Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and O.J. Mayo spearheaded a scrappy team that fought valiantly as Nowitzki recovered from a knee injury, but Dallas could not quite overcome the void left by its 11-time All-Star.
The 2013-14 season, however, brings a revitalized spirit back to Dallas, as Nowitzki is primed for a full season, and a couple big-name players were signed during free agency.
Highlighted by seven new guards, the new-look Mavericks will open the season with a fresh backcourt. Head coach Rick Carlisle has just six returning players, and each of them played a valuable role in Dallas' frontcourt last year.
The Mavericks are loaded with talent, but how soon can Carlisle find the winning lineup? Though the question may not be answered immediately, Dirk Nowitzki will be focused on leading his Dallas team back to the postseason.
Mavericks 2012-13 Results
- 41-41 record
- 4th in Southwest Division
- 10th in Western Conference
- Missed Playoffs
It's not easy for a team to win without its star player.
Nowitzki sat the first 27 games of the season, and he eased back into the rotation upon his return. Considering the circumstances, Dallas managed to start the season at with respectable 12-15 record.
But ultimately, a 2-13 stretch doomed the Mavs as they eventually missed the playoffs by four games. It was the first time Dallas did not earn a playoff berth in 12 seasons, and Carlisle underwent his first non-winning season as the Mavericks' coach.
Nine players were allowed to walk during the offseason, and focus soon turned to improving the roster for the 2013-14 campaign.
No, team chemistry is not wondering if the Mavericks' signees are friends with the incumbent Dallas players.
The real question is can they play together? And how quickly will they become familiar with each other's styles and tendencies that games become second-nature?
As mentioned earlier, seven new guards are on the roster, and not a single backcourt player returns from the 2012-13 roster.
Nowitzki is the undisputed star, but throughout his career, Monta Ellis has shown the desire to be the primary shot-taker. Jose Calderon facilitates and shoots three-pointers at a high level, but both Ellis and Calderon are borderline defensive liabilities.
It should eventually become a non-issue, but Nowitzki, Marion and Carter must adapt to what Ellis, Calderon and the other guards bring—or lack—to the team.
Dallas signed three new starters in Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert.
Last season, Calderon entered 73 games—the most he has played since the 2007-08 season—splitting time with the Toronto Raptors before being traded to the Detroit Pistons. The 6'3" point guard led the league, knocking down 46.1 percent of shots from behind the arc, and he also averaged 7.1 assists per game.
Ellis spent the last season-and-change with the Milwaukee Bucks, playing 103 games alongside a promising young point guard in Brandon Jennings. But Ellis jumped ship at first opportunity and, per Hoopsworld, signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Mavs.
Veteran center Samuel Dalembert was signed to a two-year contract and is expected to provide more impactful defense on the defensive end of the floor.
Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and Elton Brand were key players for the Mavericks last season, but each player has another home in the league.
Collison split point-guard duties with Mike James and Derek Fisher, appearing in a career-high 81 games and starting 47 of them. Collison led Dallas with 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game while tallying 12.0 points, but he signed with the Indiana Pacers during the offseason.
Mayo started all 82 games and was the second on the team in scoring and assists, netting 15.3 points and dishing 4.4 dimes per contest. Mayo essentially swapped places with Ellis and headed north to join the Bucks.
Kaman and Brand managed just 20.7 and 21.2 minutes per game, respectively, but the duo comprised the Mavericks' primary interior defenders. Kaman averaged 10.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks, and Brand posted relatively similar numbers, accounting for 7.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per outing.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|2013-14 Dallas Mavericks Depth Chart|
|PG||Jose Calderon||Devin Harris||Gal Mekel||Shane Larkin|
|SG||Monta Ellis||Wayne Ellington||Ricky Ledo|
|SF||Shawn Marion||Vince Carter||Jae Crowder|
|PF||Dirk Nowitzki||DeJuan Blair|
|C||Samuel Dalembert||Brandan Wright||Bernard James|
Darren Collison ran the point last season, but Dallas allowed him to walk and signed Jose Calderon—one of the best passers in the league. Additionally, James, Fisher, Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones were not retained.
Calderon is now surrounded by more weapons than he ever had previously, and he tallied at least 8.3 assists per game four times with Toronto.
One-time Maverick Devin Harris returns to Dallas and brings nine years of NBA experience to the second-string role. His stats have dropped significantly, but Harris will be a reliable ball-handler off the bench.
