The Laker game was one of the more frustrating basketball experiences I've had in a year full of them. Starting Chris Kaman after a successful series of games with Brandan Wright made me crazy. His role within the team structure is so poorly defined that he hurts the team when he plays. Roles matter, and people knowing and understanding their roles are what helps define a successful organization.
Take the good staff here at Mavs Moneyball. Our fearless leader, LJ, is fantastic at dealing with a myriad of personalities, schedules, writing styles, and ridiculous emails. She is the link between the important people at SB Nation, us writers, and the community of MMB commentors. She keeps us together Each of us writers fills a different role, helping keep all of you with content from different points of view. Andy is a brilliant critical thinker, Josh a passionate analyst, Alan is great at explaining data within the context of the game; I could keep going. The point is, we work because we recognize one another's strengths and that helps this site put together fantastic content.
The reason we have positional designations in basketball is partly to identify the job of a particular player. A point guard takes the lead with the ball, a shooting guard should score, a center is usually the largest player for a team, and so on and so forth. Knowing and understanding the role of a position or player is key if a team hopes to succeed. When I used to play a million years ago, my role was simple: move the ball on offense, take charges on defense, rebound. I was able to play at a much higher level than my over all skill set because I filled needs on a team.
To bring this back to the Mavericks, as the season has progressed, we've seen no clearly defined roles for Maverick players, and it's led to a great deal of confusion, which has ultimately led to losses. Some of this is due to the Dirk Nowitzki knee injury. Another issue is the lack of talent; Dallas has a roster of players who have gaping holes in their games. Then we have the front office shipping old, bad veterans in and out of the locker room. That coach Carlisle hasn't been unable to settle on a line up doesn't help things much at all.
One would figure when Dirk came back, players would settle into a hierarchy with Dirk at the top. His slow return to form prevented that and by the time he was feeling truly healthy, the team was scrambling to win games for a playoff spot, so establishing Dirk at the top of the food chain took a back seat. I'd like to think that winning and getting Dirk established as the alpha in the offense are things that aren't mutually exclusive. But, given the make up of the team and the rotation, things did not come together in a timely fashion.
We've seen games with Mike James taking huge numbers of shots, O.J. Mayo falling off of the radar after a brilliant start, and Vince Carter hero ball. There was that one stretch of games where Dirk only shot 10 times a game despite shooting insane percentages. Darren Collison has been in and out of both the starting and crunch time line ups. Jae Crowder has no discernible substitution pattern. There have been no shortage of confusing situations this season.
Which brings us back to Chris Kaman and the Laker game. The four games prior he had seen an average of three minutes per game, with two "DNP-Coach's Decision". Those games came against teams with good post players, yet Dallas only lost one of those games. Why turn to Kaman now? He started and shot 5 times in the first six minutes, effectively icing Dirk Nowitzki (Dirk usually plays the first six minutes and gets a rest). If Chris Kaman's role in the offense is to establish himself offensively, then the team has a whole other host of problems.
So what do they do now? The season is all but lost. Considering I am not the best judge of a player's value, what Dallas does with these remaining games is hard to say. The potential free agents have had 74 games to make a case as to why they should remain Mavericks. Eight more games isn't going to change a thing.
Instead, the Dallas front office and coach Rick Carlisle have to determine what they want from next year's team. Obviously, you can't predict injuries, but it is possible using data to put together a team that has established roles for each player.
If Dirk is still to be the Maverick focal point, the front office must try to put together a team that supports his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses. This season was a long, maddening tryout for far too many players in an attempt to buy time until the 2013 off season. I guess it nearly worked, but it certainly hasn't been fun to watch.
We all should be concerned about what the front office does next. So much of the last decade has been built upon the back of Dirk Nowitzki making up for the short falls of both the front office and his teammates. Andy wrote yesterday:
The Mavs do not make "good" moves. They do not pick up "good" players, not unless they come with expiring contracts, or take a weird player option (OJ Mayo) or come via a one-time salary cap saver like the amnesty (Elton Brand), or an attitude dump (Odom). That's the truth about them. They are permanently waiting.
The front office has to learn its role as well. Draft with a purpose. Sign free agents that make the team better. Make trades that will impact the rotation. Far too many decisions have been made over the last 3 years that feel like they were throwing things at a wall in an attempt to see what sticks. Bad process rarely gets rewarded.
Roles matter. Decisions matter. Basketball isn't played in a vacuum away from coaching and front office decisions. If Dallas wants to avoid the slow downward slope they've been on since June of 2011, things must change immediately.