You may well be asking, can the Mavericks be fixed? If the question is, can the Mavericks be fixed THIS year, the answer is probably no. It's unfortunate, but the Mavs 10 games below .500 and 5 games from the mid-point of the season. They're 7 games out of 8th place. They have the 3rd worst record in the West, and just lost to the team with the worst. It's possible, but it would take some really good play and a friendly schedule.
Are they capable of the first? Sure, why not. They have clamped down on turnovers and been active on the boards. As Dirk continues to improve, and guys like Brand begin to find their role, they could win some games---without any of that, they've nearly pulled it out against the first place Clippers, the second place Thunder, the first place Heat. They've even beaten the second place Knicks. They, apparently and against all odds, can compete with the best.
But they can't win. And the second part of that equation is going to be killer. Sure, the Mavs have the Kings tonight. But they've got Memphis, OKC and San Antonio in the next six games, have to face Houston again and a feisty Minny team that has already beaten them without Kevin Love. Whether, two weeks from now, they're still 10 games under .500 thanks to the Kings, Wolves and Magic, a little bit better thanks to surprise wins against the Rockets or one of these giants, or a little bit worse thanks to, you know, everything---is kind of academic.
If the Mavericks are still around 10 under by the first day of February, they're not making the playoffs and that's unfortunately the most likely thing to happen. So maybe we can't fix them this year. But here's my plan to fix them fast.
First of all, tanking is not an option. Not only is it the best possible way to take two potential pieces, Darren Collison and for all his struggles OJ Mayo, and turn them into rubbish. Nobody in the NBA survives losing for long, certainly not two young guys at formative periods in their career. But, there's a difference between tanking and seeing what you have.
Bernard James and Jared Cunningham are good examples of what I mean. Do you play them 30 minutes a night, to try to lose games? Of course not. Do you let any of them cut into Dirk's 30, 35 minutes? Nope. But if you're not going to make the playoffs, do you start giving them 15 minutes a game? How could you not? See what you have. Develop players.
AND teach them about trying to win. Dirk will hate it, but you know what Dirk, you shoulda picked up a goddamn basketball in the offseason, felt that knee twinge, and had surgery like 5 months ago. Come on. COME ON.
(I love you Dirk, forgive me, I love you).
But those are in house decisions, roster decisions. Those aren't big enough fish for us to fry. We're talking about changes, we're talking about what will get the Mavs back to playing watchable basketball by next year. That's not playing Jared Cunningham.
What is it?
Well, here it is. My three step plan.
Sign: Collison, Mayo, Elton Brand
Okay, I know the Mavericks aren't going to sign Elton Brand. There's basically zero chance. He's the kind of guy that the front office, and a lot of you yahoos, think is just going to be out there but you're not only wrong, you're basically insane. He is NOT a run of the mill back up big man. He is a tremendous defender, and don't you underrate him, you nattering nabob of negativity.
Right now, according to mysynergysports.com, the great Tyson Chandler is allowing .73 points per play for the Knicks, cementing his tremendous defensive reputation. Elton is allowing .77. And while Tyson is allowing a microscopic 37.4% shooting, Brand is allowing an even lower 35.8%. In Iso, Brand has allowed one field goal this season. No pick and roll ball handler's have scored against him. And while post-players are doing a little better against him than Tyson, buoyed by Blake Griffin's two answered prayers last night, they're still shooting just 38.5%.
Don't give me that crap again, I will fling it right back at you. There is exactly one type of event I feel good about, watching, on the defensive end this year and it is an opposing player posting up Elton. What'll it cost, like 3 years, 15 million? The Mavs have to do it. They won't. They have to.
As for Collison, the sole surviving athlete who has ever responded to Rick Carlisle's brand of tough love with anything like success, there is simply too much there to give up. He's young, he's talented, his lack of a consistent jumper and the Mavs overall crapulence should depress his value some, if not to the point that the Mavericks will actually pay it (since, like Eddie Izzard, they're holding out for a woman made entirely of breasts)--gotta do it.
And Mayo, well, I believe he can find it again. There are times, even now, when he finishes at the rim and you just know he's the most offensively talented guy out there whose name doesn't rhyme with Pirk. And yes, I absolutely wonder whether all those people who were complaining that sinking a lot of money into Mayo would be a huge mistake don't prefer that worry over the current state of affairs--I'd keep him. In fact, at this point, you might even get him to exercise his option.
