Dallas Mavericks 2012: Have the Mavericks Addressed Offseason Priorities?
Gee Mark, if I’d wanted to ride a ROLLER COASTER I would have taken a trip to SIX FLAGS…
Nevertheless, the emotionally-exhausted Maverick fan base must be cautiously optimistic that Cuban & Co. seem to once again be in the kitchen making chicken salad, even if the original ingredient was a poultry compost of their own creation.
I haven’t been shy about my feelings regarding the dissolution of the 2011 NBA Champions, much of which was only loosely about just basketball. Ironically, at least one more famous like-minded individual is now drawing more attention to the original decision thanks to the recent festivities on Twitter.
Regardless, you can’t change the past and I don’t think anyone anticipated how bad things would get. Once everyone swallowed the huge pill that there was no chance whatsoever of defending the title, the arrival of Lamar Odom and Vince Carter provided hope for a decent stop-gap year while waiting for the Dwight Howard/Deron Williams sweepstakes. When Delonte West came in and played well, and Ian Mahinmi and Brendan Wright seemed to be finally hitting their strides, there was hope.
Then things started to unravel again. Odom had perhaps the biggest inexplicable check-out in NBA history, other Mavericks struggled with injuries and started to show their age, D12 decided to hang around in Orlando for another year and the Mavericks ended up with a mediocre record and a quick exit from the playoffs.
The off-season didn’t start out much better. After losing out on DWill and Steve Nash, the Mavs sat by while many of the most desirable free agents went elsewhere, including Jason Kidd and Jason Terry.
Then came the calls for trading Dirk. Expectations are that the next several years will be in the lottery.
I wasn’t happy with the way things had been going either but I did retain enough optimism to envision scenarios in which the Mavericks could not only be competitive but set particular priorities to return to the NBA Finals right away.
After all, teams assembling a trio of stars these days usually get there in a hurry. More importantly, the 2011 Champs not only did NOT have a such a “Big 3” but the majority of key contributors were only in their first or second year with the team.
The right mix of players with not only talent but chemistry, along with good coaching, isn’t always easy to predict. The Mavericks’ championship team is a testament to that.
When Dallas finally started making personnel moves this season, the talent of the front office started to shine once again. No, you can’t change the past but you can be successful starting almost from scratch.
I believe it is a foregone conclusion that Dallas should continue to be a playoff team but is there a possibility that they could surprise everyone and be a legitimate contender?
Earlier this summer I made a short list of priorities that the Mavericks needed to address in order to get back on track. Let’s look at which of those have been addressed as well as new holes that needed to be plugged once free agency began. Using the 2011 Champions rather than last year as a measuring stick, here's an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the new lineup in comparison.
Priority No.1: Help Down Low
My top priority for the offseason was help down low, primarily on defense but on offense as well. Defensively it would be hard to find anyone on par with Tyson Chandler but he also didn’t have much help. His backup, Brendan Haywood, is a presence in the lane but lacks quickness, foot speed and mobility.
By contrast Chris Kaman is a competent if unspectacular defender and Elton Brand is considered among the NBA’s defensive elite—arguably comparable to Shawn Marion in being one of the most unappreciated defenders in the league. When you add rookie defensive specialist Bernard James, my impression is a comparable if not better defensive presence in the paint than in 2011.
The team's offense, however, is a completely different story. 2011 was a renaissance for Dallas in that a historically offensive-minded team became a feisty defensive squad too. The irony is that in all the years of offensive glory, Dallas had always been primarily a jump shooting team and that didn’t change dramatically, even though Chandler and Marion certainly got their share of points in the paint.
Chris Kaman has a considerably more-developed offensive game than Tyson Chandler even though we won’t see him on the receiving end of any alley-oops.
Comfortable under the basket or with a jumper, Kaman may be the best offensive center who’s ever been a Maverick.
Elton Brand is also a multi-faceted offensive player and if he can fight off the injuries and the hands of time he will also be one of the stronger post players Dallas has had.
