I've finally come to a conclusion -- the Dallas Mavericks are bad.
Not awful, but bad. Well, sometimes awful. Sometimes even, the worst.
And I'm done pretending. I'm done thinking that this roster (with a fully-healthy Dirk) is a top five team in the West. I'm done thinking that the Mavs can rattle off a nice run to get into contention for home court in the first round. I'm done thinking this is a team that could show promise in the first round, surprise a really good team in the second and make it a competitive Western Conference Finals.
I'm done with all that, really. The Mavericks are bad. They have a bad roster with wildly inconsistent players.
It looked so promising after the first week. The Mavericks were 4-1, Darren Collison looked to be heading back to his New Orelans-self, O.J. Mayo was turning into the second-star we always dreamed of having and Brandan Wright was getting nice minutes and producing.
Now Collison is completely lost, to the point that Carlisle trusts, at times, Derek Fisher and Dominique Jones more than him. Mayo is all fluff with no filling -- he lights up bad to average defensive-teams (Charlotte, Toronto, Houston) but once he faces a competent defense (Boston, San Antonio, Miami, Memphis), his flaws shine more obviously to the rest of the world.
And Brandan Wright has been sent back in time to kill...oh wait. I keep forgetting he's not a terminator. Since I've been gone for a bit, here's a quick rundown of things I'm hating, loving or stewing over recently.
The Mavericks point guards are as useless as a poopy flavored lollipop.
I'll admit, Collison has been getting to the rim at a good-enough rate. But that's about it. His three-point shot has completely disappeared (35 percent for his career; 25 percent this season) and his assist/turnover numbers are right in-line with his career output of average-ness.
That's not to mention his anemic defense. Going into the season, I knew Collison would have trouble against some bigger guards, but I didn't expect him to be a complete liability at all times. Other than pressuring guards with a one-man press, Collison doesn't do anything positively on defense. He gets swallowed on pick and rolls, gets lost when the ball moves from either end of the court and takes way too many gambles and always seems to be a step behind.
The point guards behind him, now, are Dominique Jones and Beaubois, who are both way in over their head. It still stuns me that Jones is the starting point guard for this team. Regardless of whether that distinction really matters or not (Jones doesn't get starters minutes) it's still alarming.
It's time for Dominique Jones to go
I really appreciate the effort Jones displays night in, night out. He's definitely a worker. But being a worker doesn't mean you deserve a spot on an NBA roster. Jones possesses one strength in the NBA -- getting to the rim. He has an average to sometimes above-average skill of finding teammates once he gets to the rim. So that's all he's really good at. Everything else (shooting, defending, etc.) he's either average or really, really bad.
There's simply no room on an NBA roster for a one-trick pony like Jones. When he's on the court, the Mavericks have to compensate so much because of so little he brings. Also, what exactly is the point of having a point guard who gets to the rim but can't finish (43 percent at the rim this year on 1.8 attempts per game) and can't make free throws at an acceptable rate (57.1 percent this season.)
It all boiled down to a moment in the San Antonio massacre on Sunday. Jones flew himself to the basket and broke down the defense. It was one of those moments Jones produces once or twice a game where you think, "Hey, this guy looks good! He's breaking down good teams! He's our best penetrator!" Then Jones promptly missed BOTH free throws and neither of them were even close. One bricked off the back rim and down and the other was laughably short. That's when reality flows through your blood. I'm not sure why it was that time that it really got to me, but it did there -- Dominique Jones is not an NBA player and he shouldn't be getting minutes on this team. Of course, he has to, which speaks volumes to how awful the Mavericks are at the point guard position.
The Mavericks awful drafts are finally catching up to them
Granted, the Mavericks haven't had a great pick in the draft in the Dirk-era, thanks to trades and sustained winning seasons, but still, that doesn't excuse them for completely cocking up the picks they do have.
It's finally caught them. Had the Mavericks had successful draft nights in the last four years, this season might not be as bad. In the last four years, the Mavericks draft haul has included Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder and Bernard James.
The Mavericks could really use Beaubois and Jones, or at least players from those drafts to pan out. But they haven't. Had Beaubois matured the way we thought he could after the 2009 season, the Mavericks guard problems wouldn't look so bleak. Had Jones turned into the decent rotation player many pegged him to be when he was taken out of South Florida, Darren Collison's failures wouldn't sting so much.
Had the Mavericks taken a more capable, NBA-ready player in the 2012 draft (say, Tyler Zeller) then the rotation would perhaps be a bit more stable. Instead, the Mavericks, a bad team with inconsistent lineups, are watching Jared Cunningham play in Frisco. There's nothing wrong with a team taking a flyer on an ultra-talented but raw player and letting him grow in the D-Leagues...but the Mavericks had playoff aspirations this season. Team's who are settled at most spots can afford their first round pick seasoning up in the D-League (think the Thunder and Perry Jones) but the Mavericks can't. They need the bodies.
It also hurts that the Cunningham pick means the Mavericks are partly admitting they failed on the Beaubois and Jones picks. Had those two players worked out, the Mavericks probably don't need to pick another athletic combo guard. That's three first round picks in four years that are all basically the same type of player and position.
