Assuming we even have an NBA season this year, the Dallas Mavericks have to be among the favorites to win the title in 2012. With Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in place, the reigning champions are in a great position to repeat.
Those three players are critical to Dallas's success, but the Mavericks won it all because they were a complete team. Everyone on the team had a role they were willing to accept. Everyone was important.
Here are the players most likely to be back next year, ranked by their importance to the team...
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The acquisition of Brendan Haywood in 2009 was a big deal because it finally gave the Mavericks a real center to take minutes from Erick Dampier. Why Haywood didn't permanently replace Dampier that season will always be a mystery to me.
Next year, he'll have essentially the same role he had last season. As the first big man off the bench, he won't see a ton of time because Dirk can play a little center.
If Beaubois could ever stay healthy, he could be one of the most electric point guards in the NBA. He would be the most athletic player on the Mavericks' roster and could easily fill J.J Barea's role if they lose him in free agency.
For his young career, he's averaged over 19 points per 36 minutes.
J.J. Barea is an excellent backup point guard. He brings tons of energy off the bench and always seems to play harder than anyone else on the floor.
With his lack of size and excessive speed, he's about as elusive as any player in the league.
If Caron Butler can return to the form he was previous to his knee injury, he'll be higher on this list. However, hoping for that is very optimistic. He's 31 years old (when even healthy players start to break down) and coming off a major injury.
Either way, he'll be an important piece for the Mavericks. If he doesn't quite return to old form, he'll be a great piece off the bench. He can play either wing position and might even be able to spot the team some minutes at the 4 in smaller lineups.
Rudy Fernandez was a quiet, solid pickup for the Mavs this offseason. For the first time under Rick Carlisle, they'll have a starting shooting guard who isn't undersized.
On paper, Rudy looks like a great fit in a lineup with Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.
Marion has taken an interesting path through his career. For years, he was an undersized power forward who was often unsatisfied with his role in Phoenix. Then, he was nearly irrelevant for a couple seasons in Miami and Toronto.
Perhaps, humbled by previous circumstances, Marion came to Dallas with the right attitude and a willingness to work. He thrived in his role as a defensive specialist and role player. His efforts against LeBron James were huge in the 2011 finals.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Tyson Chandler over Erick Dampier was a bigger individual upgrade than LeBron James over Dorrell Wright. That's more of a comment on Erick Dampier than LeBron James.
As a die-hard Mavs fan, I can tell you that the difference between Chandler and Dampier is astronomical. He's more athletic, more skilled, has a higher basketball IQ and a significantly better attitude.
He was a leader on both ends of the floor and in the locker room.
Jason Terry's confidence and leadership were integral components in the Mavericks' championship run. He tattooed the trophy on the inside of his bicep before they won it. He called out LeBron James prior to the finals. Ultimately, he delivered in fine fashion.
For the last few years, he's been the best sixth man and one of the best offensive sparkplugs in the NBA.
Jason Kidd's leadership abilities have been discussed and analyzed ad nauseum. He's one of the NBA's best examples of a true team player.
It's a tired cliche, but he really is the quarterback for the Mavericks.
This slide really doesn't need much of an explanation. Dirk Nowitzki's individual desire for a championship was on brilliant display throughout the 2011 NBA playoffs.
As one of the top 20 players in the history of the league, Nowitzki's incomparable skill set and great leadership will be critical in the Mavs hopes for a repeat in 2012 (assuming we even have a season).