For two days, those who follow the Mavericks closely have become angry, annoyed or just straight up confused as national media organizations keep predicted failure and gloom for the upcoming Dallas season.
SB Nation's wonderful collection of lead writers and editors have the Mavericks finishing 12th at best in the West, with five of the seven predicting they'll be the worst team. CBS Sports' four experts predict 33, 32, 30 and 30 wins for Mark Cuban's squad. ESPN only predicts playoffs and division winners, but Marc Stein starts Dallas off at No. 21 in his preseason power rankings. Grantland's Zach Lowe has them out of the playoffs. Yahoo! Sports' Ball Don't Lie blog is slightly more optimistic -- they have Dallas with 36 wins but still falling well short of competing for the No. 9 seed.
I could scour the internet for more predictions but it's mostly the same among writers making subjective, opinion-based picks. It's also in stark contrast to our own Mavs Moneyball season predictions, where we have the Mavericks, at best, with 51 wins, at worst with 38 with most writers predicting they finish right around .500 (myself included).
We're a Mavericks blog staffed with Mavericks fans. Obviously, we're more optimistic, as we're supposed to be. But optimism usually separates us from national media predictions by five wins or so, not 10 or 15. It's rarely this wide of a gap. Who's crazy -- us or them?
Here's where the disconnect is coming from as best I can tell.
1. They think the Mavericks are injured
If you don't follow Dallas as closely as we have been following them, maybe you just missed that Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams are starting the season with Chandler Parsons not being far behind. As early as a week ago, we thought three starters might not start the season. Now it looks like it'll be just Parsons and he's not far behind.
For the most part, though, the people listed above know their stuff. I don't think this is a prevailing reason.
Will the 2016 Mavs make the playoffs? We predict
The Mavs Moneyball staff makes their full range of predictions about the coming year, including who the team MVPs will be and what player who be the best guy to survive with on a desert island.
2. They don't trust the Mavericks' injuries
Here's a better explanation and a reasonable one. Just because Matthews will start opening night and Parsons is close, it doesn't mean either will be the same player. Matthews, in particular, had one of the worst muscle tears you can suffer playing basketball. Torn Achilles have consistently ended or changed careers and even while Matthews is a prime case to beat the odds, there's no guarantee of he'll be the same player until several months down the road.
The same is true for Parsons, who should be fine but may need a month before he hits his groove. This is a fair assessment and one that has been overlooked in the midst of the recent, positive news.
3. They think Dallas will tank
If Matthews and Parsons are inhibited during the 2015 part of the season and the Mavericks get off to a terrible start because of that, there's a feeling around the NBA that Dallas may try to be a bottom-seven team (allowing them to keep the draft pick owed to Boston). Dallas intentionally trying to lose -- by shutting down Dirk for a few months with a knee scope, taking it slowly with Matthews and Parsons, and playing their young guys -- obviously changes the outlook of the season. It's not just some outlier opinion because Zach Lowe thinks it! He's perhaps the smartest NBA writer out there and also very informed on the pulse of the league. (Although, to be clear, that solely looks like an opinion, not a prediction or sourced information.)
But there's some pretty clear reasons why Dallas shouldn't use a strategy like that, too. Could they really bite the bullet and drop games on purpose? It's a tough sell for Mark Cuban, especially if the team's starting to come together in January with health and chemistry.
4. They don't expect more from Deron Williams
This is a big part of the reasoning. Among Dallasites and Mavericks fans, the idea that Williams will have a bounceback season has turned from optimistic thinking to a virtual expectation. There are certainly reasons to believe Williams should be better -- he's not dealing with major injuries, the training staff is well-respected around the league, the Mavericks offense will provide increased spacing and he's back home in Dallas.
It's worth remembering that Williams scored 13 points on 39 percent shooting last season, though. If that's who he is now, then things may shake out a lot differently than any of us expect.
5. They aren't appreciating Rick Carlisle
Coaching is a nebulous thing. You rarely can see the direct impact of the man at the helm of an NBA team. Carlisle is universally considered a top-five coach in the NBA and often referred to as top-two behind Gregg Popovich. He took a 2012-13 roster featuring Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, a fading Shawn Marion, Chris Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki, who missed the first 23 games, to 41 wins and a late-season playoff push. If he can do that, shouldn't he be able to at least do the same with this roster?
Of course, Carlisle can't make Matthews right or keep Williams healthy. There's limitations. But you have to add a few wins here and there knowing how good he is at his job. NBA writers know he's good, but whether they've fully accounted for his dark coaching wizardry is a valid question.
* * *
Reasons two and four are being overlooked by Mavericks fans, without question. That's where the optimism comes in: that the injuries will work out, that Deron's bounce-back season will happen, that Matthews will be fine. Those aren't sure things, even if they seem more likely than not. The national media doesn't hate the Mavericks. It's just that, with their distant eye removed from emotional investments, they can see that those problems easily could take a bad turn.
The other reasons seem sillier and less likely to me. The Mavericks won 50 games last season and then went into an offseason where they, assuming health, improved at point guard and shooting guard, stood pat at small forward and took a huge step back at center. It won't equal out to being a better team but it's difficult to see how that makes them 20 whole wins worse.
A lot of the actual narratives around this team have changed in the past month given the most recent injury news, even while the media narratives generally stayed the same. That doesn't mean they'll be wrong. If any of the main four -- Dirk, Matthews, Parsons or Williams -- miss a good chunk of the season, it's very difficult to replace them. But with good -- or maybe just average -- luck, I still believe the Mavericks can push for a .500 record, even if that means falling short of the playoffs as it likely will. It makes me nervous going against so many smart minds, but I do feel slightly validated that NBA statistical predictions see the Mavericks about where I do.
The media doesn't hate the Mavericks and they all have reasons for picking them so low, reasons that could realistically ravage their season and make this the worst year of basketball in Dallas since Mark Cuban took over the team. But there's a good chance, too, that this team is a scrappy contender for the final spot in the West, at least until the final months of the season. Until the basketballs start bouncing, none of us really know for sure.