Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray at Wimbledon earlier today, and became the #1 ranked tennis player in the world. Tiger Woods won some tournaments these last couple months and is once again #1 on the money list, for PGA tour players.
The year is 2012, not 2009.
In today's hyper-media, hyperventilate culture, things are always supposed to be over. Dominance, though it never happens, is supposed to be the rule because the sports world has on switches and off switches, and once you switch it on it's never supposed to be switched off until it, too, is over. We don't know what to do with things like Peyton Manning winning a Super Bowl, proving he is, in fact, a clutch playoff performer, than losing another one, throwing a crucial INT towards the end. Michael Jordan taught us that once you win, you win.
Once you're done, you're done. The Spurs were done when they lost last year in the first round. The Celtics were done long before they pushed the Heat to quarter 4, Game 7, this year, then re-signed everybody. And now that the Heat have won---now that the Heat have Ray Allen--it's supposed to be a lock, I've heard more than one pundit say that in the last week, a lock. Let's just ignore how much they struggled at times, or how good some other teams are, equally good one might say. Let's just ignore the fact that if Ray had shown up for the Celtics like he's supposed to show up for the Heat, in this last series, LeBron would still not be "clutch". LeBron would still be ringless.
Here at Mavsmoneyball, we have wept, gnashed our teeth, bitten our nails. I've led the chorus. But let's pretend we don't know anything about how things are definitely going to work out, and let's say this: Do you honestly believe it'll be hard, even now, for the Dallas Mavericks to have a better year next season than they had last season?
Let's talk about how they'll do it. Let's take a look at their targets, let's imagine what could happen.
But Jason Kidd lost a few offensive duels, this last year, to Derek Fisher, the only other starting PG one could consider as much a non-factor, offensively. He shot 36% from the field last season--not from three, from the field. And he averaged just 5.5 assists a game. Will the Mavs miss Kidd? Of course. Will the amount they miss him directing traffic about equal the amount of extra points that will be scored by more or less anyone else playing in his position? We'll see, but probably.
And Jason Terry?---well they Jet wasn't himself last season, and he, like Dirk, will likely have a bounceback one this year. But at his best, Jason's an 18 ppg scorer who can't rebound, pass, or defend, and who gives back more points than maybe any other veteran 2 with incredibly dumb plays. And I love the Jet.
The Mavericks couldn't score last year, that was problem one, but they kept a lot of games close, and lost a lot more than they had to, because they couldn't guard anybody, because they couldn't keep up with anybody fast. I don't honestly believe that losing the Jet and Kidd is going to make that worse.
So how are they going to get better?
To me, Elton Brand is the top target. Why? Because, believe it or not, he's a baller defensively. And he played most of his games last year at C, so don't bring this "he plays the same position as Dirk" stuff. As has been pointed out by Mavs' pundits, though he's pretty short for a C, his standing reach is the same as Tyson Chandler's. He's not what he once was, especially as a rebounder, but he's a career 18-9 guy. He's a career 50% scorer. He's a post threat the Mavs have never had. And, again, his points per play allowed last year was an absolutely stellar .75, .05 better than a certain DPOY. He is NOT great against post threats. But against guys getting around our guards and dashing to the rim, the thing you saw twenty times every game last year? Yeah. He'll clean that up.
Will the Mavs get Brand? Well, I don't know. There's a bidding process between teams with cap space and so far the Mavs have out-bid other teams about as frequently as Brendan Haywood has won tip-offs. But, this is actually the kind of opportunity Cuban's been talking about, since the bidding is ONLY between teams with cap space, because some of those teams may not want him, and because he'll be exactly Cuban's favorite thing--a one-year rental.
So, if the Mavs are serious about Brand, I have to think their odds are decent.
Other targets include Ramon Sessions and Courtney Lee. Say the Mavs sign those two (though I'd bet on one), and Delonte--don't they suddenly have the athletic 2, who can play defense and shoot the three, that they've never had? IF they sign Session and Delonte, don't they have a pretty decent two-way PG line-up that can drive, shoot and score a little bit? What if Brandan Wright keeps improving?
In general, draft picks in the range the Mavs picked don't turn into anything. But what if they do? What if the guys the Mavericks got, a bundle of athleticism, defense and toughness, it seems, can do anything? What if Jared Cunningham becomes what Roddy B never was, what if Jae Crowder gets what his toughness seems to deserve, what if Bernard James is---I don't know, a better Joel Anthony. He's ex-military. You KNOW he's not going to be intimidated or out-fought. And you know he's going to do exactly what the coach tells him to do.
And what if Roddy B, who has his first ever training camp after breaking his foot and going through a lockout, develops the consistency that he's always lacked?
The Mavs' orbit, as always, turns around Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk, supposedly, became old just minutes after playing the finest finals we've seen anyone play in years. It might have been that, but it might have been the fact that he played all those games, he played for Germany, he didn't get a training camp---literally no one, and I mean no one, is the offensive focal point of their team the way Dirk is for the Mavericks except, perhaps, for the way Dirk is for Team Germany. Of course he was worn out.
Do i expect him to be as good at 34 as at 32? Not necessarily. But do I expect him, with a full training camp, starting the season in shape, not having these frenetic stretches of four games in five nights, to be more what we've come to expect from him than what he was last year? Of course I do.
Obviously, it would be a huge upset for the Mavericks to win or even really sniff a title next year. Minnesota is probably better than they are now, and the Clips probably will be again. On the other hand, Portland has yet to make a splash, the Rockets have huge amounts of young talent but no veterans, the Suns have made some signings but have lost Steve Nash--it's not like the West, outside of the Thunder and Lakers, is any more obvious than it was a year ago. I think we're losing site of the fact that all teams are a little bit mortal, and the few immortals (Dirk, Kobe, Duncan, etc.) always do play a bigger role than we imagine, when we compare talent.
And you know what? Deron Williams would have done a lot of good for this team that Elton Brand wouldn't---obviously--but if you saw the C play last year, and if you know that with Deron Williams the Mavs would probably have the same Cs this year, you know it's possible Brand might give you more that you need--and a team with four holes can't expect to fill them with one player.
So it is---despite how insane the inactivity is driving all of us, I think the Mavericks still have a clear path to having a better team this year than they did last year. Maybe a good deal better.
I know it's all supposed to be over--and maybe for the moment, for this year, it is--but if you play hard, and you keep trying to win, you never know how long it'll last. Tiger and Roger found that out this week. I hope we get to, too.
Nobody is saying the Mavericks are going to win it all. Nobody is saying the Mavericks are better off because of their free agency whiffs, so far. But to the goal of turning on your TV and, as much as possible, seeing the Mavericks win---we can definitely do better this year than last.