One thing about following the Dallas Mavericks: it's never boring.
As of right now, the Mavs are a handful of teams that have a puncher's chance of getting to the NBA Finals.
Is that good enough for the Mavericks headed into the trade deadline?
The NBA isn't so cut and dry this year as it has been the last two seasons. In 2007-08, the Celtics were the absolute team to beat as they plowed through the regular season, and they proved everything they needed to prove in the playoffs in the process of winning the title.
In 2008-09, it looked like it was going to be a Lakers and Cavs show, too, but teams like the Hornets and Spurs also came into the season in great shape, and the Celtics certainly defended their title with everything they had.
But this year? The Lakers, who looked unstoppable as recently as Thanksgiving, are starting to show cracks. How much longer can Kobe's body hold up when he's shooting 28 times a game? How much longer can Ron Artest stay in a straightjacket?
The Cavs are looking good, but they were looking better last year, and they've only gotten slower. Varejao has been great for them, but Shaq, Zyndrunas Ilgauskas, and Delonte West have regressed, and who knows how well Mo Williams will recover from his injured shoulder?
The Magic, Celtics, Hawks, and Nuggets are good teams, but none of them have demonstrated the ability to stay healthy and/or consistent in terms of playing great basketball.
So the title is up for grabs this year, most likely to a team that makes the right moves by the Feb. 18 deadline. The opportunity for a deal that will win the 2009-10 title could happen in the next few weeks.
Who knows that the post-summer-of-2010 landscape will look like? For all we know, some sort of superteam featuring LeBron, Wade and Bosh will be formed, and the window for titles will be closed for the next two to five years as those players hit their prime while playing together.
Should the Mavericks make a deal to win now? With Josh Howard, Erick Dampier, and Drew Gooden, the Mavericks have something like $24-28 million in expiring contracts.
Should they make a few moves and go for the title now? Or go for broke with the group they have now, and try to make a major splash this summer?
Let's take a look.
Make a deal now
Cap space is a precious commodity going into this summer. Almost every team is going to make a run at LeBron, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Dwyane Wade, and many others.
With the salary cap most likely going down, expiring deals and cap space are the way to sign that free agent of your dreams.
The Mavericks can give teams up to $28 million dollars in expiring contracts with Howard, Dampier, and Gooden. Teams like the Wizards, Kings, and Hornets are all trying to dump salary and/or get below the luxury tax.
Each of those teams has players that could be attractive to the Mavs.
The Wizards for example have a center, Brendan Haywood, who could prove useful for the Mavs. As Mavs fans have been saying for years, they need a solid center and a solid shooting guard. Brendan Haywod fills half that equation.
Josh Howard's expiring contract, along with someone like DeShawn Stevenson or Fabricio Oberto, would give the Wiz about $11 million in expiring contracts.
If they find a way to move Jamison and can void Arenas' contract, suddenly the Wizards have a lot of cap space and good young players like Randy Foye, Nick Young, and JaVale McGee.
The Mavs could use Howard or Dampier to chase Kevin Martin from the Kings, offering them not only cap relief, but some extra space in a backcourt with budding star Tyreke Evans.
How about this for a trade? Dampier and Eduardo Najera to the Kings; Josh Howard and J.J. Barea to the Wizards; Andres Nocioni, Kevin Martin, DeShawn Stevenson (gulp!), Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood to the Mavericks.
The numbers work, and the Wizards get Josh Howard's expiring contract, and now they have more ping-pong balls in the John Wall sweepstakes. They also would have the first chance to re-sign Howard, since they would need a small forward.
The Kings get value for Kevin Martin, who isn't playing well with Tyreke Evans anyways, plus they get to dump Andres Nocioni's terrible contract.
And the Mavs have a shooting guard and center and can roll out a lineup of Kidd, Martin, Marion, Dirk, and Haywood. Could that group win a title this year? It's possible.
The bench would be weakened, but Nocioni can hit the three and play some tough defense, and hopefully DeShawn Stevenson never sees the light of day, because seeing him in a Mavs uniform might make me throw up.
Go for the big fish this summer
The Mavs are a good team this year. They're inconsistent, but they are capable of playing some damn fine basketball.
Can they do it for 16 games from April to June? Sure.
If Jason Terry can get hot in time for the playoffs, if Shawn Marion can learn to hit a shot in the paint, if Erick Dampier can stay on the court, and if Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas don't self-destruct, the Mavericks could do it. Stranger things have happened.
But what if they don't? Then they have $24 million to commit to a free agent, and the possibility of a sign-and-trade wth Dampier's expiring contract gives them a chance to sign a free agent to a max deal.
How about someone like LeBron, Bosh, Wade, or Johnson on the Mavs?
Could a big three of Dirk, Kidd, Bron/Bosh/Wade/Johnson plus Marion and Terry attract veterans at a discount, the way the 2007-08 Celtics did with Allen, Pierce, and Garnett?
I should think so.
And a future tandem of Rodrigue Beaubois and Bron/Wade/Bosh/Johnson for the post-Dirk era sounds mighty fine to me. Plus we know that Mark Cuban has always been willing to chase talent.
So what do the Mavericks do?
Do they lay it all out on the table and add pieces like Martin, Butler, Haywood, or Carlos Boozer? That probably moves the Mavs to a B-plus (they're B-minus now), which could be good enough to win.
While it would take them out of the summer's big free agent sweepstakes, there are always little moves to make, pieces to add.
Or do they let it ride with what they have this season and hope Mark Cuban has something up his sleeve for the summer of 2010?
If the Mavs can't find the right deal, sure they'll save money, but the way they've been stockpiling contracts will all go to waste, and there's a pretty good chance that whatever team Bron, Wade, Bosh, or Johnson end up on will be pretty good.
If Bron hits his prime in the way he's expected to, we can expect his team to win the only titles for a few years. Which would mean that Dirk and Kidd retire without a ring, and while Beaubois is a promising future player, the Mavs will more likely fade away than burn any brighter than they have in recent years.
What do I think? You want to know what I think? You really want to know what I think?
Pull the trigger now.
Get Kevin Martin. Try to get someone like Brendan Haywood. Josh Howard does not need to be on this team come playoff time.
This is a year the Mavericks could win the title with the right moves. They won't do it as presently constructed, but they are close.
Dirk is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Jason Kidd is running the offense like a Swiss watch. Shawn Marion is stepping up and guarding the other team's top scorer and is rebounding and scoring as well. Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas have their heads on straight. Mostly.
There's a good chance that one or more of those above statements won't be true next October. The Mavericks need to act now.
That last piece could get them past the flawed Lakers, and maybe even an inconsistent Magic, injury-hobbled Celtics, or a one-man show Cavaliers.
The league will reshuffle itself over the summer, and the Mavs will trot out the same lineup, maybe with one decent addition. Dirk and Kidd will decline a bit, and the Mavs will be back to their 50 wins, 5-8 seed in the west, and early playoff exit.
Maybe with players like Beaubois and Martin, the Mavs turn into a running team, fun to watch, but don't do much in the playoffs.
But guess what? Dirk and Kidd will have their rings. And not a single Mavs fan would take it back. Ask the Celtics fans. Their team went all in for 2007-08, and they caught a straight on the river.
At this point, that's what it's going to take for the Mavs to win a title. Some skill, good timing, and more than a little bit of luck.