Former Wichita State point guard Gal Mekel was signed away from the Israeli League where he won the MVP award twice. Mekel is learning the ropes of the NBA and has played at least 19 minutes in every preseason game, averaging 6.2 points, 5.4 assists and 3.6 turnovers per contest.
Mekel, however, will be thrown into the gauntlet as the backup guard as Harris recovers from his injury, and Carlisle isn't expecting Harris to return until December or January.
After a breakout season at the University of Miami, Shane Larkin was acquired in a first-round trade with the Atlanta Hawks. Larkin is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, but he was a defensive menace in the collegiate ranks.
Dallas addressed its 2-guard need during the offseason by acquiring—like at point guard—an entirely new unit.
Second to only Nowitzki, Monta Ellis will be the Mavericks' most respected offensive threat. Ellis has scored 19.4 points per game and is a career 45.6 percent shooter.
Defensively, however, is the department in which Ellis lacks motivation. With a career 110 defensive rating (per Basketball-Reference), Ellis is in no danger of being mentioned in a lockdown-defender discussion, let alone being a reliable one.
But Ellis' shortcomings will be aided by Wayne Ellington, who is serviceable on the defensive end and demands attention as a three-point shooter. Ellington has been proving his worth during the preseason, connecting on 11 of his 23 long-distance attempts.
Ricky Ledo sat out his freshman season at Providence due to academic issues, but Dallas took a shot on the unproven guard by snagging him from Milwaukee on draft day. Ledo has plenty of potential, but he basically jumped from high school to the NBA, so his pro prospects are ultimately unknown.
Unquestionably the area with the least amount of change, the small forward position is Dallas' only unit that holds exclusively returning players.
Shawn Marion is "Mr. Everything" for the Mavericks, noticeably contributing in each of the points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks departments last season. Marion also guarded the opposition's biggest offensive threat, and Dallas will need Marion in that regard more than ever as the Western Conference collectively improved once again.
Vince Carter retains his role as the Mavs' sixth-man, and the 16-year veteran provides a valuable offensive spark off the bench. Carter scored 13.5 points and grabbed 4.1 rebounds during his 25.8 minutes of action per game.
The Mavericks' energy guy, Jae Crowder enters his sophomore NBA season as the third-stringer who will be fighting for playing time. Crowder may not be a big offensive contributor, but as Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes, he proves his worth on defense.
Dirk Nowitzki is rather important to the Mavericks.
Dallas clearly missed its superstar's presence early on during the 2012-13 season, and Dirk could not carry a simply average supporting cast into the playoffs.
At 17.3 and 6.8 rebounds points per game, Nowitzki registered his lowest primary-statistic averages since his second NBA season. On the bright side, the 7-footer increased his three-point percentage from 36.8 percent to 41.4 percent, so he certainly hasn't lost his shooting stroke.
The Mavericks signed former San Antonio Spur DeJuan Blair to a one-year deal, and the undersized power forward will serve as Nowitzki's backup.
Blair makes up for his below-average size with physical and tenacious play in the low-post. In just eight minutes of work in a preseason game against Houston, Blair scored six points and grabbed six rebounds.
Sure, he may have committed four fouls, too, but a Nowitzki/Blair combination at power forward will be productive this season.
Samuel Dalembert can be best described as a very mediocre consolation prize after Dallas was shunned in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Dalembert is playing on his fifth team in five seasons, but he has been a reliable rebounder and shot-blocker—two things the Mavericks must improve this year.
Coming off the best season of his young career, backup center Brandan Wright will see playing of time throughout the 2013-14 campaign.
Once he returns from injury, that is.
Wright recently injured his shoulder during practice, and according to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Wright "did not sound overly optimistic about being ready to go for the opener."
Filling out the rotation is second-year pro Bernard James, a 6'10" lefty out of Florida State.
James averaged 9.9 minutes in his 46 appearances during his rookie season, and he will be called upon early in the season to fill Wright's void before likely returning to his end-of-the-bench role.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: Wayne Ellington
A first-round pick in the 2009 NBA draft out of North Carolina, Ellington has played for three teams during his four professional seasons.
Ellington is not an elite shooter by any stretch of the imagination, but he will be one of Dallas' more consistent trifecta-men and plays solid defense on the second unit.
The 6'4" shooting guard will find his biggest success by continuing to knock down three-pointers from his two best areas—the left corner and right wing.
