Dallas Mavericks 2012: Can the Mavericks Bounce Back and Return to the Finals?
There is no shortage of competition in the West and if the trajectory continues, the young Oklahoma City Thunder, fresh off a trip to the Finals and a new deal for head coach Scott Brooks, are destined to be in the championship series once again.
The Dallas Mavericks threw away their chances at a repeat in search of the elusive Deron Williams and Dwight Howard and aren't given much chance to compete in 2012-13, but they weren't expected to win it in 2010-2011 either.
Stranger things have happened...here's how they can contend once again.
Help Down Low
I've often reflected on the irony of this team's history with centers. Managing to go for over two decades with nary a decent center and even be a contender for the last 10 years, then finally nab TWO (Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler) only to let Chandler go after winning the championship is really something. Haywood is a workable center for the right price if you have some other mobility and offense down low, but when Chandler left the Mavericks so did all of that, as well as defense.
In 2011-2012, the Mavs were mauled inside by Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum and others. Popular claims that the Mavs defense actually improved last year because the average points allowed dropped didn't change the reality that no one was effectively stopping opposing centers from scoring, nor that the other teams had a much easier time driving the lane.
Haywood's cost/benefit ratio with his existing contract is too high, and the Mavs have apparently lost interest in Ian Mahimi, which is understandable because while has upside offensively, he is foul-prone, so he can't be your only option. Brandan Wright has an incredibly bright future, he doesn't have the size to guard NBA centers and needs to spend more time at power forward. Drafting tough, defensive-minded 6'10" C/F Bernard James from Florida State was a step in the right direction, but it wouldn't hurt to shore up the inside even further, particularly if you get a solid offensive player as well.
There are a handful of good free agents that can offer not only defensive improvement but offense as well, which is why the Mavericks should stay away from looking at one-sided options such as Brook Lopez, who won't likely leave New Jersey anyway.
Chris Kaman seems to stand out as a big man with an all-around solid game and a reputation for good defense and toughness as well as the added benefit of having played with Dirk on the German team. If Kaman can stay healthy, he would help on both ends of the floor.
Marcus Camby would be a workable short-term option, and of course, there has been much discussion about taking a chance on Greg Oden, who, if healthy, could be a force. There are also a couple of lower-profile up-and-comers such as Jordan Hill and Mareese Speights, who could contribute without breaking the bank. Any of these options would be an improvement, and there are a number of other workable centers still available starting with Spencer Hawes.
If no upgrade at the 5 can be worked out, perhaps a solid double-double power forward such as Kris Humprhies or Brandon Bass might suffice. With any of these options, the Mavs would likely make strides on the boards and defensively, especially if Shawn Marion and Delonte West hang around with new additions James and Jared Cunningham.
Playmaker Who Can Drive the Lane, Break Down Defenses, Create and Score
The Mavs need help down low, but the loss of JJ Barea—along with Jason Kidd's struggles—were obvious in the shortened season.
Kidd played more like his old self in 2010-2011 and having Barea as a backup brought a different type of offense that gave defenses fits. Delonte West and Vince Carter both made solid contributions last season but with Kidd struggling and Barea gone, nothing matched the previous year's one-two punch. In particular, Barea's knack for sailing right past bigger defenders and hitting clutch shots was a thing of beauty and sorely missed. In addition, with Kidd showing his age, the Mavs are now left looking for a new point guard when they already had a very good one.
The good news is that this free-agent crop is ripe with good and great point guards so it's largely a question of the best fit and who is in the budget. For all the ballyhoo about Deron Williams and the sacrifices made to chase him along with Dwight Howard, I am a firm believer that everything happens for the best. $20 million for D-Will wouldn't have left much room for help in the post or anywhere else.
Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups (if healthy) are three excellent options that could provide an immediate impact at around half the price of DWIll. In addition, Nash gives the added benefit of having played with Dirk and Shawn Marion for years. Other than that, there are a number of up-and-coming young guards or veterans that could provide some improvement but their best bet is to find one of these guys who can penetrate, pass and score.
With Roddy's future looking uncertain and Jason Terry headed to the Celtics, it's also important to keep Delonte West—his shooting touch and defense will be needed and he can play the point as well. Jared Cunningham should also be in the mix.
Turn Up the Volume
Dirk has it. Kevin Garnett REALLY has it: intensity. A championship team is a group that is more than the sum of its parts, and the 2010-2011 Mavs are an excellent example. Talent is no guarantee of success. Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Deshawn Stevenson and even Caron Butler are skilled players, but a lot of what they bring is something you don't see. Dallas was a franchise historically perceived as "soft," but became a scrappy, physical and emotional team during the championship run.
Jason Terry also liked to stoke the flames, but he's gone now, joining the uber-intense Garnett in Boston. The addition of Delonte West brought toughness and defense, but the team overall simply lacked those intangibles last year. Jared Cunningham and Bernard James appear to be the type of players that can help contribute what's lacking in that area, and with another physical post player or fiery point guard, perhaps the burning embers can ignite once again.
Steve Nash is quietly considered to be one of the most competitive players in the league—a relentlessly hard worker who can break his nose and keep right on going. Nash isn't as demonstrative as some, but everyone knows how focused and serious he is. In addition to the other reasons for considering him, Nash's leadership and drive are invaluable.
The missing elements are difficult to replace but not impossible. While there is no guarantee of team chemistry and some teams take time to gel, the Mavs championship run was made largely with new pieces. If these needs can be addressed and the gaps filled there is a good chance a return to the Finals in 2013 is not so far-fetched.
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