Dallas Mavericks 2012: The Dirty Half Dozen and Evaluating the New Lineup
The dismantling of the 2011 Mavericks Championship team is not a decision I would have supported even in the unlikely event that the planets had aligned and both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard had ended up on the roster—to me, that would have been luck. Retooling has given way to something more along the lines of rebuilding now that the most desired high-profile free agents have committed elsewhere.
One thing Dallas has remained consistent about is staying the course in regard to staying under the salary cap in the hopes of making a splash in the free agent market, which will now be a focus for 2013.
In the meantime, fans have remained hopeful of somehow fielding a competitive team around Dirk Nowitski, who has himself said that he's too old for rebuilding.
With losses primarily from free agency coupled with retirements and trades, the next Maverick team to hit the court will be barely recognizable from the champions of 2011. So far six new players will be joining the team though the draft and trades. Here's how the current roster looks to be shaping up by position.
UPDATE FRIDAY, JULY 13: The roster now has seven new players with the addition of Elton Brand and the Mavericks remain interested in Luis Scola and Jose Calderon.
With the losses of both Jason Kidd and JJ Barea along with sometimes-playmaker Jason Terry, the Mavericks needed to refill at the point guard spot.
With primary targets Deron Williams, Steve Nash and other big names signing elsewhere it's been anybody's guess who the Mavs might land but Darren Collison certainly wasn't on the list. An unexpected trade bringing Collison to Dallas along with Dahntay Jones in exchange for Ian Mahinmi seems to be an interesting move for both teams.
Even since Barea's departure, the Mavs hadn't entirely decided who was going to run the point behind Jason Kidd. The job had primarily fallen to Delonte West, who as of yet remains unsigned, Roddy Beaubois, who has shown flashes of brilliance but hasn't earned enough confidence from the coaches to earn a permanent starting job, and Dominque Jones who played well in sparse time.
All three are considered to be primarily shooting guards, as is draft pick Jared Cunningham, although he too seems capable of running the point and has expressed interest in doing so.
Collison was strong enough to be on the All-Rookie team in 2010 and start for a solid Indiana team. He has put up respectable numbers since his standout career at UCLA, although he has not yet risen back to the impressive play he showed while starting for the injured Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans—an outstanding 18.8 points and 9.1 assists per game.
Overall his game is well-rounded as he also gets his share of steals and is a good free-throw shooter. There has been some sentiment that he would benefit from a change of scenery and now it appears he'll get a chance to prove it.
Assuming Collison becomes the starter, it is as of yet uncertain if the Mavericks will try to find another pure point guard or leave the backup duties to West, Beaubois, Jones or Cunningham.
In any case, with Kidd, Barea and Terry all gone it will be a very different Maverick backcourt. Dallas will still have a good mix of potential scoring inside and outside so finding the right chemistry with playmakers will be critical if the Mavs are to remain competitive.
With Jason Terry now departed the Mavericks will have a logjam of opportunity at shooting guard. Most of last year's minutes outside of Terry went to Vince Carter and Delonte West. Carter has been re-signed and while he's not the Vince Carter of old, he certainly showed last year that he's more than capable of contributing when called upon.
Delonte West missed much of the season with a broken finger but when healthy he was a valuable contributor on both ends of the floor including much-needed perimeter defense.
It may be make-or-break time for Roddy B, who has often performed spectacularly when given the minutes. His ability to score inside or outside along with a penchant for steals and blocks is almost too good to not hand over the reins long enough to give him a throrough evaluation.
The other option will be rookie Jared Cunningham. As mentioned previously he is interested in playing the point and may very well get an opportunity to do so, although a hamstring injury may prevent him from summer league participation which is critical to preparing him to take on that role in the NBA. Chances are Rick Carlisle will experiment with different options since he has a surplus of combo guards.
In Phoenix, Shawn Marion made a name for himself as a potent scorer and achieved All-Star status playing alongside Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire. While his scoring average isn't what it used to be he shows few signs of aging and without any plays designed for him is still dangerous cutting to the basket off knocking down three-pointers.
Still, "The Matrix" is best known to those following him today for his tenacious defense including an ability to guard other positions. He is usually assigned to the other team's strongest offensive players and many fans were understandably outraged when he was left off this year's All-Defensive Team. Marion also remains an outstanding rebounder for his size. Truly few players in the league have ever had a comparable all-around game.
While Vince Carter may see some minutes at the 3 as well, particularly when offense is needed, there will be opportunities for newcomers.
