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The Power of Unknowing

In basketball, you never know.

It’s true in the big things just as much as the little. Did the Mavericks think the spindly German water-tower of a human would turn out to be good? Sure. Were guys like Charles Barkley and Rick Pitino already talking about how good he might be some day? Yes.

Did the same sort of thing happen for Darko Milicic? Obviously.

But the Mavericks last year were a team that really made you wonder if being a GM is about more than avoiding crippling contracts and playing dice with Satan.

Consider this:

Last year, the Mavericks team was supposed to be relying on a newly integrated Caron Butler, who would give the Mavs what they’ve never had—a Robin to Dirk’s Batman, and a tough, physical presence.

The Mavs were finally going to be able to move beyond their dependence on the streaky Jason Terry year, so occasionally brilliant, so frustratingly fickle. As Jason Kidd’s age faded him forcefully into the background, the dynamically different but overall dynamic Roddy Beaubois was supposed to slide into his spot.

The Mavericks started the offseason with a humdinger of a trade chip—the world’s largest, worst contract that was actually a magic contract in that whoever picked up the contract could make it disappear. It was, in some parts, deemed a worthy enough piece for the biggest prize of all, a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.        

When the Mavs couldn’t make anything happen, they grabbed Tyson Chandler in a move that most observers figured was just a way to re-Damp the coming offseason, since Chandler had basically the same contract Damp did, but due to expire—well, right now. Chandler, by the way, had just escaped being traded to the Thunder for three guys named Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith and DeVon Hardin.

Go ahead and replay that Thunder series with Chandler on their team, rather than ours, see how that goes.

The Mavs, with Marion, Beaubois and probably Terry coming off the bench, were widely considered to be one of the deeper teams in the league, but there were some serious questions at the end of the bench. Mavsland always loved Barea’s toughness, but it was hard to love the chances of a ball-handler who has never once passed the ball after he started dribbling into the paint and who took one made three-pointer as an excuse to shoot four contributing in a serious way. He had a great contract and could occasionally change games, however.

The two backups behind Chandler and the mercurial Haywood were two French guys nobody’d ever heard of. And DeShawn Stevenson? The guy who was once compared to Michael Jordan  had averaged 11 minutes off the bench for the Mavs the previous year, after spending 40 games with Washington shooting under 20% from three. He was the pill the Mavs had to swallow if they wanted Butler.

So, to recap. There for trade reasons, pill reasons, and cheap, nobody-else-wants-him-yet reasons: Chandler, DeShawn, JJ Barea

Gracefully fading out of the lineup: Kidd, and to a certain extent Marion and Terry

Emerging as Mavs go-to guys in that absence: Butler, Beaubois.

That’s how they drew it up. And if you asked Donnie and his guys, I’m sure not one of them would tell you they didn’t know this COULD happen. Regardless of how I’m making it sound, every one of those guys was on the Mavs because the Mavs thought they could ball (except maybe DeShawn). But come on.

It’s a year later, and you all know how it turned out. Butler and Beaubois didn’t play in the playoffs. Terry and Barea both had moments of staggering brilliance. DeShawn was terrific. Marion and Kidd locked everyone down on defense, hit every single shot they had to and made every stop. And Chandler? Chandler was the key that unlocked the door a long-suffering franchise had been waiting forty years to get through. Just in time.

So yeah, the Mavs have to re-sign Chandler. I hope they re-sign Butler, and I’d be more than happy seeing them all come back. It would feel right, even just—and the way that team looked with Dirk AND a healthy Butler? Certainly wouldn’t mind seeing that again.

But just remember: at the heart of the machine, it’s all just stardust and moonbeams. Sometimes it’s a season apparently going down with a dislocated knee that gets shoved back into place. Sometimes it’s a trade that doesn’t happen, like the Damp and two firsts for Al Jefferson one. And sometimes it’s Terry and Stojakovic shooting 16/17 from three, in Game 4, to sweep the Los Angeles Lakers.

It will not be controlled.