Then there's the 2012 Draft. The Mavericks are fresh off an NBA championship and Jordan Hamilton, an extremely talented but enigmatic scorer from Texas, falls into their laps. Instead of snatching Hamilton, the Mavericks trade for Rudy Fernandez, a player who was down-trending and threatening to leave the NBA for Spain.
I almost wonder if the Mavericks traded for Fernandez knowing full-well he'd never be on their roster. The Mavs traded Fernandez before he could get on the court, saving a couple million for the 2012 pursuit of Deron Williams.
Hindsight is 20/20, but the Mavericks felt like they had to push all their chips in to secure Williams, which means as much cap space as possible. Now Hamilton is growing, putting up some OK numbers in a crowded Denver rotation.
Actually, letting Hamitlon go probably wasn't that bad for the Mavericks, because...
The Mavericks aren't doing the best in developing young talent
I say they aren't awful, because they still had the eye to see Beaubois' talent, take Josh Howard in 2003 at the bottom of the first round, steal Jae Crowder in the second and revive Brandan Wright's career. Yet...
Beaubois and Jones have tail-spinned, their development heading toward rock bottom and becoming fringe NBA roster pieces. Beaubois had an awful foot injury in 2010 that derailed a lot of his progress, but there's no doubting that the Mavericks coaching staff (and Rick Carlisle) share some of the blame.
They turned Wright into an ultra-efficient scorer who can run the floor beautifully and help on offense. And as soon as that happened, Carlisle has sent him to the bench, because he isn't good at defending or rebounding.
Then you realize there aren't many Mavericks who are rebounding or defending, so why not play a guy who consistently shines on one side of the floor and at least try to outscore teams when he's on the court? (Which the Mavericks can. Most of the lineups Wright are in put up off-the-chart numbers offensively, especially when paired with Dirk.)
Who here trusts this coaching staff to get the most out of Jared Cunningham? Whether it's a talent over-evaluation or a failure to develop, the Mavericks need to seriously rethink their strategy when it comes to younger players. Too many bad drafts/failed projects have happened.
This team gives up really easy
I saw it against San Antonio. The Spurs hit a couple of threes and this team completely wilted. The Spurs are crazy good offensively, but the open looks they were getting in the second-half were embarrassing. It was as if the Mavericks have never defended a team who likes to make more than two passes during a possession.
There were so many instances where the Mavericks had defenders just walking through the paint, almost as if they were searching for the ball. Then a San Antonio shooter would spring free, the ball would get there and the Mavericks acted surprised. It was almost like they were saying "Hey! You guys can't do that. No fair!" It was a sickening defensive effort that boiled over in the fourth quarter, when Carlisle called a timeout and absolutely lit into his guys like I've never seen him before.
The Mavericks plan of acquiring one-year fliers might also be catching up to them
The thinking seemed sound: failing to reel in the big fish free agent, the Mavericks kept their cap space and sought to get a bunch of cheap, high-risk, high-reward talents from the scrap heap of other teams looking to shed contracts or create roster space.
With all these guys on one-year deals, the thinking goes, they should be giving a maximum effort to earn their next contract.
Instead, it looks like at times, the new Mavericks aren't on the same page and look completely lost. It seems turning the roster upside down for second year in a row is showing its cracks. The Mavericks look like a team that has never played together before, because, well, they really haven't.
Think of it this way: the Miami Heat completely overturned their roster in 2010, but did it with the likes of LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Mike Miller. And guess what? The Heat, at times, looked like they never played together and were completely lost in the 2010-2011 season.
Despite all the talent they acquired, it still took the Heat ONE FULL SEASON to play together to get the quirks fixed and the timings right. Even with a roster that loaded, it still took time for them to put it together and win a championship.
So how in the hell are we supposed to expect the Mavericks, in the same situation (overturned roster) but with WAY less talented players, to do the same? We should have seen this coming.
If Carlisle gets the credit, he gets some of the blame
After the 4-1 start, practically every NBA writer was bowing at the feet of Rick Carlisle for the masterful job he had done, including me. I was ready for a Carlisle lifetime contract. And it was worthy praise -- the Mavericks looked sharp, they were playing together and certain players were performing a tick above their career norms.
Now that the wheels have fallen off, should Carlisle now receive some of the blame? It's tricky, since we could say Carlisle was just over-achieving with this roster, which clearly isn't playoff-worthy without Dirk. But still, the way in which they've fallen has been ways in which Carlisle teams traditionally don't: Inconsistent effort, looking lost, playing a step slow. Carlisle-coached teams lose, but it usually isn't because of a lack of effort or preparation.
Carlisle seems to be a damned if you do, damned if you don't place with the lineups. On one hand, players have been so inconsistent, he has to keep mixing and matching. On the other, when a player has seemingly stepped up and looks ready to contribute (Wright, Bernard James) Carlisle has yanked them in favor of others. Eventually, Carlisle is going to have to pick a rotation and roll with it, tweaking in minor ways. Blowing up the lineups and minutes distribution every week isn't going to let these guys develop any chemistry (a Carlisle buzzword) or feel settled.
Hopefully the return of Dirk brings a normalcy to the lineup and rotation.
And hopefully I don't have a stroke before April.