10 Bold Predictions for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011-12
On the heels of the first championship in franchise history, this season (if there is one) the Dallas Mavericks will face high expectations and motivated opponents. At the same time, many league observers remain skeptical of whether the Mavericks can stage a repeat performance. Some would suggest that last season was a fluke.
Several key players from last season's championship team are now unrestricted free agents. These include defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler, spark plug point guard J.J. Barea, and former All-Star Caron Butler. Thus, questions surround not only what this year's Mavericks team will accomplish, but also who will be on that team.
Fear not, some key answers follow.
10. The NBA Season Will Begin by December 1.
As I write this, representatives of the Players Association and the NBA are meeting with mediator George Cohen. Of course, the two sides have been meeting with each other quite a bit over the last couple of months, and so far the only clear result has been a fair amount of ruffled feathers and public chest-pounding.
Nonetheless, as reported by ESPN.com’s Henry Abbott, league officials recently believed that they were on the verge of striking a deal. That hasn't happened so far.
But, now that the owners have backed off of their pie-in-the-sky demand for a hard salary cap, a deal becomes a real practical possibility. And, because it makes economic sense for the players to reach a deal sooner rather than later, it will likely happen.
9. Mark Cuban Will Buy Custom-Made Cars for Each of the 2011 Champs.
Shortly after winning the NBA title, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hinted that he might give the players some prize other than championship rings to commemorate their victory.
Speculation over what form such new bling might take has been rampant, although the players themselves have made it clear that they want rings. Cuban recently admitted that he will indeed be purchasing rings after all.
But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that Cuban will also bestow the Champs with additional treasures.
My prediction here is that each of the players will receive their own custom-painted luxury car, painted with a tastefully-placed emblem recognizing the 2011 NBA championship. I’m predicting convertibles.
Why? Just picture Mr. Cuban driving one onto the floor of the American Airlines Center on the night of the home opener, when the team members are presented with their rings.
8. The Defense Will Lead the Way.
When Rick Carlisle joined the Mavericks as head coach in 2008-09, he inherited a team that had focused on defense for several years. Although the Mavericks’ run-and-gun reputation built under Don Nelson’s regime still lingers, Avery Johnson preached defense first, to the detriment of the Mavericks’ offense.
Avery certainly made the Mavericks defense much better than it had ever been under Nelson, but, given so little attention, the offense sputtered by the time Avery was fired.
Given the offensive problems that the team faced when Carlisle arrived, he understandably spent a lot of his early focus on turning the team back into prolific point scorers. But Carlisle has always been known as a very strong defensive coach, and that has not changed.
Last season, the Mavericks' defense improved significantly, and the team managed to eke out some close victories during the playoffs even on nights when the shots were not falling.
That, of course, has been the classic formula for winning NBA championships, at least since the Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons came along in the late 1980s. Even the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls teams won primarily because they could shut teams down when it mattered most. And, Gregg Popovich’s championship teams with the Spurs have never even pretended (perhaps until last season) that offense was critical to their excellence.
This season the Mavericks’ defense will improve even more. As a result, so will their regular season record.
7. The Mavericks Will Bid Backup Point Guard J.J. Barea a Fond Farewell.
Ironically, J.J. Barea’s stellar performance throughout last season’s magical playoff run almost guaranteed that he will not be wearing a Mavericks’ jersey in 2011-12.
Barea has been a very important role player for the Mavericks for the last several seasons under Carlisle. He is a far better point guard than young Rodrigue Beaubois, and he also provides the team with a needed element of creativity and penetration.
J.J.’s contract expired last season. Because he played so well during the playoffs, he will undoubtedly receive many high-priced offers from other teams, as soon as the free agency period opens.
Although the Mavericks would certainly value his continued presence with the team, I think he’s going to be offered more than the Mavericks are willing to pay for a backup point guard playing less than 20 minutes per game.
And, that’s the only role that the Mavericks would plan for Barea for the foreseeable future. He’s a defensive liability, which would not be acceptable to Carlisle if Barea were playing starter minutes.
Many Mavericks’ faithful will be sad to see it happen, but I think we will all be wishing him well with some new team.
6. Rodrigue Beaubois Will Play an Important Role off the Mavericks’ Bench.
If Barea really leaves, that will leave a hole in the backup point-guard slot, and an opportunity for Roddy Beaubois. So far in his short career, Beaubois has performed very well when expectations have been kept low, and has disappointed when expectations have soared.
Last season was mostly lost for him, as he struggled to recover from two foot surgeries. When he came back, he was out of rhythm and the victim of his own success during the latter part of his rookie campaign in 2010.
Early on, even Dirk publicly pronounced that Beaubois would be a key player in 2011. It was not to be.
This season, expectations for Beaubois will be lower, due to his mediocre performances upon returning from injury at the end of last season. The team will also need another guard off the bench.
