In reality, guys, nothing much happened yesterday. Delonte West is a fan favorite, a warrior, and he seems to be a genuinely good-hearted guy who can’t always control himself. In reality, though, he probably got the boot as much for his play as for his behavior. One of the few guys who should have been a solid contributor immediately, West scored little and passed little in the Mavs’ preseason. He’s a back-up PG who breaks the offense. He didn’t look good.
Rick Carlisle would rather a guy take ten right shots and miss than one bad shot that goes in, and nobody’s a bigger offender of that rule than West. Obviously, he’d still be here if he hadn’t acted out, however he acted out. Obviously, though, he’d still be here even then if he were contributing more.
So even if we were essentially trading Delonte for Eddy Curry—or Chris Douglas-Roberts, or Melvin Ely—it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. With Kaman hobbled (with a rep for being hobbled), and Dirk out, the Mavs’ stable of healthy big men is Brand, Wright (currently injured), Bernard James and…Jae Crowder, who is 6’6" and was the Mavs’ starting 4 the last few. And you can’t just find serviceable seven footers, so you end up with Eddy Curry.
Since we’re not trading Delonte for Curry, but just picking up some extra pieces, your Mavs team is more or less exactly the same as it was two days ago but with some more players on it. That’s more or less the definition of nothing happening. If they don’t play better than the guys who are there, they won’t play at all. Two of them probably won’t make the roster. If more than one does, it’ll be because they’re performing better than, say, Dominique Jones. Again, not exactly the worst thing.
So why is everyone freaking out?
Because this isn’t a change, it’s a realization. It’s not a straw, it’s the 900th straw. It’s not even fair to say that the Mavericks didn’t use to be the kind of team who had to employ Eddy Curry. They’ve employed Ryan Hollins and Alexis Ajinca recently, as well as Gana Diop, none of whom I’d rather play, and Curry almost stuck with the Spurs who had a far better year last year than the Mavericks.
It’s that Curry points at what the Mavs are depending on, were already depending on. And that realization is a bit sobering.
If it weren’t Curry, it’d be still be Kaman, Brand and Wright, two of whom are among the Mavs’ top-three non-Dirk offensive options, none of whom are even borderline all-stars. With or without Delonte, Darren Collison, for all his evident poise, youth, athleticism and speed would still be the Mavericks starting PG and the backup would be…well, Delonte or Roddy or Dojo.
With or without all that, the Mavericks’ 2nd best offensive option would still be O.J. Mayo, who has lit it up at times this preseason and been conspicuously absent at other times, which is nothing against OJ Mayo, but just what OJ Mayo does, and is so far. It wasn’t OJ Mayo who chose to make the offense depend entirely on him.
Mavs fans, of course, are especially tortured because of what could have been. Tyson Chandler’s near injury in a Knicks preseason game almost gave the Powder Dry folks an extra shouting point, but here’s what would definitely have been true if the Mavericks had re-signed their championship team, or elements of it (even just Chandler, or Chandler and Barea, or Chandler and Barea, then Terry and Kidd)—they would be a good team right now. And it’s not an insane idea.
Teams that reinvest in their aging core seem to enjoy it okay. The Celtics not only did that, they made the exact move the Mavericks’ philosophy insured they wouldn’t, by signing Jason Terry. Scoff at Terry’s declining performance all you want, but he scored more, at a better percentage, than Mayo last year. The Spurs didn’t worry about rebuilding after Duncan and Manu, and they ripped off ten straight playoff wins last year while the Mavericks didn’t have any. Maybe the Celts aren’t going to beat the Heat and the Lakers. Maybe the Spurs aren’t either. But the Mavericks aren’t going to beat any of them.
Long term, the Mavericks will have cap space, and if that fails, cap space and draft picks. But the fact is, if the Mavericks had reinvested you would have enjoyed last year’s team, you would enjoy this year’s team. And I wouldn’t have minded that at all.
You still might enjoy this year’s team, of course. A bad preseason by an almost new team without its best player doesn’t mean anything. Although the question for Eddy Curry is exactly the same question as for Darren Collison and OJ Mayo—if you could do anything, why haven’t you done it, and done it consistently—a winning program, a smarter coach, a better game plan could bring something out in all three of them.
And the defense has been good! If the Mavericks haven’t scored 80, the last two games, they haven’t allowed 90. Without Kaman. Dirk plus good defense is worth something.
But when Mavericks fans look and see an opening day lineup of Collison-Mayo-Marion-Brand-Kaman---or Collison-Mayo-Marion-Brand-Wright or even Collson-Mayo-Marion-Brand-Curry—they can’t help but remember what their surprise at being THAT good, after it looked a lot worse, enabled them to forget. There’s better than expected, and there’s good. The one doesn’t guarantee the other.
We are far from knowing how this Mavs team will turn out this year. There are reasons to be optimistic. If it stays healthy, there will even be a chance at some surprises.
But this potent broth of loss, bitterness, of coming down from the mountain immediately to the valley, at high speeds and without a net, was not cooked by Eddy Curry. It was brewed by a high-risk strategy whose short-term goals have already failed—leaving Mavs fans to wonder what, if anything, will happen long term.
As the Mavericks know better than anyone, you can't guarantee championships. All you can do is have a competitive team. The Mavericks chose not to, for this year and last year, in the hopes of creating the foundation for long-term success. They still might. But they have whiffed on options A, B and C and like Kevin Brolan tweeted today, if you’d told me this was where we’d be, in 2011, there’d be no limit to how much I’d vomit. That's what I think we're doing. This isn't about Eddy Curry, and it isn't about needing Eddy Curry. It's about the finger Eddy points towards where the roster is, however much better it looks than it did the day after the Deron Williams failure.
If Mark Cuban pulls a championship winner out of the air with the Mavs’ impressive cap space over the next two years, even with the looming Lakers’, Heat juggernauts, there will be so much time to laud him then, and I’ll be first in line.
But you don’t get extra points for winning in three years instead of this year, and Mavs fans are remembering again, after a decade of prosperity, how hard it is to build a winner. And they're asking again whether it was really worth trading two, or three, or four enjoyable seasons for a chance that was never more than a chance, may never be more than a chance.
Take 30. We'll all feel better in the morning.