It was such a promising press conference that seems like ages ago, back in August of 2012. The new Mavericks (Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Dahntay Jones) all stood together and filled the American Airlines Center with typical hopeful soundbites.
Mayo sounded like a refocused player who talked more about helping Shawn Marion on defense then replacing Jason Terry on offense . Collison promised he'd bring his transition-goodness to Dallas while trying to refine his half-court game with the help of the ultra-efficient Dirk Nowitzki.
Jones talked about being a DeShawn Stevenson replacement -- playing tough defense and hitting threes. Brand talked about being the team's enforcer and defensive anchor. Kaman sounded thrilled to be with a first-class organization and his national team buddy in Dirk.
It sounded like it could all work with Rick Carlisle at the helm. As we know now, it hasn't. After a slightly promising uptick a few weeks ago, the Mavericks are once again back at seven games under .500 (26-33), no better then they were two months ago when the Spurs trashed the Mavs 111-86 on Dec. 30. The Mavs are six games away from eighth place Houston and six games away from last place Sacramento. In the span of two months, no ground has been gained and the seven-game-below-.500 mark, rock-bottom-moment has once again been ushered in with another humiliating loss to a Texan team -- this time, a 136-103 beatdown against Houston.
Murphy's Law dictates that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. There hasn't been a better description of the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks. Let's take a look at how some scenarios have played out:
Hopeful promise: Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson had assembled a "Dirk-friendly" team
Crushing reality: Dirk is human
Missing out on Deron Williams wasn't a huge surprise, most sources indicated as such a month in advance last summer. So when Cuban and Nelson managed to wrangle in a team that kept the cap clean and take advantage of Dirk's talents, it seemed like a win-win. There was Collison to play pick and roll with and push the tempo, Mayo to take advantage of his above-average three point stroke and Kaman and Brand to grab more attention in the paint than Brendan Haywood ever could.
There's a big problem with a Dirk-friendly team when Dirk doesn't play. And Dirk didn't play for 29 games this season.
Somewhat buried among all the talk about the inconsistent play from the new supporting cast was the fact that if Dirk doesn't play, the Mavericks rarely win. In the 2011 title season, Dirk missed nine games with a knee injury. Dallas went 2-7.
That threw off any progress that could be made. Collison, Mayo and the like were forced to play their own games without Dirk, readjust to Dirk, then readjust to a clearly limited Dirk and now adjust to the healthier Dirk. The Mavericks might have been just as bad as they are now if Dirk suited up to to start the season, but it's hard to not think about how the team could have progressed with a healthy No. 41 around all year.
Hopeful promise: Elton Brand and Chris Kaman would combine to at least try and duplicate Tyson Chandler's production
Crushing reality: Neither have pushed the offense or defense in any positive direction
At the very least, most figured (myself included) that Brand and Kaman would at least do a better job of giving Dallas a better offense playing alongside Dirk then Haywood or Ian Mahinmi. Somehow, neither have done anything to make Dallas much better on either side of the floor.
Brand's anemic offense outweighed any defense he brought in November and January. Kaman's offense started strong but teams continually crushed him in pick and roll situations on defense.
It hasn't gotten much better. Brand rebounded with nice shooting numbers in the last two months but his inconsistency with his offense has led to some disappointing results. There might not be a harder worker on defense than Brand -- he fights for position, uses any athleticism he has left to challenge guards on pick and rolls and is a constant talker.
Brand's heart and mind is in the right place, but his teammates aren't. We all lauded Brand for being the anchor of the 76ers defense in Brand's last year in Philadelphia but it seems now more than ever that Brand was more a cog than the engine.
Dallas has mediocre defenders all over the floor from Collision to Mayo to Dirk. Shawn Marion is there but other then that, Brand is mostly on his own and he simply can't clean up all the Dallas mistakes. Kaman's on the other hand, couldn't do much of anything before a concussion sent him to the bench. Now that he's back, he's playing a little closer to the basket but the previous numbers don't lie: the Mavericks were performing at Bobcat-like levels when he and Dirk shared the floor, according to NBA.com.
Hopeful promise: O.J. Mayo would redefine his game and become a piece to build around
Crushing reality: He hasn't
It should have been a sign that as the Memphis Grizzles transformed from a lottery team to a fringe contender in a few years time, that Mayo's play regressed as the Grizzles got better.
The hope was that as a full-time starter in a new city and a new organization, Mayo would refocus himself and try to live up to the extreme talent he has. Not become a super star, but at least do something tangible that made him stand out from the run-of-the-mill NBA guards. Be better than an average, volume scorer.
It appeared Mayo was well on his way, scorching from three and piling up points in the first two months of the season. But here's Mayo's percentages month-by-month this season:
November: FG%: 50.7, 3PT%: 49.3
December: FG%: 44, 3PT%: 38.9
January: FG%: 47.4, 3PT%: 34.8
February: FG%: 43.4, 3PT%: 29.3
Mayo's red-hot three point shooting predictably fell off but it's been at a more drastic degree than his career norms would indicate. He's maintaining OK scoring numbers thanks to his mid-range jumper, but that's about it. The problem has been that while Mayo has regressed the rest of his game is still as junky as it was in Memphis.
His off-the-ball defense is horrendous, so despite holding opposing shooting guards to a OK-15.4 PER according to 82games.com, the Mavs defense is four points per 100 possessions better with Mayo off the court than on. He can't run a pick and roll and make proper decisions and his awful turnover numbers from Memphis have followed him here.
Almost no one turns it over more in clutch situations and his free throw rate has remained steadily average. Mayo has improved in small ways in Dallas -- his on the ball defense can be pretty good when engaged on a ball-handler, he's converting at the rim better than ever and he's a willing passer, despite the brain-dead turnovers (which might be the biggest back-handed compliment of all time).
Most of that equates to his pedestrian 15.78 PER. An average NBA player boasts a 15 PER. Mayo is a useful player but he's not a first, second or maybe even a third option. Mayo can help a team but over a long stretch of time, his habit of forcing plays that aren't there and his lack of awareness on defense just kills you. It's hard to imagine how the Mavericks can commit big money to a player so baffling inconsistent.
Hopeful promise: With more minutes, the Mavericks younger players would provide some much needed depth
Crushing reality: NOPE
Hopeful promise: Darren Collison would find the balance between speedster and playmaker and grow with Dallas
Crushing reality: The breathtaking transition game is still there but Collison's ability to thrive in the halfcourt has been inconsistent at best
Collison's game has been maddening to say the least. The fourth-year guard can take a rebound or outlet pass and score as fast as any other guard in the league. His creative in his finishes and has shown flashes of a good jumper.
Unfortunately, he hasn't shown an ability to operate in the half court. Collison can't seem to decide when to pass, shoot or continue to move into the paint. He settles for far too many mid-range jumpers and while he can score. His defense is as bad as Mayo's and he gets overpowered too easily.
Collison is a restricted free agent this summer and it will be hard to see Dallas maching anything. There are times when Collison appears he has it all figured out, then, an inexplicable 3 on 1 fast break turnover happens and it crumbles.