Warren Gray, Contributing Writer
What does it mean to be a fan? What's the desired outcome? How good would this team be with DeAndre Jordan?
Just kidding about the third question, but the first two musings are at the core of a hypothetical sports scenario that serves to identify why we invest in our teams the way we do. Let's say someone with supernatural abilities -- a magic genie, a wizard or the person in charge of the New England Patriots footballs, for example -- presents you with this deal:
They offer you a guarantee that the Mavs will win the NBA championship this year. The Dallas Mavericks, as currently put together, will win the 2016 title. However, in order to secure the guarantee you never get to see any footage of the season, including the playoffs. You won't be able to watch any of the games in real time, live or on TV, nor will you be able to see any footage at any point in the future.
Would you take the deal?
As we consider potential responses, let's start with this assumption: the Mavs, as presently constituted, are not expected to win the title this season. With that being the case, one could look at the situation and find it the perfect season to take that deal. If you have relatively low expectations for the season, why not give up the ability to watch in exchange for a guaranteed title? The logic makes sense in part because of what it would mean for the future. Think about this: What would have to happen for this team to win it all?
I think we could safely assume Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews would both have to come back strong from injuries and take the next step in their development as players. Deron Williams would have to rediscover his game of old. Personally, I believe Dirk would have to have a good but not great season -- he'd still be behind Parsons and Matthews as an offensive option. At least one of the centers would have to bring more than expected, and you'd probably have to assume unexpected contributions from one of the role players who received a partially guaranteed contract.
And honestly, several other things within and outside of the Mavs' organization would have to fall the right way as well. Basically everything would have to go right. And they'd all be good things for the future -- when you'd be able to watch again. Wouldn't you sacrifice a year of following the team for that?
Maybe. But there's the other side to this scenario, a side that evokes memories of Sasha Danilovic for me.
Danilovic played a grand total of 75 games in the NBA, including 13 with the Mavs in the 1996-97 season. He started nine of those 13 games, and as a 13-year-old kid who attended maybe two games a year, I just so happened to be in attendance at one of those nine games.
That season was one of complete upheaval for the Mavs. Amidst a flurry of season-long roster reshaping the Mavs made five trades, three of which saw "The Three Js" -- Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson -- head to new teams.
One of the players left in the aftermath was Danilovic, acquired from the Heat along with Martin Muursepp and Kurt Thomas in exchange for Jamal Mashburn.
Danilovic was known as a shooter and shot 38 percent from three over the course of his time in the league. There were nights when it looked like he might just emerge from the rubble that was left of a tumultuous season as a bright star and fixture in the rebuild. He scored 20+ points four times as a Mav.
As it turns out, he never played another NBA game after that season. But late that season, as my dad and I sat in an otherwise empty section in a quiet Reunion Arena, Danilovic looked like the team's best player.
About 14 years later I watched a team carried by two future Hall of Famers while sitting in a packed and rowdy American Airlines Center. On the way to the Mavs' first title I often thought of those days as a kid at Reunion.
For me, those are the moments that make the championships sweeter. While there were thrilling and memorable moments of the championship season that I would have hated to miss in an of themselves, the moments didn't begin with the first game of 2011. For me they began with the hope of The Three Js, and Steve Nash and Michael Finley after that.
And Sasha Danilovic in between.
So why do we watch and invest and follow? I would contend that there's more to it than simply following a winner, otherwise we would switch teams every year. But we don't. We endure the down seasons; the painful offseason turbulence. We vent about failed draft picks, trades that don't work out, bloated contracts -- and then continue the journey.
And along the way we find that the valleys make the peaks that much better. Championship summits are made all the more special with Sasha Danilovic moments as part of the journey to the top.
Of course, none of us will ever get a chance to actually take or refuse the deal. But I believe the conversation that surrounds it reveals something about what you believe it means to be a fan and what you're looking to get out of it.
With no wizard to present us with those options, we will all watch this season with hope that it will be a piece of a championship team puzzle that may come together in 2016 or 2026.
And I just don't think I would give up the chance to see all the pieces come together.