Pardon me if I see a tad confused on April 18. There's a strong likelihood I might wander aimlessly around UNT's campus a little bit, or perhaps leave all of the verbs out of my emails. God forbid I have a test that day, because that would just be a terrible mix, like apple juice and Sprite (it doesn't replicate that stuff you drink on New Years' Eve AT ALL, I tried).
See, April 18 is the day after the Mavericks play their final regular season game. It's also the day they don't prepare for an upcoming playoff series for the first time in TWELVE years.
Ever since I became sports-aware around 7th grade and start cheering on those Mavericks with all my breathe, the Mavericks have made the playoffs. I'm a young'un, so for me, that was the 2008 playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets. For the Mavericks to fail to make the playoffs...it's an experience that I'm not quite sure I'll understand until we reach the 18th here in a week.
We're a privileged bunch, us Mavs fans. There are franchises who have playoff droughts last years, decades even. We feel bad about missing a single year, and it's not even like we missed it by a lot. Andytobo describes it well in his latest column -- the Mavericks are far from being a "bad team", and really, the argument can be (and will be, if you tempt me) that they are missing the playoff for the first time in 12 years simply because of bad luck. Dirk's early season injury is the prime example -- had he chosen to have his surgery when he needed to have it done, the Mavericks would probably be parked into at least the 7th spot in the West. But he was understandably nervous about operating on a knee that's never needed surgery before, he rolled the dice, and the odds came up short. Unlucky.
Yes, we're privileged. But realize that 12 years of privilege doesn't require 12 years of suck as penance.
The Mavericks let their championship team fell apart on a gamble and it didn't work out. Coming up this season, they roll the dice again, but the odds fall further and further as time goes on. Competing as a playoff team for 12 straight years is an incredible accomplishment, but it doesn't lessen the demand that this team succeeds to the best of its ability.
I say this while freely admitting that I was a fan of the original gamble, and it still frustrates me that Deron William based much of his decision about the Nets spending $40 million on Gerald Wallace, who's currently shooting 51% at the rim (and under 40% overall!!!). Dumb or not, though, it didn't work.
Wasting another off-season hoping next season a superstar will sign here. Ignoring a point guard-heavy free agent class to settle with Darren Collison. Running Chris Kaman into the ground instead of developing Bernard James -- ignoring the fact that James is probably better anyway.
The Mavericks need to accept their losses and find a strategy to build a team around Dirk that can give him one more shot at glory. It may not be a one season fix, but Dirk's got several more very good seasons left in the league. Show him progress next year.
Gambling is sometimes worth the risk, but it's never a strategy. The Mavericks need to be careful, before Dirk's career runs short and they've got nothing but an aging cast of soon-to-be-washed-up veterans. Being successful for as long as the Mavericks have doesn't mean it's okay to accept that fate and suffer through the a rebuilding process from the ground up, because we know Mark Cuban and company are smarter than that. They can overcome that.
The Mavericks are too smart and too good to excuse them from dragging along a bad team for the next couple years and floundering in mediocrity.
And don't give me the "you need to root for a bad team to be a true sports fan" line. I've got the Cowboys to disappoint me.