Personally, I hope that Beaubois plays most of his minutes at the two-guard spot, along side Kidd or Jason Terry at the point. Beaubois has yet to demonstrate any court vision that could make him a true floor general.
Because Beaubois comes from a French colony (the Caribbean island Guadeloupe) and has played for the French national team, the comparisons to Tony Parker have been inevitable. And, like Parker, Beaubois has tremendous speed while dribbling.
But even though some may consider Parker a “shoot-first” point-guard, the Spurs’ floor leader still executes the Spurs’ offense admirably, with the help of Manu Ginobili. Perhaps Beaubois can learn to do the same for the Mavericks, but so far I’ve not seen it.
Regardless of whether Beaubois can play point, he has the offensive talent to provide a needed spark off the Mavericks’ bench this season. Like Barea, he can penetrate and create for himself–something at which few other Mavericks truly excel. Beaubois will be important this year.
5. Caron Butler Will Restake His Position as “Robin” to Dirk’s “Batman.”
Among the DFW sports media covering the Mavericks, a favored pastime for the last several years has been debating who is the “Robin” to superstar Nowitzki’s “Batman.”
Basically, this means that people in Dallas have long been asking who can serve as a consistent second scoring option for the Mavericks. The Mavs' second-best player last year was either Tyson Chandler or Jason Kidd, but neither of them are considered "Robin" candidates, because they rarely score.
Since the departure of Steve Nash, the identity of the team's second option on offense has never been very clear. Jason Terry has served the role for large chunks of that time, but as JET has aged, his consistency has waned. Terry had a good post-season in 2011, but before that he had been a no-show for several consecutive seasons during the playoffs.
When the Mavericks acquired Caron Butler at the end of the 2009-10 season, they thought they had the long-term answer. Butler is a proven scorer in the NBA, and a former All-Star.
Last season the Mavericks proved that they could win with a different "Robin" showing up every night. But this year, I expect Butler will sign a new contract with the Mavericks and be energized to again become a scoring force.
4. Dirk Nowitzki Will Be Voted a Starting All-Star for the Western Conference
The history of fans failing to vote for Dirk Nowitzki as an All-Star is fairly extraordinary.
No. 41 has been named to the first team All-NBA squad on four separate occasions (and he's been on the second or third teams an additional seven times). He currently stands as the 23rd leading scorer in NBA history.
Nowitzki is one of only four players in league history who has career playoff averages of over 25 points and 10 rebounds. He's appeared in 10 NBA All-Star games. But the fans have NEVER voted him in as a starter (he did start the 2010 game in Dallas as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant).
But oh what a difference a championship over the hated Miami Heat has made. Dirk's popularity in recent months has soared, and he's finally getting the national recognition that has long been overdue. Moreover, Carmelo Anthony has gone to the Eastern Conference, which gives fans one less extra forward to choose over Dirk.
Dirk has made it clear in recent years that he doesn't care much about the All-Star game. I doubt he's at all concerned about the fact that he's never been voted as a starter. But it will make me happy when it finally happens this year.
3. Dallas Will Win the Southwest Division Title
Last year, the San Antonio Spurs continued their dominance of the NBA's tough Southwest Division, winning their fourth division title in the seven years that the division has existed in this form.
Coach Popovich did a fantastic job last season in remolding the team as an uptempo offensive force, and the approach worked extremely well in the regular season.
However, the Memphis Grizzlies exposed the Spurs in the playoffs. The Spurs no longer have the ability to dominate teams defensively, and their defense is why they have four titles since 1999.
The Mavericks will be brimming with confidence this season, and the Spurs will be disillusioned. The Mavericks should cruise to the Southwest Division title this year.
2. Tyson Chandler Will Solidify the Mavs' Path Back to the NBA Finals
In my opinion, the biggest single question about the Mavericks' upcoming season is whether Tyson Chandler will return.
I believe he will.
Neither Rick Carlisle nor Dirk Nowitzki were shy about crediting Chandler last year for dramatically altering the Mavericks' team approach on defense. He is an individual force. More importantly, his passion, intensity, and defensive leadership make his teammates much better on that end of the floor.
Chandler will rightfully demand a whole lot of money in free agency.
The Mavericks should pay it. I believe they will. If they do, they should repeat as Western Conference champs.
1. The Mavs Will Lose in the NBA Finals to the Young Chicago Bulls
I expect the Mavericks to make another great playoff run, but I think this year they will fall just short of repeating as champs.
The Bulls were the best team in basketball during the regular season last year, and they will be highly motivated to improve on their disappointing loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat will have plenty of motivation as well. But the Bulls are a better defensive team.
They ultimately struggled against Miami because they could not find a second scoring option when the Heat focused on shutting down superstar Derrick Rose.
This year, coach Tom Thibodeau will find a way to incorporate Carlos Boozer more effectively. When that happens, the Bulls will be a playoff juggernaut.
I look forward to the Mavericks-Bulls Finals matchup. Hopefully, I'll be proven wrong about the outcome.
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