Team Name: Dallas Mavericks
Last Year's Record: 36-30 (7th in the Western Conference)
What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The Era of the Jasons came to an end this off-season when both Jason Kidd and Jason Terry turned down offers to stay with the Mavericks in favor of jumping to the Eastern Conference (Kidd to New York and Terry to Boston). Brendan Haywood, the center who never quite lived up to expectations, was amnestied and picked up by the Charlotte Bobcats, who seem to have an affinity for washed-up Dallas players (see: DeSagana Diop and Matt Carroll). Ian Mahinmi was dealt to the Indiana Pacers for Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones in a sign and trade, and Lamar Odom hopefully slipped into a black hole never to resurface again. Brian Cardinal is floating around somewhere as a ghost in the Mavericks locker room, waving a towel enthusiastically.
The Mavericks managed to sign some cheap veterans this summer, which may prove to be the smartest thing they could have done, money-wise. They picked up Chris Kaman for one year, an aging but FAR more productive big man than Haywood ever was, and won the bid for Elton Brand for mere pennies. Brand, who was amnestied by the Sixers, is a versatile power forward capable of playing minutes at center, and is better on both ends than his $2.1 million price tag would suggest.
While the Mavericks have been a notoriously poor draft team, they were movers and shakers this summer. They traded their first pick, Tyler Zeller, to the Cavaliers for two later picks who turned into Jae Crowder and Bernard James, and they actually held on to their late first-rounder, Jared Cunningham. All three rookies have been signed and are getting significant burn in the preseason.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
What Dallas lost this summer in
old reliable veterans, they gained in young, speedy guards. And what they lost in often useless, streaky centers, they gained in battle-tested big men with more offensive prowess. The Mavericks have added scoring threats in every position, both as starters and backups. Darren Collison is a lightning streak of a point guard, and while he may be half of Jason Kidd's age and not quite the floor general, he is absolutely a greater asset on the fast break because he'll actually score on one rather than hope for a trailing big man to throw it down.
O.J. Mayo is capable of scoring in droves, but is just as streaky as his predecesor, Jason Terry. The difference is, he's a significantly better defender. And don't even get me started on Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Ok fine, get me started. Watching big men OTHER than Dirk Nowitzki who can score is like watching a unicorn dance across a double rainbow. Kaman can score all over the court and isn't afraid to body up and shoot a hook over someone's head. Brand has an accurate midrange shot but is also big enough to have his way in the paint.
Add into this mix Vince Carter and Delonte West, who may be on the older side but are still capable of HUGE offensive contributions, and the young guys in Rodrigue Beaubois (if he's ever not broken), Dominique Jones (who sometimes sucks but sometimes passes like Jason Kidd) and the rookies, the Mavericks can score. A LOT.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Ankles. Just kidding. But seriously. We have some weak joints on these players. Kaman has been labeled as "injury-prone" and has thus far shown us that he has a wonky back and strained calves to worry about. Beaubois sprained his ankle in like the first minute of the first preseason game. And Dirk... oh god it's still too soon. I can't talk about Dirk's knee right now.
Aside from injuries, the Mavericks are going to reeeeeeeally focus on defense. With a roster full of new players, both to the team and to the NBA, Coach Rick Carlisle is going to have a lot on his plate. His zone defense has proved effective in confusing other teams, and his arrival to the team shifted them to a defensive focus that the Mavericks hadn't really seen. As the preseason has made quite evident, it's going to take time for the new players to figure out his defense and really buy into his defensive mentality.
If you ask most fans on this site, they'll tell you that the roster as a whole is a considerable upgrade from last season. But with so many new faces, it's going to take time to gel and build chemistry, which is what Dallas absolutely thrived on the past several seasons. Their ability to win close games late could be attributed to trust in one another to make their shots. Oh, which brings me to another weakness: free throws. Jason Kidd and Jason Terry are two of the top FT shooters in the league. Those automatic two points are gone, and replaced by less-consistent FT shooters in Collison and Mayo. The only upside? ANYONE is better at the line than Brendan Haywood.
What are the goals for this team?
Perhaps for the first time in recent memory, the main goal for the Dallas Mavericks should be to make the playoffs. We've been spoiled as Mavs fans because our team has been a perennial playoff team for over a decade. And a 50+ win team, to boot. However, they haven't seen a full-scale overhaul such as the one that took place this season in a long time, and there are too many unknowns to say with confidence that this team will make the post-season.
Is it possible? Absolutely. They may have missed out on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, but the roster is full of untapped potential. If they can figure one another out, and if Carlisle can continue to work his magic with turning underachieving veterans into key players, this team could really outperform our expectations. Then again, they could also be a team full of new guys who never quite get it together and finish just out of reach of the playoffs. Rather than have lofty goals, it makes more sense to hope for a winning season and a few games into the summer, while still remaining an attractive destination for next summer's free agents.
What on earth are the Mavericks going to do without Dirk Nowitzki for six weeks?
I don't know. Honest to goodness, I don't know. Best-case scenario, the Mavericks come out of the first 16 games or so with a .500 record sans Dirk, and then he comes back full-force and carries them the rest of the way to a successful season. Worst-case? He comes back too soon, his knee never really heals, he's out and we suck. Hopefully it's the former. Traditionally, Dirk is a quick healer. He defies recovery times with startling regularity for a seven-footer. This season he has the advantage of being in better shape than previous seasons, so that should aid in his rehab immensely. Are the Mavericks doomed? I'm not so sure they are. Would it be nice if they had their superstar available to start the season? Absolutely.