When I take a step back from this season, I can get myself to a place where I wonder what all the fuss is about. A certain SeriousFace on this blog and certainly many of us on twitter (including, many times, me) have the Mavs marked down as a horrible team, but in fact they are not. We have simply forgotten what horrible really is.
The Mavs, with their current record, would not only still be the 7th place team in the East, but you have to add 5-10 wins if they were playing against East teams. I'd lean towards 10. They are only a few games out of the last spot in the formidable Western Conference, and would be in pretty easily if they'd had even normal luck in close games or games that went to OT.
More than that, it's pretty obvious that if this team, even the horrible one that showed up against the Suns last night, were whole all season, they'd probably be a fifth or sixth seed. RIght? Considering they were 19-27 at the end of January, and they've gone 19-13 since, how many extra games would a healthy Dirk have been worth? Especially since that would have been a Dirk that had a full training camp with these guys. 7 games ties you with Golden State for 6th, and 10 -- well, 10 really locks you down into 6th anyway.
Given the state of the East, giving Indiana the benefit of the doubt, leaving room for the Knicks, that makes the current Mavericks team, what, the 9th or 10th best team in the NBA? Not going to win you a championship, but if you think THAT'S terrible, you weren't paying attention in the mid-90s.
So why does it feel like a travesty of monumental proportions? It could be, and likely is in some measure, because we've gotten used to the Mavs being better than this, being up there with the Spurs in the conversation.
But I don't think too many people would disagree with me if I said it's because the Mavs did this on purpose.
They did. They didn't mean for this to happen, but they could have had a much better team, they knew it, they chose not to, and instead delivered, for the second straight year, this. There are still some of us out there, some who can maintain a critical distance, that will argue that the risk was worth taking and there are certainly ways in which it was and ways and which it wasn't.
But that doesn't change the fact that when you turn on the TV you're watching this team and not the team that easily could have happened.
Meanwhile, a team with Tyson Chandler, playing Jason Kidd 27 minutes a night, with some deadeye three-point shooters and an elite, elite scorer from the PF position, is 3-1 against Miami so far this year. We'll just let that speak for itself. Dirk's not Carmelo anymore and Terry's not JR (though, shot for shot, he's certainly more efficient). But we'll just let that speak for itself.
There is a danger in being smarter than obvious. That's the way I feel whenever Carlisle plays Kaman over even Bernard James whenever the team is struggling to defend and rebound, or whenever, earlier in the season, he would trot out that small lineup that never, ever got things done. Basketball is getting more and more and more complex, but sometimes, when you need boards, you put out your best rebounder. When you need defense, you put out your best defenders. When you need to win, you put out the best, conventional lineup you got. But it all happened, and here we are.
Maybe some people underestimated how much they'd hate losing if the plan failed and maybe now, even if they believe that the Mavericks did the right thing, maybe some people wish they'd done the wrong thing so that the Mavericks would still be watchable, would not be, right now, a team that can't beat the Phoenix Suns to achieve a long-term goal that is, in fact, a pretty terrible long-term goal for a team that won the championship two years ago.
It's a pretty funny world, in basketball today. Houston, famously mediocre, fell just out of the playoffs for three years in a row. Now, they made these great moves and have these great draft picks, stars to build around, a great defensive center -- and they're in 7th place, not exactly lighting the world on fire. But I bet it feels lot better than most seventh places, just like the Mavs' finish feels so much worse than most 10th places.
Because they did it on purpose. Because a much better team than this one was literally begging to be kept together, and was turned away. Because a team on the exact same template is, surprise surprise, the biggest challenge to the Heat this year, at least in the East.
But the moment they've been waiting for is just a few days from arriving. Some money to spend, a team to build, the best draft pick--unfortunately--this team has had in years. There is now room and time for them to make their purpose happen, if thy can, and here we go.