On draft day the Mavs obtained Cleveland's pick Jae Crowder, fresh out of a strong season at Marquette where he averaged 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds and was awarded Big East Player of the Year honors. He has a reputation for high energy and good defense which makes him a prime candidate for making an impact in the rotation.
The other addition at small forward would be Dahntay Jones, who has as of yet not distinguished himself. In starting roles with the Nuggets and Pacers he has never managed to average more than 10 points or anything impressive in any other categories. He may have a hard time getting significant minutes over Marion, Carter and Crowder although he is considered a good wing defender as well. That was not enough for Corey Brewer, who had his moments but ultimately didn't gain significant playing time or a permanent roster spot.
Overall with the addition of Crowder the Mavs seem to have improved their stock here.
For a decade in Dallas it's been Dirk Nowitzki and then whatever else at the 4. However, with budding prospects who can contribute and a need for both offense and defense in the low post, it may be time for others to be giving an opportunity.
In addition, Dirk is pushing 35 and although he's still playing at a level comparable to his prime, that won't last forever. Dirk has been amazingly durable and cheated the hangman in many ways but it's time to add to the arsenal.
Last year former lottery pick Brandan Wright once again showed signs of the promise that made him a lottery pick in 2007. Having battled injuries much of his career, last season was the best for Wright since his second year in Golden State and in the limited playing time he had, mostly at center, he managed to cut into Ian Mahinmi's time even though Mahinmi started out the year with a bang.
Wright is a superior athlete around the rim and last year shot a personal best and team-high 62 percent from the field. Unfortunately he is not physically well-suited to play bulky NBA centers so his best chance to excel on both ends of the floor will likely be at the 4 position.
With some new offensive firepower on the front line coming with Chris Kaman and Jae Crowder it may be a good time to increase Wright's minutes. In addition, it's worth experimenting with Dirk playing more at center.
Yi Jianlian showed he could put up decent numbers in New Jersey but hasn't been given much of a chance since. Historically he has shown a fairly polished and decently rounded offensive game, not unlike a poor man's Dirk or Pau Gasol.
Defensively he needs a little more work and he's not physical enough for his size but with some targeted coaching, he most surely has potential and he's still very young. As his game is more like Dirk's in contrast to Wright, they offer alternative approaches to getting the ball in the basket which is better than having a one-dimensional roster.
Finally, it makes sense that rookie Bernard James may see some time at power forward as well. At 6' 10" James is a touch physical player who won't get pushed around by taller guys but as a defensive specialist the Mavs may need time to determine where he is best suited to play and again, minutes at the 4 are Dirk's to lose.
There is discussion that the Mavericks will put in a bid on the recently amnestied Elton Brand; however, unless he can be obtained at a bargain price, I am not in favor of that move. At his age and declining ability, there is not enough immediate impact or upside to justify having him as opposed to developing the young guns mentioned above. I like the idea of Luis Scola a little bit better but with the same concerns. Brand only has a one year contract; Scola's is three so Brand might be the safer choice although I think he has more to offer. Either way, I favor giving the young guys more time.
UPDATE, FRIDAY JULY 13: Mavericks claim Elton Brand off waivers and remain interested in Luis Scola
I have written extensively that while all the focus has been on the point guards the Mavericks wanted and subsequently didn't manage to sign, the top priority should have been finding some defense and scoring in the low post.
Of the available centers, Chris Kaman has the most well-rounded game for a player who won't break the bank and has the added advantage of being a teammate of Dirk's playing for Germany.
Kaman is a hard worker who gives the team the things they have lacked the most since Tyson Chandler left—scoring and rebounding down low, along with competent, if unspectacular, defense. Signing Kaman is a big win for the Mavericks and getting him to agree to a one-year deal is even better.
With Brendan Haywood on the amnesty block and Ian Mahinmi traded to Indiana in the deal that brought Collison and Jones, the Mavs will be looking at a complete revamp of the center position.
Kaman's backup will likely be Bernard James, a strong rebounder and defender, unless they give more minutes to Yi Jianlian who has more offensive upside. I am also an advocate for playing Dirk more at the 5 and giving Brandon Wright minutes at the 4, which would also work with other strong post players such as James or Elton Brand.
Rick Carlisle has proven to be a first-rate NBA coach and this year may prove to be his greatest challenge but with potentially the greatest rewards. If he can make this team into any type of contender they will be in excellent position to finally land one of the big fish they were hoping for next year.