Trade Kaman and Marion
Look, I love Marion. He's the best two way player the Mavericks have, the only guy who tries for rebounds, and you don't replace one of the only players in the league capable of giving Kevin Durant fits. I don't love Kaman that much, because he's a huge black hole, but there's no doubt that the Mavericks terrible offense needs that spark.
But what's the point of having one of the best wing defenders in the league on a team that's 28th in points allowed, and that's probably going to miss the playoffs? And what's the point of having a one-year deal center, on this team?
The thing is, you'd have to trade them to different teams doing different things. That's not a bad thing. But Kaman, with his 8 million dollar expiring salary represents a large amount of cap relief for some team. Marion, with his 8 million dollar not-expiring salary does not, but represents a good addition to a team that thinks it can win. So let's get more specific.
Trade Kaman for a future piece
There are, even in this day and age, good teams that hate paying salaries. There are also bad teams that really hate paying salaries. Can a good player be had for 8-10 million of salary cap relief? Absolutely. Could the Mavericks do even better if they were also willing to take back some salary? Absolutely. Wouldn't something like Gortat and a salary cap load like Michael Beasley for Kaman and say Dojo make a lot of sense? Here's what it looks like.
The Mavs would get Gortat for at least two years, more if they wanted, and he would solve a lot of their problems. In return, Robert Sarver, the Suns' penny-pinching owner gets 10 million in post-season cap relief. Considering he's paying 52 million next year for a team that is going nowhere with everyone healthy, I don't think this is that far-fetched.
Trade Marion for a draft pick
Now, when we think on this era of basketball in the future, I believe what will stand out the most to us is its cowardice, in which no teams actually believed they could win. Once upon a time teams looked to trade for good players to help them along the way, now it seems like 80% of trades are about contracts. But I believe Marion still has some value.
Look, no one who's not contending will want Marion, he's too old. But couldn't somebody like Golden State or Memphis use him? I mean imagine a defensive roster with Tony Allen, Shawn Marion, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph out there. Is it crazy to think those guys could actually win? The money would be hard to work out, but I bet a three-teamer could get the Mavs Memphis' draft pick, not much in returning salaries, and a little cap relief of their own.
The draft pick wouldn't be great. No team that would trade for Marion is likely to have a good draft pick. But if you figure the Mavericks have their own draft pick, say the 10th pick, next year, couldn't they either package those two picks for a player, a higher pick, or up their odds of picking up a piece?
So there you are. The Mavericks now have Marcin Gortat (or something), still some cap space, and a lot of space waiting after next year, some rookies with some seasoning, Dirk, Brand, Collison, Mayo and two first round draft choices. Does that sound so bad?
Oh, and one more thing.
Take a risk
The Mavericks have so far bet everything on financial flexibility. To increase flexibility, they have gotten rid of every young talent they've had over the last three years, added no new talent, signed no especially competent FAs and basically have hung out in a holding pattern waiting for the next era of Mavericks basketball to emerge. It seemed smart at the time, but most of the FAs they coveted never even saw the free agency market, are now exactly where they want to be--and the one they almost got is the one who would have helped the least.
It was a good try, but I think the final analysis shows that lots of other kinds of flexibility are better to have. Houston, we all said, was doomed to run on the treadmill of mediocrity forever, but actually they kept enough talent that they were able to swing a trade for James Harden, a player the Mavericks would have loved to have. Draft picks, tradeable contracts, all these things seem to do a bit more than pure financial ability to draw in talent. The number of ways these one year deals are not helping Dallas is legion, but a major part is that in order for anyone to trade for Vince Carter, they'd actually have to just WANT Carter on their team, which is not all that likely.
But here we are. And what we've learned is that free agent dollars are only useful, if they are useful, if there's enough talent on a team to entice anybody to come by, a test Dallas is currently failing.
So they need to stop worrying about saving their money before there is nothing to save their money for. The Suns didn't sign Channing Frye for 6 million dollars a year, or Goran Dragic 7.5 mil, because they were blinded by their talents. They did it because there is a significant upcharge to getting somebody to play for a crappy team.
Right now, the Mavericks have some choice about how crappy they'll be next year. There will come a day, very soon, when Dirk can no longer be effective, that that will no longer be true. It's time to take a risk.
Sign Greg Oden. Take on a bad, though not crippling contract.
Take. A. Risk.