When given 25.9 minutes per game over his 38 appearances with the Cleveland Cavaliers to finish last season, Ellington notched 10.4 points per game and shot 43.9 percent from the floor. His three-point percentage dropped to 37.1 clip, but who other than Kyrie Irving could create space for Ellington?
With the Mavericks, Ellington will have more open-shot opportunities since he will be on the floor with Carter, Nowitzki and occasionally Calderon.
Team MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
There is little debate about who the Mavericks' Most Valuable Player will be this season.
Dirk Nowitzki has been the driving force behind Dallas' perennial postseason appearances, and unsurprisingly, the Mavs missed the playoffs when Dirk missed one-third of 2012-13's regular-season games.
Nowitzki has played 81, 73, 62 and 52 games over the last four years, respectively, so his health is a logical concern. Similarly, Dirk's production has slowly decreased from 25.0 points and 7.7 rebounds to 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds during that time-span.
But unless the slow trend turns into a dramatic fall, Nowitzki will be the team's top player.
Most Disappointing Player: Samuel Dalembert
Last season, Samuel Dalembert had the most efficient per-36 minute line of his career.
The problem is, however, that he managed just 16.3 minutes per game. The question, then, is will Dalembert be expected to play 25-plus minutes every night—something he has not done since the 2009-10 season.
Carlisle justifiably criticized Dalembert for his lack of conditioning after the first preseason game. Since then, Dalembert has turned up the intensity, including a 13-point, seven-rebound, three-block performance against the Houston Rockets.
But with Wright sidelined early and the Mavericks having just four healthy power forward and centers combined, Dalembert's conditioning could eventually relegate him to the bench when Wright returns.
Player Most Likely To Be Traded: Devin Harris
Following his eventual return from injury, Devin Harris will be an asset to Dallas' backcourt.
But will he occupy a pivotal role?
If Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin form a formidable off-the-bench duo, what point it is there in keeping Harris? Mekel and Larkin are future backup point guards anyway, so Harris would simply be taking minutes.
Of course, this is primarily dependent on Mekel and Larkin making significant strides during the rookie season, but that is certainly doable.
Plus, Harris signed a one-year contract worth less than $1 million, so he is a cheap trading piece that does not require a long-term commitment from an interested team. NBA franchises are often looking for a reliable guard—hence Harris' signing in the first place—so, assuming he is healthy, Harris could easily be moved before the trade deadline.
Biggest Rivalry: Mavericks vs. Spurs
Death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Last season, Dallas was bested by Tim Duncan and Co. in all four meetings, and the Mavs lost by more than 25 points twice. Overall, Dallas has lost nine of the last 11 regular-season matchups with the Spurs and has not won a game in San Antonio since 2010.
In what has now become typical, the Spurs did not change much over the offseason, but the Mavericks will bring a fresh-faced squad to the 2013-14 edition of the in-state rivalry.
Plus, with the way both teams are projected to complete the regular season, the result could be a postseason showdown between Dallas and San Antonio.
"You honestly thought Dirk was regressing?"
Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis form a lethal offensive combination and propel the Mavericks to the fifth-seed in the West. Aided by Jose Calderon's passing, Wayne Ellington's improved outside-shooting and Dalembert's offensive rebounding, Carlisle's squad shows one of the league's most effective attacks.
Dallas' defensive weaknesses are overshadowed by its offensive prowess, and Shawn Marion continues to be a top-notch defender.
Nowitzki's steady decline in production is, in fact, a trend and not just a result of nagging injuries. Ellis, the Mavericks' No. 2 weapon, forces too many bad shots and dips below 40.0 percent shooting for the first time in his career.
On the defensive side end, Marion loses a step, and Dallas' opponents relentlessly attack its best defender while Calderon and Ellis continue to be liabilities on that side of the ball.
Dalembert fails to make a difference as a rebounder, and he has little impact on the interior, allowing easy layups and second-chance points.
After 36 wins and an 11th place finish, the Mavs undergo another season of roster changes with the expiring contracts of Shawn Marion and Vince Carter not being renewed.
Projected W-L Record and Playoff Result
The Mavericks are a playoff-caliber team, but there is simply too much talent in the Western Conference for Dallas to make a serious run at an NBA championship.
Although anything can happen in a seven-game series, the Mavs don't have the look of contending with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors.
Dallas grabs the eighth seed in a tightly contested playoff race before bowing out in the first round.
Win-Loss Prediction: 45-37
Note: All contract information via Hoopsworld.com.