As for every team, there were a lot of scenarios to choose from, here. But it seems to me the biggest problem the Mavs have faced lately is chronological; they just get stuff done in the wrong year. They win a championship the year before a new CBA, they get good draft picks in bad drafts, they have money and only flawed free agents to try to spend it on. So let's try this one:
What if the Mavericks had won the champion in 2010 instead of 2011?
I'm only *looks* one man, but this is what I think.
The Mavericks needed Tyson Chandler to win a championship, definitely, so this counterfactual needs a couple of other little ones to work, I hope no one minds. In this world, let's say that Tyson was already here and all the contracts were up in 2010, too, instead of 2011. Or, if it makes it easier for you to deal with, let the lockout have happened a year after it did. The point is, the Mavs go into the post-championship offseason without a new CBA looming.
I think the Mavericks re-sign Jet, Kidd, and Tyson. I think they have a title defense. In reality, if they resigned Tyson it would have been for four years, but let's say they sign him to a five year, 60 million dollar deal, just to keep his salary expiring at the time it'll actually expire. They sign Jason Terry to a three year, 15 million dollar deal, Jason Kidd to a three year, 9 million dollar deal, and have 22 mil tied up in those guys so something like 55 mil tied up in Kidd-Terry-Marion-Dirk-Tyson.
I doubt they win, but they make a good run at it. People still say that Mavericks team was a fluke, but those people are maniacs who should be shunned. If there's one way to determine which teams are likely to win a championship, I'd start with which teams win the most games and also beat the toughest teams. As I've said many times, in this space, if you give the Mavs half the games in which Dirk was injured, they're 2nd in the West, 3rd in the NBA. And they won the season series against everyone they beat in the playoffs. So call it an all-season, 103-game fluke or leave it alone.
Anyhow, that's a good team! And in 2010-2011, it does well!
(PS, how great is this article? Start with the "Big Four" picture of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and SHANE BATTIER, then go to somebody writing about that post-Chandler Mavericks team, "There's nobody out there who doesn't believe the Mavericks have at least a decent chance to be playing for the title again").
So now it's just after whatever happened in 2011 -- let's say another deep playoff run but no championship, which seems most likely to me -- the Mavs can't offer anything to Deron Williams, which makes us mad because in this universe the Mavericks don't suck so much he spurns them and that's the problem with not knowing about alternate realities. They do, however, get to keep Corey Brewer.
The next year, it's 2011-2012 and the lockout happens. The Mavs amnesty Haywood again, this time immediately (you could argue that, struggling for cap space, they'd amnesty Matrix, but I don't really think they'd do that), and they do add Vince Carter on a vet exception and West on a vet min. So they're something like:
Kidd - Delonte
Brewer - Terry
Marion - Carter
Dirk - Wright
Chandler - Mahimni
I don't know how that relatively old team does in the short season, probably not amazingly, but it's a good team that's much better than the Kidd/Delonte-Carter/Terry-Marion/Odom-Nowitzki/Wright-Haywood/Mahinmi lineup they threw out there in reality. It's a disappointing year, but disappointing for the normal Mavericks, not the zombie version. Let's say they end up fourth and lose in the second round.
They still have their cachet. They're still a desirable team for free agents. But they still have no money.
2012-2013 rolls around and the Mavericks are still paying Dirk-Terry-Marion-Tyson about $50 million total. But let's say they still trade Mahimni for Darren Collison, who didn't make much, but just don't sign Chris Kaman for 8 million dollars, which is fine for so many reasons. Also, they're able to draft Jared Cunningham anyway, since he was such a late pick. Hooray!
Then it's a disintegrating Kidd and Collison at the point. Probably, Mike James never happens, but PG just isn't a great position for the Mavs this year. On the other hand, Collison is a backup, which makes him much more effective. Kidd can't score at all, and there's no OJ Mayo. The team is basically:
Kidd - Collison
Brewer - Terry
Marion - Carter
Dirk - Wright
Chandler - Scrub
It's not great, but it's still good. Terry offered the Celtics the same numbers he offered the Mavs, per minute, he just didn't fit into the team as well, so he and Brewer are still a pretty potent 1-2 combination at SG. Team defense takes its first real step back, as, outside of Marion, Carter, Brewer and Chandler, the defense is pretty appalling. Let's give Dirk his injury again, because that seems only fair, and the Mavs probably finish 7th or so. They face off against SA in the playoffs and it goes only slightly better than it went for the Lakers.
