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The Value of a Frenemy

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The Mavericks have really established themselves as a solid NBA franchise over the past decade, consistency is a major reason for that.  Ten consecutive seasons of 50 or more wins is a very rare accomplishment in the league and they're arguably in the mix to be a title contender.  You need a lot of things to work out, but there is always talent around the Mavericks franchise so that always gives them a chance to chase the ring.  There are a lot of reasons for their continued success, but there is one big reason that might be unrecognized and I want to discuss that reason.

Recently, I heard a saying and it really made me analyze things:

Your bitter enemy is ultimately your best friend.

You can look at that in two different ways:

-You acknowledge someone that you dislike and it is someone that is your polar opposite, you observe what they do and you learn their faults and become better off for it.

-You acknowledge someone that you dislike but it is someone you truly aspire to become, you may become jealous due to their success or respect they get, but you follow their blueprint and try your best to beat them.  Again, you become better of for it.

Taking from the latter, I believe that the San Antonio Spurs, and their success over the years, are an indirect but huge reason for the success of the Dallas Mavericks.  Whether people want to acknowledge it or not, the Mavericks and Spurs are one of the better rivalries in the NBA.  You can throw out the records whenever the teams know they're getting on the bus traveling on I-35 to meet each other.  Dallas really began to turn the corner right around the year 2000, with the landmark of making their first playoff appearance just over ten years.  The Mavs really had a team that could start believing in itself due to them coming from behind to defeat the Jazz in a five-game series. Ultimately, their run was cut short by the San Antonio Spurs with the Spurs defeating the Mavericks in five games in the Conference Semi-Finals in 2000-2001.  The two Texas teams crossed paths again in the 2002-2003 Conference Finals and the Mavericks lost in six games to the Spurs, who eventually became NBA Champions that year. That series was the turning point for the rivalry and gave the Mavericks an established enemy to shoot for and aspire to beat.  You could say it was a "perfect storm" of events where the Mavericks climbed and the success of the Spurs coincided.

That saying plays out in the form that the Spurs emerged as the big brother to the Mavericks and ultimately led to a different mindset for the organization.  The rivalry, at the time, was one-sided in favor of the Spurs and that ultimately led to the Mavericks pushing their desire to a higher level.  When your rival succeeds, especially at your expense, you then push yourself even harder because you don't want to be known as a secondary part.  Rivalries can just be for state bragging rights or for numerous different reasons.  The great thing about the Spurs being the Mavericks rival is that it led to championship aspirations for Dallas because San Antonio was always in the picture as a title contender, beat the Spurs and you're in the mix for the title. 

It took a few years of chasing the Spurs, but during the 2005-2006 season they were able to get over the hump and defeat San Antonio in a classic seven-game series.  A new chapter in the rivalry was created with Avery Johnson, former point guard of the 1999 world champion Spurs, took over for Don Nelson permanently as head coach during that season.  Game 7 was an epic battle and the Mavericks were able to break through and win the game in overtime on San Antonio's home floor.  The Mavericks went on to the Conference Finals where they defeated the Suns in six games, but succumbing to the champion Heat in the NBA Finals.

All of the acquisitions the Mavericks have made over the years (Good or Bad: Nick Van Exel, Raef LaFrentz, Josh Howard, DeSagana Diop, etc.) were made because the Spurs were the thorn in their side.  One thing we know for sure, the Spurs were always the hunted and any kind of thought or move that was made always had the Spurs in mind. 

Things are starting to change and San Antonio is starting to get older and the Mavericks are coming to a period where the roster could radically change with nearly 30 million dollars of expiring deals, mainly secondary players, going into next summer.  Now that the bar has been set, I find it hard to believe that in the Cuban era that the Mavericks will ever really slip or allow themselves to stay out of the title contention status.  That might not be the case for the Spurs because their main core of players are aging and they don't have the flexibility that the Mavericks have right now.  They've had their time in the sun and it could lead to them rebuilding, not reloading.  The rivalry will still linger but it may or may not have the same feel as it has over the past ten years.

Could a new rivalry emerge, definitely.  The obvious teams the Mavericks would shoot for in terms of building one up would be the Lakers and the Thunder.  A lot of people believe that the Mavericks could compete with the premiere team in Los Angeles in a playoff series, the problem is that Dallas finds a way to shoot themselves in the foot before getting a chance to get to that battle.  With Oklahoma City, they are the new kids on the block and will be a viable threat to get a top two or three seed in the Western Conference for years to come.  It could be a Red-River Shootout like the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma.

The Mavericks have found their formula for battling in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. The blueprint may have the word Mavericks on the top of the page, but a tip of the cap needs to be made to the bitter rival down south for helping make the blueprint. The point is no matter how bad you hate that bitter rival, you need them more than anything else in the world.