Brandan Wright showed excellent promise last year and with his athleticism and improved strength, many feel that he can be a star in this league.
On the boards, Kaman is a notch under Chandler (but very close) and Brand is a significant upgrade to previous backup centers and forwards. With Dirk, James and Wright behind them, Dallas has a combination of experience and athleticism. There is no reason why Dallas shouldn’t be able to control the boards and the paint.
It is also notable that Kaman has played with both Dirk and Elton Brand previously, which should help.
Overall, there is a lot to be said for the way Tyson Chandler plays. He is one of those guys that seems to make everyone around him better. That being said, next year’s bigs will have the tools to exceed expectations and maybe even perform at a level beyond their 2011 counterparts.
Priority No.2: Playmaker, Facilitator, Point Guard
The Mavericks started the offseason looking help at the point, preferably Deron Williams, but plan A, B, C and D all fell through and then Kidd bolted as well.
You can’t take away from the kind of leadership and smart decision-making that Jason Kidd brings. In 2010-2011 he was still playing at a high level, particularly in assists and shooting from three-point land. Behind him was JJ Barea, who brought instant offense off the bench as well as a knack for running right past defenders to score.
Dallas spent most of the last decade with two of the best point guards ever to play the game. Yet they made the finals in 2006 without either of them. The Mavericks still have a plethora of combo guards available in Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones and the recently-resigned Delonte West. They also drafted another combo guard, named Jared Cunningham. Recent signee O.J. Mayo has also expressed interest in running the point.
At the beginning of the summer Dallas was looking for one superstar and that turned into a total revamp of the point but one that didn’t include a prominent NBA point guard with Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin, Goran Dragic and other desirable free agents signing elsewhere. Eventually, Dallas did land a point guard who was totally off the radar when they traded for Darren Collison.
The Mavericks have also been in talks to trade for Jose Calderon, who is much more in the mold of Nash and Kidd as an effective floor leader, smart passer and decent scorer. However, for the time being the job seems to be in the hands of Collison, brought in from Indiana with Dahntay Jones in a trade for Ian Mahinmi.
Assuming Collison is the starter when the season begins, it will be about as different a look for a Maverick point guard as it gets.
Collison was good enough to start for Indiana but he lost his job to George Hill midway through last season. He has youth and athleticism on his side and is considered competent offensively and is an aggressive defender. Overall, however, he has been generally regarded as ideal for a solid backup rather than a starter so it won’t be surprising if the Mavericks continue to pursue Calderon.
I have said all along that a presence in the paint is a pivotal factor in the success of a point guard and the lack of it was one of several problems that affected Jason Kidd’s play last year.
This squad is still in flux so it remains to be seen how they will perform. With Collison’s solid athleticism, scoring ability and defense and help down low from the new bigs, there is certainly the potential to have solid production out of the point but it is simply to early to guess how it will compare to the squad two years prior.
Assessment: Priority addressed
Priority No. 3: Emotion
Almost everyone acknowledges Tyson Chandler’s contributions on the floor but not everyone recognizes the enthusiasm and intensity he plays with day in and day out both on the court and in the locker room.
A consummate teammate, his persona is one of the many reasons I would have argued to keep him rather than chasing Dwight Howard. A number of other former Mavericks on the championship squad were also known for being intense, emotional players—JJ Barea and Jason Terry for starters.
I grew up idolizing the Dallas Cowboys, who sent away very talented players such as Duane Thomas and Lance Rentzel at the slightest sign of off-the-field issues. That is not the way of today’s professional sports so I’m hoping the Mavericks haven’t made a mistake in bringing in O.J. Mayo and his seemingly never-ending flirtation with questionable if not serious issues.
Overall, the draftees appear to be high-energy players and that is a big plus. For a team that needed a shot of youth, a little youthful exuberance is welcome as well.
It’s too early to predict how all these new parts will mesh. There were only two players left from the 2006 Finals who were still around the second time through five years later and now the Mavericks have managed to have just as much turnover in only two years. There is unquestionably a lot of potential.
