitting 6 three pointers, to open up against the Blazers. Or better yet predicted, Peja Stojakovic going all, Circa Sacramento Kings on the Lakers?
The point is, to bring these same guys back and expect to compete in the West is really asking too much. And while Donnie and Mark are ever so crafty with their acquisitions (R. Fernandez), Rick Carlisle is also going to have to push the right buttons to fire up the team throughout the upcoming season, to keep them from being complacent and slipping into "are the playoffs here yet" mode.