How Dallas Mavericks Snuck Back into the NBA Title Conversation

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2014

DALLAS, TX - MAY 02:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 2, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The 2011 champions just might be back for more.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has made significant strides this summer in restoring his franchise to contender status. With the splashy acquisition of restricted free agent Chandler Parsons and several smaller moves, general manager and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson has no doubt made his boss proud.

In the process, he's also given the iconic Dirk Nowitzki serious reason to be hopeful. As the 36-year-old looks to snag a second title before his career winds to a close, the Mavericks suddenly have the personnel to threaten established powerhouses like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and—to a lesser degree—the Los Angeles Clippers.

Of course, Mavericks fans will quickly remind you this team didn't miss the mark by much against those Spurs in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. Dallas took San Antonio to a seventh game in that series, at one point leading the eventual champs two games to one.

It wasn't until a Game 7 blowout that head coach Gregg Popovich's club found its stride, developing a rhythm that carried them to the franchise's fifth championship.

The Mavericks came awfully close to stopping that effort in its tracks.

And that was before the roster remodeling that's taken place this summer.

In Parsons, the Mavs acquired a 25-year-old sharpshooter entering the prime of his career. The long 6'9" forward averaged a career-high 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and four assists last season, converting on 37 percent of his 4.7 three-point attempts per contest.

Parsons will help Dallas space the floor and give head coach Rick Carlisle another offensive option capable of carrying the load alongside Nowitzki and guard Monta Ellis.

Per, Carlisle discussed what Parsons brings to the table with KESN-FM 103.3:

We always liked him. He's a guy you can't help but like. He's energetic; he plays both ends; he's highly skilled. He can shoot the 3; he can attack the rim; he can make plays. I think he may have led the league in 'floaters' made last year. I think it speaks to the versatility of his game. We've seen him be a very effective defensive player as well. He's gonna play multiple positions. I see him as our starting small forward. And I see him with the ability to bump to the big forward position. Maybe when Dirk goes out of the game, that's a possibility. He can also player smaller and he's guarded guards. Those are the kinds of guys every team is looking for right now. And with his age being 25, this is a young guy we can build with.

Pivotal as Parsons will be this season, he's still just one piece of the puzzle. There's little doubt that Dallas' improvement has been across the board.

As's Kurt Helin summarized:

Dallas now has a very interesting and dangerous roster — Monta Ellis at the two, Parsons at the three, Nowitzki at the four and Tyson Chandler at the five. There are questions about Raymond Felton at the point and if he can bounce back after an ugly season with the Knicks (the solid Devin Harris backs him up) and the Mavs depth with Vince Carter bound for Memphis. Still, this is an improved Mavs team (one that already took the Spurs to seven games).

One could even argue that trading for center Tyson Chandler will be every pit as important as adding Parsons. Chandler manned the middle for Dallas' 2011 title run, setting the bar for the squad's staunch defense and contributing the kinds of intangibles that differentiate legitimate winners from the would-be variety.

Losing veteran point guard Jose Calderon will sting. So too will the Mavericks miss Vince Carter's spark off the bench.

But a few caveats should engender plenty of silver lining.

First, last season's Mavs desperately needed a third star to take the pressure off Nowitzki and Ellis. Parsons is almost certainly prepared to adopt that responsibility.

Second, Calderon will be replaced with a platoon approach at the point that could yield better-than-expected results. Along with Raymond Felton and Devin Harris, Dallas also inked long-time Orlando Magic veteran Jameer Nelson to solidify the position. While none of these guys stand out as ready-made starters for a contender, each has skill and experience.

Third, Dallas is decidedly deeper than it was a season ago—even without Carter on the bench, and even with the all-but-certain exit of free agent Shawn Marion.

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 23:  Terrence Jones #6 of the Houston Rockets and Shawn Marion #0 and Vince Carter #25 of the Dallas Mavericks battle for the rebound on December 23, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowle
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

New additions Richard Jefferson and Al-Farouq Aminu bring plenty of depth to the wing, especially with defensive ace Jae Crowder having accrued another season's worth of experience under his belt. Jefferson made 40.9 percent of his three-pointers with the Utah Jazz last season, and Aminu is an athletic specimen who works the glass and plays well on the defensive end.

Dallas also added power forward Ivan Johnson to beef up a front line already boasting Nowitzki, Chandler and reserve Brandan Wright.

In short, the pieces are there.

And so is Carlisle, one of the league's most consistently underrated coaches. It was Carlisle who brought the best out of Dallas against a Spurs machine that was supposed to dispatch its first-round opponent with relative ease.

During the series, The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw described Carlisle's approach as "what the best coaches do, and it’s the kind of leadership that allows an unadorned team to stride confidently onto a stage as grand as a Game 7."

While the Mavericks still may not be the West's most talented team on paper, Carlisle has proven adept at cultivating overachieving teams.

Now he has some new talent. He has Nowitzki and Chandler's championship pedigree. And in turn, the Mavericks have a real chance.