Priority No. 4: Shooting Guard
Since my first assessment of the offseason priorities, other needs have surfaced…
At the time of my first prescription Jason Terry’s status was still up in the air and it was presumed he would likely return. It was also presumed that the Mavericks would also resign Delonte West. After that, with a slew of young combo guards, there wasn’t much question as to how things would go.
But with Terry gone to the Celtics and West’s status unknown, the Mavs made a move for OJ Mayo. Whatever troubles he may have, Mayo provides potential for a significant offensive punch coming from the 2 spot.
For many years now Dallas has seen most of its offense (other than the contributions of perennial leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki) come from Jason Terry, who is a shooting guard but also never a starter. This somewhat changes the dynamic. The numbers are still there but the method and timing will be different with Mayo as a starter.
Vince Carter should do an admirable job off the bench backing up Mayo and Shawn Marion at small forward. The personnel will be very different but this combination has the potential to surpass the 2011 squad as both Mayo and Carter are versatile scorers. Anyone else who gets time in the rotation will likely only do so by earning it.
Defensively Deshawn Stevenson’s presence was missed last year except for the arrival of Delonte West. Mayo is a good if somewhat inconsistent defender and there is hope a change of scenery and being under Rick Carlisle’s wing will smooth out the rough edges.
Vince Carter has lost a step but has a very high basketball IQ. Delonte West has proven he can perform on both ends of the floor and as it looks as if the Mavs are indeed going to resign him, he will contribute on both ends of the floor. As mentioned previously, whoever remains on the roster from the current group of young combo guards will only be playing if their performance merits it.
If anything can't be easily replaced it would be the certainty of Jason Terry in the clutch. That will be missed, although this group certainly has the potential.
Priority No. 5: the Three Ball
The 2010-2011 Mavericks were blessed with four of the top 3-point shooters in the history of the NBA in Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Peja Stojacovich plus Dirk. In addition to Deshawn Stevenson and JJ Barea were able to hit consistently from downtown.
Ironically, after Steve Novak left the Mavericks and moved on to the Knicks he led the league in three-point shooting. Now that all of those guys save Dirk are gone it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to assemble a downtown bomb squad of that caliber.
There are certainly players who can hit the three but no one who has done it as routinely as the guys listed above. Someone will certainly have to step up and Dirk, Vince Carter and Delonte West may be called upon to launch from long range more often.
Dahntay Jones is also decent if not consistent from behind the arch but his role on the team remains to be seen.
Priority No. 6: Perimeter Defense
Shawn Marion is the other remaining rotation player from the champs besides Dirk and he continues to play stellar defense.
With Delonte West’s return and more youth and athleticism in the backcourt, wing defense shouldn't be an issue.
Dahntay Jones, brought in the trade from Indiana with Darren Collison, is primarily a defensive specialist. Collison himself is considered an above-average defender. Rookies Jared Cunningham and Jae Crowder are both regarded as hustle guys with quickness but it is undetermined as of yet how much they’ll figure into the rotation. Overall, perimeter defense should be improved save for the loss of Stevenson and having better interior defense should allow the guards to be more aggressive.
When I started formulating how the Mavericks could return to the finals, even with substantial changes it was still centered around a core of Dirk, Terry, Kidd, Marion and Delonte West. Kidd and Terry have since departed.
There simply is no history of the totality of this group playing together. As of right now we’re looking at three or five new starters and most of the rest of the team as well. In theory they look to be an improvement on the front line offensively and defensively, and have the potential of being better in the backcourt as well; however a great deal of veteran savvy has been exchanged for youth.
It’s that all-elusive chemistry and development of young players that will ultimately determine how well these parts will mesh. Although he is considered a top-flight NBA coach, Rick Carlisle is not especially known for development of rookies and this year there are chances for many young players to contribute to this team. We’ll be watching with great anticipation.
-- Craig Berlin
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