The Dallas Mavericks' Top Training Camp Storylines
The Mavericks were NBA champions just two seasons ago, but last year they fell off the map, falling back to seventh place in the West, and getting swept out of the first round.
From the 2011 championship team, only two-fifths of the starting lineup still remain (not to mention key reserves Jason Terry and JJ Barea also departed), and even from last year's squad there have been significant changes.
All of it adds up to a team to certainly be on the lookout for in 2012-2013, and here are some of Dallas's top storylines going into next season.
Who Will Lose Out in the Crowded Backcourt?
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One area that Dallas will certainly excel in next season is depth, especially in their backcourt.
Returning from last season are the underrated Delonte West, former superstar Vince Carter, and youngsters Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones.
During the offseason, Dallas also brought in point guard Darren Collison and 2-guard Dahntay Jones from Indiana, and shooting guard O.J. Mayo from Memphis. Furthermore, they spent their first-round pick on guard Jared Cunningham out of Oregon State.
All of it adds up to Dallas not being able to find playing time for all their players in the backcourt.
Logically someone will have to lose out on time, especially at shooting guard. Beaubois and Dominique Jones have potential, but both have had opportunities in the past to show what they are made of, so don't be surprised if they sit on the bench or even get traded during the season.
Another candidate for docked time would be Carter, since the veteran's skill set is rapidly declining at age 35.
Will West or Beaubois Challenge Collison at Starting Point Guard?
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When Darren Collison was brought over in the offseason trade to the Mavericks, it was with the assumption that he would be the team's starting point guard next season.
While he may still very well take the job, don't expect it to be as clear-cut as some may think.
Remember that Indiana believed that Collison would be their point guard of the future as well when they brought him in after his rookie season in New Orleans. However, by the time last year's playoffs came around, Collison was officially the backup to George Hill, and in the offseason the Pacers were willing to trade him away for a backup center.
Collison may have a breakout season next year, but if he struggles out of the gate, don't be surprised if Delonte West makes a move for the starting spot.
West is an experienced player who really played excellently for Dallas last season, even starting 33 games for the Mavericks.
Also, don't count out Roddy Beaubois to make a push for the starting spot.
If Beaubois ever reaches his full potential, he could outshine both players, but the question now with Beaubois seems to be more "if" than "when".
Still, Beaubois could be in line for a standout year if given sufficient minutes, and Collison should not feel secure with his starting spot until he earns it on the court.
How Much Will the Loss of Jason Terry and Jason Kidd Hurt Them?
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Simply put, Jason Terry was the Mavericks' second-best player for the last eight seasons.
Terry always scored in bunches, stepped up in the clutch, was willing to accept his role as a sixth man, and was a great No. 2 option behind Dirk Nowitzki.
Although those outside of the circle in Dallas may depreciate what Terry brings to the table, make no mistake of just how valuable he was, and how much the Mavs will miss his presence next season.
The same can be said to a lesser extent about Jason Kidd. Kidd's skills are nothing close to what they used to be, and last season he had his least productive ever. Nevertheless, he was still a veteran who knew how to win, and even at his age is one of the top five passers in the league.
Losing Terry and Kidd will no doubt make things difficult for Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki, but it will be up to the rest of the team to determine just how much Mavericks fans will be clamoring for the guards of old come midseason.
Can O.J. Mayo Become a Star in Dallas?
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When he was drafted out of USC in 2008, many expected O.J. Mayo to be an All-Star sooner rather than later in the NBA.
In his first two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies he seemed to be well on his way, averaging a combined 18 points a game.
In the last two seasons, however, Mayo was relegated to a sixth man role, leaving many questions about how good he can really be at the NBA level.
Next year in Dallas, Mayo will have every chance to prove just how effective he can be when he is getting sufficient touches on offense.
Mayo is the clear No. 2 option for the Mavericks next season, so expect his scoring numbers to go way up.
It won't all be about scoring, however, if Mayo wants to turn into a star. In order for Mayo to achieve that status, he will have to be scoring at a high volume while maintaining a relatively decent shooting percentage, as well as playing stellar defense and helping the Mavericks win games.
If Mayo can put it all together next year, Dallas may have found their next great shooting guard.
Can Chris Kaman and Elton Brand Stay Healthy?
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Dallas also made significant efforts in the offseason to stabilize their frontcourt with the additions of veterans Chris Kaman and Elton Brand to join Dirk Nowitzki next season.
On paper, the additions of Brand and Kaman seem to be two great moves. Both are former All-Star players, and even at their advanced ages, they still have proven to be solid contributors in recent seasons.
Also, Dallas has almost never had any real talent (outside of Tyson Chandler) at the center position in the Dirk Nowitzki era, and both men now will provide some much needed talent and depth to Dallas up front.
However, the one lingering question that remains is if either of them can stay healthy for a complete season.
Kaman has missed an average of 30 games over the last five seasons with various injuries, and although it seems to have been minor, Kaman already suffered a back injury in the team's first day of training camp practice.
Brand has also missed a great deal of time in his career with injuries. He missed most of the 2007 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, had season ending shoulder surgery in 2009, and has suffered from other less serious injuries here and there in recent years.
If Brand and/or Kaman go down with an injury, it will absolutely cripple the Mavs' season. Dallas needs both of them to be at 100 percent and playing at their best all season long if they want to contend.
Will Dirk Nowitzki Be at His Best?
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As it has been with regularity since 1998, the Dallas Mavericks go as Dirk Nowitzki goes.
If Dallas is going to be in contention for their second NBA championship in three years, they will need Nowitzki to be at his absolute best each and every night.
Although Dirk ended up an All-Star, and made the All-NBA Third Team last season, there seemed to have been a little missing spark in his step.
It easily could have just been because of the lockout shortened season, or it could have been a championship hangover, but Nowitzki will need to be in 2011 form all season long for Dallas to be at their best next season.
Dirk is 34, so he doesn't have an infinite number of years left to be at an elite level. If Nowitzki wants to become a multi-time NBA champion, he has only a few seasons at most remaining to complete the job.
Today, there has been news that Dirk's lingering knee issues may result in surgery, according to Adi Joseph of USA Today Sports.
Although the surgery would only likely keep Nowitzki out for a couple weeks, the last thing Dallas needs is a less than 1000 percent Dirk Nowitzki stepping onto the court come opening night.
Are the Mavericks Contenders or Pretenders?
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Few teams may cause more debates among NBA fans and experts everywhere when making preseason predictions than the Dallas Mavericks.
Some have Dallas down as a top-10 team in the league because of all of the new additions and improvements the team has made, specifically bringing in Mayo, Collison, Brand and Kaman.
Others believe the Mavericks are too old and lack the talent needed to even make the playoffs in the always loaded Western Conference next season.
While few are expecting the Mavericks to win the title or even challenge the Lakers or Thunder in the West, after that, predictions seem to be all over the map.
So that begs the question of whether the Mavericks are contenders or pretenders next year.
I feel as though Dallas is a contender to be a top-five team in the West next season, but it will all rely on just how well the new additions mesh with returners like Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, as well as how they fit in with Rick Carlisle.
Mark Cuban did his best to field a competitive team after missing out on Deron Williams, but many fans may be left thinking of what might have been if the Mavericks are unable to make a push in the postseason when it is all said and done.