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Shawn Marion hasn't been a star for a while now, but the Dallas Mavericks combo forward has remained an excellent role player since leaving behind the run-and-gun offense of the Phoenix Suns in a midseason trade during the 2007-08 campaign.
A four-time All-Star with the Suns, Marion made stops in Miami and Toronto before landing in Dallas, where he played a critical part in the Mavs' championship run two years ago.
Marion's game has always been based on his superior athleticism. He's a remarkably quick jumper whose lift, combined with a wholly unorthodox offensive game, have made him an effective offensive player. On defense, Marion's length and versatility have made him a massive annoyance for opponents.
But after a renaissance year in 2010-11 that saw Marion post the best numbers and highest efficiency since his days in Phoenix, the Matrix regressed last season. His scoring averaged dipped to 10.6 points per game, the lowest average since his rookie year, and he was far less efficient from the field.
Marion's decline could be attributed to a championship hangover, but there's just too many examples of players like Marion—who desperately need their athleticism to get by—struggling to survive after their gifts start to dissipate.
The Mavericks struck out twice after taking big swings at Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this past offseason. But they rummaged through the scrap heap and came up with an interesting, but possibly very good, collection of talent to put around the ageless Dirk Nowitzki.
The Mavs need Marion this year more than ever.
Marion will be counted on to defend and rebound as he always has, but may also be forced to shoulder a larger scoring load without Jason Terry around this year.
If Marion's struggles last season were attributable to letting his foot off the gas after winning a title, and possibly the lockout-shortened training camp, he should be able to get in shape and showcase his unique combination of athletic talents for one more season.
But after this year, during which Marion will turn 35, betting on the 13-year veteran to keep things going is highly questionable. And if Marion needs a reminder of what happens to stud athletes after they lose their bounce, he can look down the bench at teammate Vince Carter, whose career fell off a cliff after his hops left him.
Marion's star has been fading for a few seasons, but it'll shine for one more year before age and declining athleticism snuff it out for good.