NBA Season Preview: 10 Things Dallas Mavericks Need to Do to Repeat as Champions
While it's almost time to raise the first banner to the rafters of the American Airlines Center, some of us would like to see a gleaming row of them to eventually go alongside Dirk Nowitzki's retired number 41. And since the Dallas Mavericks earned it a mere six months ago, there's no better time for a repeat.
But while Nowitzki is locked up for at least three more seasons, other key players in the Mavericks' championship run aren't guaranteed to be in the white and blue by the time the season tips off.
Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson are all free agents. And since they all played significant parts in the Mavs' success last season, they are all in good shape to land a nice pay raise.
The luxury tax penalties will go up in two years, so anyone the Mavericks sign this offseason is sure to have serious financial ramifications.
The Mavericks also have wild dreams about names like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, each (or all) of whom would require significant cap space next summer, and by then Dirk will be another year older.
So it's important to figure out: what are the keys for a Mavs repeat championship? Because Mark Cuban wants doesn't want one ring. Or two, or three, or four, or five...
Re-Sign Tyson Chandler
This goes without saying. Tyson Chandler was the reason the Mavericks won this championship. While Dirk and Jason Kidd are great, the 2008, 2009 and 2010 playoffs are still a clear reminder of how that duo fares in the playoffs without a strong defensive center.
Chandler gives Dirk the luxury of roaming around the court on offense, while protecting the rim and fighting for every single rebound on the other side of the floor. He's a constant alley-oop threat and won't hesitate to dole out a hard foul.
In addition to the tangibles, he also brings a swagger to the team. He turns them into a team that is nasty, with no regard for human life. He's loud on defense, and he's louder after a big dunk or block.
And it filters down to the team. The entire team got smarter in the passing lanes and in positioning themselves for rebounds that came as a result of a Chandler tip.
The Mavs are likely going to have to pony up for him, but he's clearly worth it. Taxes can be paid, salaries traded away, but Chandler is the piece Cuban has been searching for since he bought the team.
He's going to need at least four years and $56 million to stay, and the Mavericks should sign that contract with a smile on their faces.
Re-Sign DeShawn Stevenson
I never thought I would ever, EVER, write that headline. I live in Washington D.C. and watched DeShawn play here. Of the top 10 dumbest things I have ever seen on a professional basketball court, Stevenson accounts for at least half (the other half might be Zach Randolph when he was on the Clippers) of them.
That being said, Stevenson was my hero in the playoffs, particularly during the Finals.
On the surface, he helped guard Wade and LeBron whenever asked, and managed to hit his share of open three-pointers.
Underneath the surface, he got in LeBron's head, man. I don't know why LeBron shut down for the last few games of the playoffs, but I do know that Stevenson saw it and exploited it.
You could tell from his post-game comments and his in-game demeanor that he owned LeBron. LeBron probably wakes up in a cold sweat some nights thinking about the fact that Stevenson has a ring and he doesn't. Not to mention, Stevenson got his off LeBron's back.
He's another guy that gives the Mavericks a little attitude, a little "you shove me, I shove you back, harder."
When you're the defending champ, people get up to play you, and having someone like Stevenson, who plays with a perpetual chip on his shoulder, can help, especially when the reserves will be important in a shortened season.
Which brings me to my next point...
Keep Minutes Under Control
There will be 66 games played between Christmas and the playoffs, which means some back-to-back-to-backs, and maybe stretches of five games in six nights.
For an old team like the Mavericks, that's going to be trouble. Dirk, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd are all guys who are on the wrong side of 30, so they've only got so much left in the tank.
The Mavericks are going to need to get the most out of the starter's minutes.
That means no letting 20-point leads shrink in Minnesota. That means not being down by five with two minutes to go in Charlotte. That means the Mavericks need to build leads and trust that they can be kept against bad teams.
Jason Kidd is the biggest priority when it comes to minutes. He got a rest before the playoffs last year, and we saw just how much that helped him, particularly in the Portland series.
So who takes Kidd's minutes?
Groom Rodrigue Beaubois to Replace Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd has two more seasons on his deal. While he's doing a good job of defying time and has the skill set that doesn't rely on being a freak athlete, he should age well, like a fine cheddar.
But he won't be around forever. The Mavs do have the rights to point guard Nick Calathes, who is overseas, but Rodrigue Beaubois is the here and now for this team.
He had flashes of brilliance as a rookie, but foot injuries slowed him in his second year. He already has the offensive skill set, which means if he can learn from Kidd's all around game, he should be in great shape.
Hopefully Beaubois will follow in the footsteps of JJ Barea, an honorary graduate of Jason Kidd Point Guard and Polytechnic Institute. Beaubois needs to learn smarter defensive movement and better court vision, which I believe he is fully capable of doing.