It's now this offseason. The Mavs have had an extra year of being great, two of being good. Terry, Brewer and Kidd are now free agents and the Mavs don't re-sign them (Kidd, presumably, retires). The Mavs, still paying Dirk, Marion and Chandler $44 million or so, can probably still afford Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Devin Harris and Brandan Wright. They can't afford Monta Ellis. They still draft Larkin, since they traded down to get him.
At this point, here are their three options.
They can't offer Dwight Howard a max contract, now. The difference is that they CAN offer the Lakers defensive stud Tyson Chandler, with none of Howard's personality issues (or his free throw woes) and who is from the LA area, in a sign and trade. Expiring the same year that Kobe's contract expires, Chandler offers the Lakers around forty five million dollars in cap relief if they want it at that time.
They could also, if they had to, offer Marion for some more proximate cap relief of taking Metta World Peace off LA's hands. I think, if Dwight said he was not coming back, this package of Chandler and cap relief would be the best package that anyone could offer the Lakers while, at the same time, the Mavericks would not yet have been bad enough that Howard wouldn't be interested.
That's option A. You go into 2013 with Dirk and Howard, and since it's a sign and trade and the salaries just about match, you could still sign Calderon, Ellington, Harris, Wright and THEN pull the trigger on the trade.
In option B, you play out the 2013-2014 season with Calderon-Harris, Ellington-Harris-Carter, Marion-Carter, Dirk-Wright, Chandler-Scrub (or perhaps they draft Gorgui Dieng instead of Larkin).
In option C, you trade Chandler, but not for Howard. The Knicks were willing to part with three first round picks for Andrea Bargnani. Somebody would offer something neat.
The result of option C is sort of unknowable, but here's the situation in the offseason before 2014-2015 in options A and B. Either the Mavs have a core of Dirk, Dwight, Calderon, Wright which, if Dirk signs the three year thirty million contract many of us expect, would cost $42 million, leaving the Mavericks with $14-16 million and exceptions to fill out the team. Or they have a core of Dirk, Chandler, Calderon and Wright costing around $37 million with $14.5 million of that coming off the books before 2015.
Either way, that is a good core for a reasonable amount that is both better than the team they have now and with as much in the way of future possibilities. Option D: they trade Chandler for picks and whatnot, aren't very good for a year, and gorge themselves on the sweet 2014 draft. Maybe they could even trade him for Monta and picks, save five million dollars, and have more room to improve in two different ways.
When I first started running this counterfactual in my head, I had the idea that there might be a way to imaginatively position the Mavs to get somebody like Chris Paul, figuring they'd just gotten cap space and good draft picks in the wrong years, but I think, having worked it out, they probably couldn't have.
I've always said the Mavs had a bad strategy the last few years because the lack of appeal their mediocre teams had for free agents was a completely foreseeable problem, not an unforeseeable one. But I think what's become the most clear during this exercise is that the Mavericks really did have a choice between being good enough to attract premier free agents, and having cap space, but being too bad to do so. Their problem was thinking they could have cap space AND be good enough, but whatever.
Bad news for the front office in that all having Chandler would really have done so far is keep the Mavs from signing Chris Kaman and Monta Ellis, but that's the way it goes sometimes even with good plans. The thing is, there still doesn't seem to be any way for the Mavs to end up with an impact guy to replace Dirk. The only time when that might have been possible is the year after the championship, when the Mavs' desireability as a signing destination was super high, but whether that's 2010 or 2011, there wasn't anybody.
So I guess the point is this: even this counterfactual would have resulted in two great teams and a couple of good ones, rather than one great team and two mediocre ones. The Mavs probably wouldn't have any more rings, but they would, at least, have been more fun to watch. And there may be more options for answering the questions this year is going to supply, but no more obvious and certain ones. I think that would have been enough for me, but not everybody.
And so it would have been. And so it was, in some universe, somewhere, where the rain fell a different way.