The Dallas Mavericks are a team with many questions going into the 2012-2013 season.
After a disappointing title defense last year which saw them get swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas made drastic changes in the offseason by losing Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and signing and trading for a slew of new players such as Chris Kaman, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo and Elton Brand.
After losing out on Deron Williams, many questioned whether Dallas would be able to form a competitive team for next season, but with all their additions joining key returners, Dallas should figure to be a player in the West next season.
One area where Dallas particularly excels is in its number of experienced veterans. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, Dallas has a strong core group of experienced vets who should be the backbone of next year's squad and help Rick Carlisle develop the team's younger players.
In addition to Nowitzki, Brand, Kaman and Vince Carter all have been All-Stars before and still have plenty of gas left in the tank to help the team both on the court and in the locker room.
However, there is one Maverick veteran who will be the clear X-factor for the team's success next season.
"The Matrix," Shawn Marion, is entering his fourth season with the Mavs and has been exactly what Dallas has needed him to be since coming to the team.
During Dallas' championship run in 2011, it was Marion's defense and consistent scoring and rebounding that helped make the difference in the playoff series against Portland, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Miami.
Marion is nowhere near the level he enjoyed during his prime in Phoenix when he was scoring over 20 points per game and was an All-Star, but Matrix is still one of the Mavericks' most capable scorers and is still the team's best defender.
However, Marion will need to continue, if not improve his game next season if Dallas is going to challenge in the deep Western Conference due to the the amount of questions Dallas has with the rest of its roster.
Dirk Nowitzki is still among the best scorers in the league, but this will be his first season in nearly 10 years without his batterymate Jason Terry, and it remains to be seen if the loss of Jet will affect Dirk's production.
Kaman and Brand will make for a solid one-two combination up front, but they are also on the downside of their careers, and are prone to injuries at any time.
While Collison and Mayo look like great additions on paper, it is worth noting that they both have failed to live up to expectations thus far in their careers, and were coming off the bench in Indiana and Memphis respectively last season.
If any of those players fail to produce like Dallas hopes this season, it will be Marion who will be relied on to pick up the slack.
Marion plays at the one position where Dallas does not have a deep bench to back him up.
The only two other small forwards on Dallas' roster are rookie second-round pick Jae Crowder out of Marquette and Serbian Tadija Dragicevic, who also hasn't played an NBA game.
Marion will be relied to carry the minutes at small forward and also at times move down to play the power forward position.
One thing that Rick Carlisle has excelled at since coming to Dallas is turning the Mavs from one of the worst defensive teams in the league to one of the best and most consistent. A large reason for that has been the play of Marion, who uses his quickness, length and athleticism to match up often with the opposing team's top offensive threat.
This season will be no different. Even at age 34, Marion remains the Mavericks' top perimeter defender and will be likely tasked with facing men like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant on a consistent basis.
Although the Mavericks will need solid contributions across the board next year if they are going to surprise in the West and be a top-five team, it may very well be Marion who will be the team's biggest X-factor and makes the difference in whether or not Dallas is a boom or a bust in 2012-2013.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!