The Dallas Mavericks were riding high heading into the 2011-12 season. They were coming off of the franchise’s first-ever NBA title, and the team’s new-look roster seemed potent and ready to make another run.
However, their season as defending champions did not go as anyone in the Dallas locker room would have envisioned. The team struggled all season long with injuries, chemistry issues and an inability to score, all of which culminated in a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Mavs were exposed as old and slow during the lockout-shortened season and are now in desperate need of a roster overhaul to bring the team's aging superstar Dirk Nowitzki some much-needed assistance.
The quickest way to do so would be to add the biggest fish of this year's free-agent market, Deron Williams, to the roster and reload on the fly.
So, in honor of Williams' No. 8 jersey, here are eight ways the Mavericks can put a terrible 2011-12 season behind them this offseason.
Signing Deron Williams will be the Mavs' No. 1 priority this offseason, and convincing him to come to Dallas is the only surefire way to quickly bring the Mavericks back to a championship-contending level.
Williams is a stud; there is no doubt about it. During his career he has averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists per game. For comparison let's take a look at those numbers beside Chris Paul’s, as Paul is widely considered one of the best, if not the best, point guard in the game. He has averaged 18.8 points and 9.8 assists per contest during his seven-year career, numbers that are only fractionally better than Williams’.
If the Mavs can bring Williams to the Lone Star State, he would slide in perfectly at the point guard slot, replacing an aging Jason Kidd in the starting lineup.
After all, the NBA has become a point guard's league, and having one of the best players at that position would be an easy way to transform this team into legitimate title contenders, once again.
Williams, a Dallas native, has been rumored to return to the Metroplex this offseason to play for his hometown team for over a year now, but it is no guarantee. He is happy in New Jersey, and the Nets can offer the star an extra year and almost $30 million more over the life of his contract, if he chooses to stay and help the franchise transition into Brooklyn.
However, the Mavs need to do everything in their power to show him that a return home is really the best place for him. If they don't, the 2011-12 season will not just be an anomaly in a decade of success, it will be the first season in a steady decline for a proud franchise.
Dallas is looking to make a big splash this summer in free agency, and in order to do so it needs cap space.
One way the Mavericks can create cap space quickly is to use the amnesty clause on a big contract and take the deal off of the books. The Mavs’ prime candidate to be amnestied is their under-performing center Brendan Haywood.
Haywood has three years and over $27 million left on the guaranteed portion of his deal, and if the Mavs amnestied him, it would create the room to sign a top-flight player, such as the aforementioned Deron Williams.
Haywood's numbers have been average at best in Dallas, and in his two full years as a Maverick he has split minutes at center despite his starter’s salary—first, with Tyson Chandler in 2011, who replaced him as the starter midway through the championship season, and then with Ian Mahinmi, an emerging young center who showed a flashes of brilliance in 2012.
Couple Mahinmi with the high-flying Brandan Wright, and the Mavs have a young duo at center that makes Haywood expendable and a prime candidate to be amnestied, and he knows it.
I won’t be offended if they do, because I know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to revamp the team on the fly, keep Dirk around, bring in another superstar, maybe two. And if that’s the case, they’ve got to free up everybody.
Jason Terry has been one of the most popular athletes to ever don a Mavericks uniform. He has wowed fans over the years with his pinpoint accuracy from long range, clutch shooting and his infectious attitude that has fans in the ACC chanting "JET!" on a regular basis.
He is also a huge reason the Mavericks were able to win the franchise's sole championship with his spectacular 27-point performance in the decisive Game 6 of last year’s finals.
However, Terry is coming off a contact that paid him over $11 million this season, and as he heads into free agency this summer, he will be looking for another big payday.
As popular and as important as Terry has been to the Mavs, they cannot afford to dole out that kind of cash for an aging, undersized jump shooter. That's not to say the Mavericks shouldn't bring back the former Sixth Man of the Year—he still has value, fans love him and he provides instant offense off of the bench. He is a smart re-signing as long as it's for a reasonable, reduced price
But if Terry insists on looking for one last payday before he ends his career, the Mavericks will have to cut ties with JET, because bringing him back at $8-10 million a year doesn't make much business sense moving forward for a team looking for youth.
When the Mavericks won the title in 2011, they were one of the oldest teams in the NBA; in 2012 they were the oldest team in the league with an average roster age of 30.3, a full year ahead of the next oldest team in the league, the Atlanta Hawks.
