There’s always a lot of talk about who should stay and who should go during the offseason and other than the guys who didn’t play much, there’s an argument for keeping just about anyone on this Mavericks team. Even Wayne Ellington, had he been given more of an opportunity, is known to be a deadly shooter and a good defender – something in demand right now.
The Mavericks are searching to find what they deliberately gave up after the Championship in search of big name free agents. I’m still having a hard time getting over this, not just because of the emotion but as I wrote in my very first article on the Mavs, they violated every basic tenet of common sense in doing something completely unprecedented in the history of professional sports – deliberately disassembling a championship team without giving them a chance to defend their title.
So without Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J. J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson, what are the Mavs looking for now? Well, sans Barea who, for all of his Mav goodness was not irreplaceable, let’s see…a defensive-minded center with some athleticism in the paint, a good two-way wing player and a defensive stopper. Oh the irony. And it wouldn’t have hurt to keep Corey Brewer and Steve Novak either.
I often have fantasies about what would have happened if the Mavericks had kept the team basically intact but added Vince Carter, Brandan Wright and Delonte West the next year. That could have been a recipe for a repeat at a relatively low cost. After that, add Darren Collison to back up J Kidd and Dahntay as they did and Chris Kaman as the 6th man instead of starter to back up Dirk and Tyson, and presumably at a lower price. With two championships under his belt J. Kidd might have retired sooner rather than bolting for New York and that would have required filling a hole, although the Jet has run the point in the past. Calderon and Devin were still good additions along with Larkin and Mekel (although I would have preferred to keep Kelly Olynyk, a possible Dirk Lite in the making). Despite the emotional attachments, if the guard spots were covered Jason Terry could have been expendable with the arrival of Vince and certainly Monta.
But I digress.
Regardless, there was one thing that the upstart 2011 Champs had that is fairly uncommon without a trio of superstars: the team hadn’t been together that long. When you have experienced future Hall of Famers such as Dirk and Jason Kidd, (and hopefully the Matrix) along with the old duo of Dirk and Jet, some of the learning curve is more easily overcome. There has been much talk about the Mavs’ unrestricted free agents and the most desirable retention that many seem to think is on his way out is Shawn Marion. I for one think this would be a mistake to allow (unless the price is too high) and it isn’t because I don’t like Luol Deng (although he has an injury history that raises some red flags), or Trevor Ariza (who has not shot the ball spectacularly for most of his career).
The Mavs took a major nosedive by trying to fix something that wasn’t broke and gave up their bird in hand for two in the bush. The most interesting thing to note is how would things have looked if the plans had "succeeded?" Chris Paul was never a realistic goal but with Deron Williams, I don’t think anyone would be pleased with that signing right about now and while Dwight Howard might have worked out better, ginormous contracts don’t allow you to fill other holes. Who knows if Monta would still have been recruited.
The Mavericks were pretty clear after the Spurs series that the #1 goal was to keep the core together for continuity. After the 2012 and 2013 debacle, that notion shouldn’t be taken lightly. Equally important, the Matrix shows regularly that he can still light it up when needed, boasts the top career defensive rating of active small forwards in the NBA and last year even resurrected his 3-point shooting. Could someone else come in and do a better job while fitting in immediately? That is a big unknown.
It’s possible Trix will have some substantial offers on the table but his home is Dallas and it shouldn’t be impossible to get him to sign again for a reasonable contract if not a bargain price, so before the Luol Deng chanting gets any louder, everyone needs to remember what continuity and proven chemistry means.
Meanwhile, Rick Carlisle needs to continue working with Jae Crowder to reverse his de-evolution…the not-so-great progress he made from a tough two-way standout in college to streaky 3-point shooter in the NBA. It’s easy to forget that Draft Express saw him as a possible shorter, saner Metta World Peace and tweeted two years ago "I love this Jae Crowder pick at #34 for Dallas. Toughest SOB in the draft, and probably also the best defender. Will carve out a NBA career."
It has always been the hope that Crowder can become a Kawhi Leonard type of two-way player. He was perceived as having his best skills on defense and considered to be "one of the most versatile and effective players in all of college basketball" who could guard "every position on the court one through five, often within a single game." Rick Carlisle did increase Crowder’s use on the defensive end last season but as of yet, Jae has yet to fulfill his promise on the offensive end, where he has primarily been launching inconsistently from behind the arc as opposed to his time at Marquette where he was also known for "diving to the rim to position himself for drop-off passes from his guards, running the floor in transition, posting up, or through his work on the offensive glass. "
Rather than letting Marion go, the Mavs would be better to keep the group together (along with Vince Carter and Devin Harris) and focus on Crowder’s development while filling holes where there are bigger deficiencies, such as finding a legitimate two-way threat at center (Tyson Chandler and Marcin Gortat being the most popular targets speculation along with Omer Asik, Larry Sanders and Greg Monroe) and keeping defensive options in the backcourt (Crowder, Harris). The Mavericks were hardly in the conversation when they won the championship with Tyson Chandler arguably being the last cog in the wheel and the team is not so different now than it was then.
The Mavericks would do well to keep that wheel rolling this time rather than trying to even partially reinvent it.