Editor's note: this is the first of a three-part series. The next two articles will post Tuesday and Wednesday.
There's a variable for the Mavericks at nearly every position. Most NBA teams enter the season with a known quantity at a couple positions, maybe even three or four, but not Dallas. Deron Williams may or may not rebound, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews may or may not return in a reasonable amount of time, Dirk Nowitzki may or may not continue to see significant decline from age, the center position may or may not work.
Subsequently, I don't think anyone really knows where the Mavericks' season will take them. A range of 35 to 45 wins seems reasonable, but there are scenarios that put them higher or lower. Maybe much lower, unlikely but potentially much higher. With this post and two more on Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll take a look at just how high or low the Mavericks can rise or fall this season.
Like Drake, we're starting from the bottom before we show you a good time with some more optimistic scenarios.
26 to 30 wins
Rick Carlisle, in a pre-game presser towards the end of December, announces that Wesley Matthews is about two weeks away. Two months later, he says the same thing, citing complications with his Achilles surgery rehab. When he does return halfway through March, he plays 18 games and shoots 34 percent from the field. Chandler Parsons' recovery stretches until mid-December and he misses another 22 games with a knee sprain. Dirk Nowitzki undergoes another arthroscopic knee scope a week after Parsons goes down, realizing this season isn't going anywhere.
JaVale McGee makes Shaqtin' a Fool seven times before he and Rick Carlisle get into a slapfight at midcourt after McGee turns the ball over trying to lead a fast break. Carlisle wins, though, of course. Dwight Powell and Justin Anderson spends half of the season in the D-League. The Mavericks finish with a worse record than Denver and the sixth worst in the NBA, but they're passed up in the lottery and their No. 8 overall pick goes to the Boston Celtics. Mark Cuban publicly endorses Donald Trump on Twitter. Chandler Parsons retweets him.
This is the darkest timeline.
31 to 35 wins
Deron Williams never recovers his past magic. He's not bad, still making three-pointers at a high enough clip, but he's Mike Jamesian driving to the rim, lacking the explosiveness that made him a star in Utah. Matthews and Parsons both return by December, but neither recapture their play from last season. Matthews, in particular, struggles -- while never an explosive player, his lateral movement is diminished and his defense suffers as a result.
Dirk continues to slide, averaging only 15 points in 60 games. With Zaza Pachulia starting next to him, the Mavericks are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league by a sizable margin. As a result, the defense -- despite its increased size and physicality -- is exposed simply by spending too much of its time on the wrong end of the floor on second and third and fourth chances.
When he does return, Parsons has a season as up-and-down as the one before. He shows flashes of knifing through the defense as a pick-and-roll playmaker, but he has just a comparable number of 2-of-14 shooting nights. Off the bench, Devin Harris' toe problems nag him all season. Between these various problems, the grinding nature of the Western Conference and a handful of last-second, overtime losses, the Mavericks cannot even approach a .500 record.
36 to 40 wins
This is the Mavericks playing to expectations with a sprinkle of bad luck throughout. Parsons starts the year, Matthews returns in a reasonable amount of time, but both take a month to get back into game shape. Dirk is fine, just fine, torching the rims in November and March while slowing down in between. JaVale McGee wins the Mavericks a game with his two-way energy in mid-December but returns to the end of the bench soon afterwards, never to be seen again.
November is a trainwreck and December is marginally better. In March and April, the Mavericks win nearly 60 percent of their games, but the early hole dug from a brand-new team, once again learning their roles and their relationship with each other, weigh down any success. After a season that he barely cracked 50 percent true shooting, J.J. Barea falls several percentage points below that number despite playing 20 minutes a night. Between his ineffectiveness and struggles from Justin Anderson that has him playing infrequently, the bench just doesn't have any punch.
Mix in some unlucky injuries -- nothing critical or serious, but four games with a rolled ankle here, nine due to a quad strain and maybe a broken finger costing someone 12 more -- and the Mavericks toy with .500 late with their post-All Star break push but ultimately fall short, maybe by several games. It's the sad reality of this aging roster that just doesn't cut it in the West.