NBA Finals 2012: Could the Dallas Mavericks Repeat as Champions?
More than any postseason in recent history, this year's NBA playoffs ushered in an apparent changing of the guard in the NBA, as old dynasties were ousted early and new powerhouse franchises emerged.
Now that the 2010-11 season is officially in the books, the most logical question to ask when it comes to the Mavericks is "What now?" Will this one championship be enough to satisfy Dallas' formerly ring-less veterans or will they come back with the same hunger next season?
As one triumphant chapter in Dallas' franchise history comes to a close, another one begins. The offseason has now officially begun for all 30 NBA teams as they strive toward the ultimate goal of a championship.
Without further ado, the following is a prediction of the chances for the Dallas Mavericks to repeat as champs next season and an analysis of the factors that will contribute to a potential second Finals run.
Much of the Mavericks core is made up of aging players. Jason Kidd is 38, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry are both 33 and Dirk is 32. While this adds up to a lot of playoff experience and veteran leadership on the team, it might be tough to keep up with the younger teams in the league, such as the Heat. Getting older also means that the vets will have to play fewer minutes in order to avoid injury and also have something left in the tank for the playoffs.
Perhaps the most pressing question for the Mavs right now is Jason Kidd's status. However, the NBA legend stated in a post-Finals interview with ESPN's Stuart Scott that he could potentially stay on with the Mavs for another two or three years.
J. Kidd's game at this point in his career relies more on guile and skill than athleticism anyway, and he has shown his ability to be a very effective point man and lead guard even if he has lost a step or two. His ability to return and contribute effectively will be a key component when it comes to aspirations for a Mavs repeat.
Developing the Young Players
As stated in the previous slide, Dallas' key players aren't getting any younger. In order to keep their legs fresh for another long playoff run, the Mavericks have to be able to play their veterans fewer minutes during the regular season while still winning enough games to get a high seed for the playoffs.
Roddy Beaubois is a young player that the Mavs see as a key part of the franchise's future and could have a classic "year after the hype" breakout season. If healthy, he should be given ample opportunity to prove himself in his third year.
With Beaubois projected as a shooting guard, and J.J. Barea more suited to come off the bench and play alongside the defensive-minded Kidd, Dallas should be in the market for a decent backup point guard.
One possible solution would be to bring over 2009 draft acquisition Nick Calathes, a former Florida guard who currently plays pro ball in Greece. Dallas owns his NBA rights but would have to pay $500,000 to buy him out from his current team, plus potentially match a $2 million salary. However, Calathes is a big guard at 6'6", as well as a solid distributor and defender.
Roddy Beaubois was receiving a lot of hype before the 2011-12 season started, but a preseason injury derailed those hopes. By the time he got back, he was stuck in the rotation behind Jason Terry and J.J. Barea and found it hard to regain his rhythm.
Caron Butler also emerged as a key contributor in the regular season before going down with an injury that caused him to miss the entire playoffs. He was averaging a solid 15 PPG on a career-best 43.1 percent from three before a knee injury caused him to miss most of the season.
Who knows if this great squad could have been even better had all their key players been healthy this season?
Hunger for Another Ring
Now that the Mavericks have their first championship trophy in franchise history, do they have anything left in the tank? Dirk has already stated in an ESPN interview that had he won a championship in the previous 13 years he may not have worked as hard for this one.
A lot was made of the fact that Jason Terry got a championship trophy tattoo on his bicep before the season even started. Maybe it served as the extra motivation he needed to play at his absolute best in the Finals, maybe not.
The fact of the matter is if the Mavericks want to repeat, they are going to have to have some extra motivation aside from "getting that first championship," which was the motivation for many key veterans on this squad. Now that they have been to the top of the mountain, they'll need to possess a desire to dominate if they want to stay there.
NBA Draft 2011
The Mavericks have the 26th overall pick in the first round of this year's draft, and also the 57th overall pick in the second round. These selections will be used to add solid depth and hopefully allow the Mavs to start the inevitable movement toward getting younger.
