Team Name: The Dallas Mavericks
Last Year's Record: 57-25
Key Free Agents: Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, Jose Barea
Team Needs: A point guard to follow in Jason Kidd's footsteps, and the championship team to stay as close to the same as possible.
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
It is widely agreed that priority number one for the Dallas Mavericks is to try and keep their championship team intact. First and foremost, they need to hold on to the emotional glue from this past season, center Tyson Chandler. Without his addition to the team last year, there is no way they would have been able to win it all, let alone be competitive in the off-season.
Once Chandler is secured, the next player to try and hold on to would be Caron Butler. His mid-season injury wasn't devastating in terms of the team's ability to move forward, but it was disappointing because he was just starting to show signs of becoming our consistent second scorer behind Dirk Nowitzki. Mavs fans have been aching for a Robin to our Batman, and Butler looked to be it before he tore his patellar tendon. He has rehabbed incredibly fast and with the potential for extra healing time with this lockout, he should be ready to play when the season resumes.
Another position that is up in the air is the backup to Jason Kidd. JJ Barea did an admirable job as the second point guard, and he was a key part of Rick Carlisle's infamous three-guard lineup, but he has proven to be inconsistent in terms of providing offense. His detractors would argue that there's nothing that he does that Rodrigue Beaubois can't do or learn to do, and Beaubois has the advantage of size and athleticism. However, Barea has the experience now that Roddy couldn't get due to his ankle injury. The Mavericks acquired Rudy Fernandez and he could add to this guard rotation, but the shoes being filled when Kidd finally does retire are figuratively very large and there needs to be a lot of thought put into who will fill them.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses? (so far)
The biggest strength is obviously the team chemistry that we saw throughout the playoffs last season. This is a team that fought its way up from the bottom and did so by leaning on each other. When a team can make that climb and come out victorious at the top, it only serves to solidify that sense of camaraderie. By keeping that core group of players together, you get a level of comfort on the court that leads to continued success.
The Mavericks have proven to be an organization that inspires loyalty in their players, as was made evident by the free agents' expressed desires to stay if possible. If the lockout and subsequent budgeting end up limiting the Mavs' ability to retain their key free agents, there will have to be some serious re-thinking in terms of their plan to surround Dirk with a good supporting cast.
As for weaknesses, I touched earlier on the fact that the Mavericks have long been lacking a consistent second scorer behind Dirk. The playoffs showed us that team basketball is alive and well, and Dallas was fortunate to have many different players step up to support Dirk's incredible showing. It would be easier and less panic-inducing, however, if the fans knew on any given night that there would be two players providing guaranteed offense instead of just one.
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
The Mavericks are a team full of veterans who know how to prepare for a season. If there IS no season to prepare for, I highly doubt they will get fat and lazy and show up to training camp unprepared to play. They are also aging veterans, with the majority of them residing well into their thirties. Time off from constant playing could prove to be beneficial after such a grueling post-season. Too much time off, however, and you might start to see negative effects of inactivity.
Dirk has been playing in Germany, but his team is now eliminated so he's done with basketball for a little while. Barea has been playing with Puerto Rico and seems to be heading towards an Olympic appearance, but we don't really know for sure if he'll be a Dallas Maverick when they resume play. Other than that, there isn't a lot of ‘off-season' basketball going on, so one would hope that the guys are keeping themselves active and busy.
As for expectations, the burden is squarely on the shoulders of this team to maintain their champ status, as it is with every team that wins the ultimate prize. No one will be devastated if they can't go all the way again, but it sure would be nice after a decade of coming so close with no results, to have a run of success as enjoyed by teams like the Lakers, Bulls and Celtics.
4. If you could make one change the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
The Dallas Mavericks are a pretty large market team, and they have an owner with a huge passion for the game and even bigger pockets. In that regard, we are fortunate. But what the NBA is lacking that other leagues seem to have gotten right is local profit sharing. When you look at teams like the new York Knicks, who are in a huge market but are generally terrible, you can see how rich teams attract top-tier players and maintain their entertainment value despite poor basketball playing. With revenue sharing, this wouldn't be an issue, and the free agency periods would be exponentially more entertaining with every team having the same shot at acquiring marquee players. When the fans pay attention, everybody wins.
5. Are the Mavericks too old to win again with this team?
Sometimes, when you assemble a championship-caliber team, you are blessed with a bunch of young guns with raw, natural talent who play well enough together to leave other teams out to dry. And sometimes, as in the rare case of the Mavericks, you slowly assemble a group of veterans who exemplify team mentality and a willingness to fill whatever role necessary to obtain the elusive ring.
However, the very advantage that the Mavs had all throughout the season could end up being the very reason they can't achieve the same results next season. Jason Kidd is practically 87 years old, and while his brain seams to only be getting sharper, his speed and athletic ability are in a slow decline. Dirk isn't getting any younger, and he has the added stress of a ridiculously large body. No one is really in agreement whether this team will benefit or suffer from this added time off. My belief is that, if we can keep Chandler and Butler, if not Barea, we could be competitive again and even make a deep run into the post season. But I think the stars aligned to help the Mavericks win it all, and the chances of that happening again are pretty slim.