In the playoffs, Dallas' old legs were exposed by one of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Thunder, who ran up and down on the Mavericks in a four-game sweep.
Basketball is a young man's game, and the Mavericks have to adjust their roster to reflect that. During the playoffs, four of the Mavericks starting five were over the age of 30, with the only exception being the 28-year-old Delonte West, but his youth was certainly averaged out by the 38-year-old Jason Kidd.
Entering 2012-13 season, the Mavs' starters need to get younger and so does their bench. Cagy veterans are nice to round out a championship contender—like Derek Fisher has done for the Thunder—but youth is the key to long-term success.
As painful as it may be, older players such as Kidd, Brendan Haywood and Vince Carter need to be taken out of important roles for this team to succeed.
One way to turn around an aging roster is through smart and effective selections in the NBA draft. The Spurs have turned this process into a science, and the results of that are on display in this year's Western Conference finals, where smart selections like Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard are causing havoc.
The Mavericks have the opportunity to select an impact player in the 2012 draft when they step up to the podium with the 17th pick—one of the highest picks the Mavs had had in their 12-year postseason run dating back to 2001.
This year's draft class is deep, and there is talent to be had in the middle of the first round, thanks to a large group of players with lottery potential entering this year’s draft. The deep talent pool could mean a talented prospect such as Kentucky's Terrence Jones or North Carolina’s Kendall Marshal could fall in their lap, selections that have been projected in early mock drafts.
Dallas has had a shaky history picking players in the first round and drafting in general, and only has one team-drafted player—Rodrigue Beaubois—on its current roster. That trend must change this offseason if the Mavs want to put the ugly 2011-12 season behind them and build towards the future.
The NBA lockout forced a killer 66-game schedule to be played in just 124 days upon all 30 NBA teams, and for older teams like the Mavericks, the grind took its toll.
Injuries ravished the team all season long, and even the normally healthy and consistent Dirk Nowitzki was behind in conditioning and missed games to get into shape early on in the season. When the team got to the playoffs, their legs where just not there, and they got run over by a younger and healthier Thunder squad.
In the offseason, the game plan for the Mavericks is simple: Take some time off, hit the golf course, watch TV, go on vacation, actually just do anything that doesn't put strain on their bodies and get some rest.
The Olympics are around the corner and Nowitzki will be participating, but in the time leading up to it he and the rest of the team need to work on getting some serious R&R, so they are fresh heading into the start of the 2012-13 season.
When Lamar Odom joined the Mavericks last December via trade from the L.A. Lakers, people were thrilled; it was thought that the reigning Sixth Man of the Year would be the final piece in a revamped roster to help defend the team's championship.
Instead, the Odom trade turned out to be one of the worst personnel decisions that Dallas has made in recent memory.
Odom was rarely on the court, and when he was, he put up paltry numbers and played with an uninspired apathy. Odom did not want to be in Dallas, and his attitude was a distraction to his teammates in the locker room.
The situation reached a boiling point this past April when he got into an argument with owner Mark Cuban about his attitude on and off the court and his passion for the game, and days later he and the Mavericks parted ways. Odom did not have any contact with his teammates the rest of the year and did not participate in the team's short playoff stint.
Now that the team's offseason has begun, one of the team’s top priorities needs to be to find a way to move Odom's contact via trade in order to clear cap space, and if that can't be done, they need to just release him from the roster for good.
Odom's time in Dallas was nothing but a distraction, and the team needs to put that part of its history behind it as quickly as possible.
In 2000 Mark Cuban bought a majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks, which at the time was a struggling franchise that had not sniffed postseason success in the previous 10 years.
In the 12 years since, Cuban has transformed the Mavs into one of the most successful sports franchises in the country, a team that has been to the postseason every year since 2001 and won a title in 2011.
He has a proven track record of putting title contending rosters on the court and has shown during his years as owner that he is willing to write a check for whatever amount it takes to make his team successful.
However, Cuban is not the only suit in the front office who has played a part in the team's success. The Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson has been with the team in various capacities since Cuban purchased the team and has played a large role in the team's success throughout the time period. His shrewd roster moves and ability to massage the cap have allowed the Mavs to field a contender virtually every year since Mark Cuban took majority control of the team.
These two men aren't going anywhere, and as long as Cuban and Nelson are calling the shots in the Mavs' front office, they will find a way to make this team a title contender again. And if history is a teller of things to come, that turnaround won't take long.