After the 33-year-old Shawn Marion, Dallas is thin at small forward, with the offensively challenged Corey Brewer as the only currently signed backup. Marion is getting old and the Mavs would do well to draft a small forward with similar size that can also be another offensive threat.
Tyler Honeycutt of UCLA or Justin Harper of Richmond would be a solid selection for the Mavs with the 26th pick. Honeycutt would bring a solid defensive mindset and has a higher ceiling for improvement. Harper was an accomplished scorer at the college level and has an NBA-ready build. Plus, he has the ability to spread the floor with his three-point marksmanship, which would fit perfectly with the Dallas offense.
Ability To Keep Key Players
Many believe that Tyson Chandler was the key addition to finally pushed Dallas over the top as a title contender, and I am inclined to agree.
Although he doesn't always light up the box score, his impact is definitely underrated as Dallas' anchor on defense and best offensive rebounder. However, Chandler's contract is expiring this offseason and priority No. 1 when it comes to Dallas' aspirations of repeating has to be re-signing this guy.
With the Mavs already well over the salary cap and the possibility of a lower cap after the new CBA, the Mavs are likely going to have to make some choices when it comes to free agents. Among Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson, which of these guys can they afford to bring back?
Chandler is the most indispensable of the expiring contracts. He changed the entire defensive mindset of the team and his absence would leave Dallas sorely lacking at the center position. Barea proved to be a highly effective scorer in the postseason and hit countless big shots in the Finals.
Dallas may have some tough decisions to make in the offseason.
Western Conference Opponents
In the Western Conference, the Thunder and Lakers are likely to still figure heavily into the playoff mix next year. It seems like the Spurs era of dominance is all but over, while the young Grizzlies are relative newcomers to the playoff party but look like legitimate contenders.
Out of the aforementioned teams, the fast-rising Thunder should pose the biggest threat to a Finals return for the Mavs. Look for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to come back next year with a vengeance with the failures of this year's playoffs still fresh in their minds.
It would be a mistake to discount the Lakers, despite their massive playoffs collapse this year. While it seemed that the Mavs simply had the Lakers figured out, Pau Gasol was clearly not at his best for whatever reason. That said, any squad with Kobe Bryant and that supporting cast should still be considered a formidable challenge for any team in the playoffs.
Rematch with Miami Heat
The ability of the Miami Heat to return to the Finals next year may hinge on LeBron James' ability to weather an entire summer of intense criticism and still come back to be a dominant player.
James was a great closer in each playoff series until he got to the Finals. Whatever the reason may be, he disappeared in the fourth quarter of each game against Dallas, which eventually played a big role in Miami's downfall.
With that said, the Heat will probably be able to make it back to the Finals next year based on talent alone, whether or not LeBron has his head straight by then. If the Chicago Bulls can find a reliable secondary scorer to complement Derrick Rose, then they should pose the toughest challenge for Miami in the Eastern Conference.
If the Heat make it back to the Finals, there is the strong possibility that LeBron James' ugly habit of shirking responsibility in pressure situations will rear its ugly head again. If that's the case, Miami's Big Three will go ring-less in 2012 as well.
The Mavericks may be too old to make another run at the championship. However, I would argue that Dallas' key starters were incredibly durable this past season despite their age, and most of the Finals roster will remain intact for next season.
Dirk should be just as dominant next year. Jason Kidd can still play with the best point guards in the league. Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler will help form that strong supporting cast and provide veteran leadership. Dallas could add to its overall talent in June's draft and bolster a bench that is already the best in the league.
There is no singular compelling reason why the Mavericks can't return to the Finals next year if they can stay healthy and hungry for another title. Therefore, I'm going to predict that not only can the Mavericks get back to the Finals, but they also have the ability to repeat as champions.
Let the race to the 2012 NBA Finals begin.