The Dallas Mavericks enter the 2009-10 season as tweeners. They are geared up for a run at the title this year, but they are also in position to snag a superstar in the Summer of 2010.
At the risk of being overly simplistic, the Mavericks' goal for this season should be progress: namely, a trip to the Western Conference Finals. With all the improvements they have made, the Dallas Mavericks simply need to go further, or it was all for naught.
Welcome My Son, Welcome to the Machine
The Mavericks were among the biggest movers and shakers this summer, with six of the Mavericks' 15 players coming in during the offseason.
These players cost the Mavs nothing but a few role players and a few long-term contracts, but we'll take it.
More importantly, each addition seems aimed at a fixing a problem, which is is what you want to see from a team determined to take home a championship.
The Mavs weren't athletic enough to compete with the Denver Nuggets in last year's playoffs, so they added Shawn Marion.
They struggled with three-point shooting, so they added Tim Thomas.
They didn't have reliable depth at center, so they added Drew Gooden.
All of these pieces came at a pretty cheap price. Jerry Stackhouse, who hasn't done much since 2007, and Antoine Wright were given away from Marion. I'll take that deal any day of the week.
But Marion seems to thrive when he's got a pass-first PG leading the offense. With the Heat, the offense revolved around D-Wade naturally. But Wade also brought up the ball much of the time, and passing (like not flopping) isn't what Wade is great at.
In Toronto, the offense ran through Bosh, and while I do like Jose Calderon as a PG, he's no Steve Nash or Jason Kidd. From what I saw up close and personal Marion will fit right in with these Mavericks, both defensively and offensively.
Addition by Subtraction
The key loss for the Mavericks, with all due respect to Antoine Wright and Ryan Hollins, was that of Brandon Bass. He provided a spark off the bench on the boards and with a good mid-range jumper.
But playing behind someone like Dirk, he wasn't going to get the playing time he wanted, so he decided to bolt. The fact that he went to the Magic rubs a bit of salt in the wound, but he deserves the opportunity. And hey, if he wants to throw the game when the Mavericks and Magic meet in the Finals, who am I to judge?
One thing the Mavericks have had a knack for doing is finding gems in trade throwaways. Kris Humphries is the latest on a list populated by Ryan Hollins and others.
Orginally the mavs sought to dump him in a way to pare their roster down to 15, but his play in the preseason has given him a regular spot in the rotation, in the same kind of role as Bass.
He brings much of the same to the table, a good jumper, good rebounder, defender who can body up to some of the bigger people in the league.
He has proven effective in small minutes, but on previous teams, it hasn't translated to bigger minutes. I don't think he'll have to worry about getting too many minutes in Dallas, so if he can make the most of it the Mavericks should have a deep bench.
Meet the Old Boss, Same as the New Boss
Jason Kidd has been signed to a three-year deal, and if the Mavericks are lucky, he will have two good ones.
Kidd, while not exactly a glamour signing was very important to the Mavericks' offseason plans, as well as the future of the franchise.
For those who are hating on Kidd's three-year deal, please, do tell, who else was available?
Try as Cuban did, he wasn't able to pry Chris Paul away from the Hornets. And call Cubes and Donnie Nelson crazy, but they didn't hold out for Deron Williams or Derrick Rose to become available.
Ramon Sessions? An interesting notion, but ultimately irrelevant. It took him a while to find a deal, which shows me that he probably isn't a game changer. Good player? Yes. Someone you want at the helm of a veteran team with championship aspirations? No thank ye.
Jason Kidd is exactly what the Mavericks need at this stage of the game. He's still a great passer, he can still knock down the open three, and the pieces around him (particularly Marion) can use someone like Kidd.
And when it comes to next summer's free agency, it can't hurt to have a PG that people like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Kobe, 'Melo and co. all love playing with. I'm just saying.
What Have You Got on Draft?
Bookended by two years without a first-round draft pick, the Mavericks made some good decisions in 2009. Despite giving their fans a collective heart attack with a selection of B.J. Mullens, they turned him into Rodrigue Beaubois, the heir apparent to Jason Kidd.
A 6-3 PG with Tony Parker-like speed and a better jump shot, Beaubois will have a few years to learn under one of the best PG mentors in the biz, and he should get some minutes as a rookie, especially during garbage time.
Beaubois will probably get some run alongside Kidd at the shooting guard, which brings me to my next point.
The Mavericks can run out lineups as flexible as any team in the NBA, and Rick Carlisle proved last year that he's not afraid to get a little unconventional if he thinks it will help the team win.
Last year they trotted out a few two-PG lineups, most notably with J.J. Barea and Jason Kidd. One would think that a backcourt that small would get run over, and with certain teams, it might.
But it also gives the Mavs a speedy tandem that can exploit big, slow players, which is why it proved successful in small bursts.
They can trot out a sharp-shooting lineup of Kidd, Terry, Howard, Dirk and Drew Gooden, or a defensive minded lineup of Beaubois, Quinton Ross, Marion, Humphries and Damp, or various combinations of the two.
Dirk can also play center, Howard will see some time at the shooting guard, Marion can play both forward spots, and so on.
The point is, the Mavericks have the bodies and skill sets to match up with any team, and that's going to prove to be an asset. Against teams with traditional centers, Dampier can get a bulk of the minutes, but someone quick like Drew Gooden can see some time, because he can get around the big guys easier.
One of the strengths of the Mavs in 2006-07 was their flexibility. They had the personnel to match up with teams, and they could out-talent them in those matchups.
Those Old Chestnuts
Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki. The remaining core that were so close to the ultimate prize in 2006.
Jason Terry, reigning sixth man of the year and the heart and soul of the team brings the same thing to the table every year. Emotional support, a sharp-shooter's eye and a hot and cold streak that would make......uh.....someone who has hot and cold streaks jealous?
I'm sorry, I sat here for about 45 minutes trying to think of a way to complete that sentence. Let's just move on.
Josh Howard is finally healthy, and if we are to go off his performance when he was banged up in last year's playoffs, the future is bright indeed.
Howard is entering an interesting situation. He is an expiring contract this year, and the Mavericks just signed someone who plays his position to a five-year deal.
He will have his chance to prove his worth this season, either to stay with the Mavericks, or get a new deal from someone else.
In my opinion, the better Marion does, the more likely Howard is to be shipped. Unless Howard becomes the kind of slashing, explosive scorer that the Mavericks have been looking for at the 2-guard positions (which, I believe, he is probably capable of doing), then I think he'll be floated out there come the trade deadline.
If Howard could become the dynamic scoring two-guard that the Mavs have been missing since the departure of Michael Finley, then he would solve the Mavs' problem at the 2-guard, freeing them up to turn Erick Dampier into an upgrade at center.
And Dirk. We know what we're getting from Dirk. You're getting 24 and 8, bumped up to 27 and 10 during the playoffs.
You're getting the sweetest jumper known to man, and an unguardable one to boot.
You've got Dirk playing at his lowest weight in years, and rejuvenated after taking the summer off from international ball.
Pencil the Mavericks in for 54-26, 3rd seed in the West, second in the Southwest division.
Then you'll have to wait for my NBA preview.