You may have noticed I haven't said much about Barea taking Kidd's place. That's because Stevenson and Chandler will likely take up the money needed to keep Barea. While I like Barea a lot, and will always have fond memories, his skill set is replaceable.
Beaubois has his speed to the basket, is a better shooter, and doesn't have the natural defensive disadvantage that Barea has.
But Beaubois will have to earn his time. We saw last year that Rick Carlisle is not shy about yanking that leash, and if Beaubois starts to make mistakes, Carlisle won't have him out there. Particularly in a 66-game season, where every game can mean the difference between a two-seed and a five-seed.
Speaking of replacements...
Groom Corey Brewer to Replace Shawn Marion
One of the Mavericks' biggest advantages during the championship run was the versatility of Shawn Marion. He could guard Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Brandon Roy (for 23 out of 24 quarters).
He's who the Mavericks will be throwing on the opposition's best scorer, and also as a change of pace guy to throw at power forwards and undersized centers. He can also back up Dirk when the Mavs deploy their three-guard lineup.
On offense, he doesn't have any jump shot, but can use a variety of athletic moves to give himself runners, bank shots and layups from almost any angle. He's been able to get to the basket for years, but especially against the Heat did those chippies start to go in.
And when they're going in, the Mavericks are a very dangerous team.
Corey Brewer is the heir apparent to Marion. I hated watching him at Florida, mostly because he could do almost anything well at both ends of the floor and I hate Florida.
When I read his draft stats, I couldn't believe he was 6'9". He can move around the court, score from anywhere and is close to being a brilliant defender.
He can guard the same people Marion can, because he's got the speed and more height than Marion.
He also seems like an amazing teammate. He has great court sense, always knowing where his guys are on the fast break (which he often creates by forcing turnovers), and is adept at passing to the open guy or taking the foul and making the shots.
It's no coincidence that almost every contending team chased him when he was bought out by the Knicks. The Mavs have him locked up for a good price, have good pieces around him and are ready to see what he can do.
Re-Sign Ian Mahinmi and Trade Brendan Haywood
Full disclosure: I will name my firstborn Ian Mahinmi McVeigh because of the elbow jumper Mahinmi hit at the 3rd quarter buzzer in Game 6 of the Finals.
So I'm not the most neutral party, but the numbers bear me out. Brendan Haywood is a good center, a starting center, and he is an asset for the Mavs to move. His contract is affordable, and he's basically a rich man's Erick Dampier.
For those who don't sign Chandler, Marc Gasol or Nene, Haywood is good trade bait, especially for teams who are under the cap (mostly lottery teams) who have lottery talent that they don't want to wait to develop.
Haywood can be turned into another young guy to help the Mavs, and Mahinmi can pick up the slack. He showed some big stones stepping up after Haywood's hip injury in the Finals, and what could have been a huge abyss in production was counterbalanced by Mahinmi's quality minutes.
He's young, has a fellow Frenchman on the team and has a good foundation to build on. Between Brewer, Beaubois and any young replacement talent for Haywood, the Mavs have some guys to sop up minutes.
Did you say replacement? Because I was just thinking...
Find a Role for Rudy Fernandez
I don't know about you, but I came out of a three-week blackout starting June 12, and I woke up with a stained Mavericks championship T-shirt, breath that could have been coming out of an exhaust vent of a Crown Royal distillery and Rudy Fernandez on my favorite basketball team.
It was a draft day trade that didn't make too much of a splash, because there was no pond to make a splash in a mere week later.
But Rudy Fernandez is a significant piece for this team, particularly since they will probably be losing Caron Butler to free agency.
He can be one of those shooters that shoots an absolutely ridiculous percentage from behind the three-point arc, and with the Mavericks, he finally has an offense that can use that.
Portland's drive and kick offense, particularly when LaMarcus Aldridge picked up the slack from the injured Brandon Roy, didn't really suit Fernandez, because he's the kind of guy that needs to come around picks and hit open shots, a la Ray Allen or Jason Terry.
Once he gets doing that, it's going to make it difficult for teams to leave him for anybody, because we already know Kidd can hit that shot, and Dirk is getting most of the attention anyway.
The Mavericks' ball movement in the playoffs was fantastic, mid 2000s Spurs-like almost, but the reason we talk about it is that the Mavs made those shots. Rudy is a guy that can make those shots better than almost anybody, so let's hope Carlisle finds a spot for him.
Which I think he will be, because Carlisle found plenty of time for Peja Stojakovic to do some serious damage. But when Peja ran out of ammo, he was buried on the bench. Fernandez is a more athletic Peja that shouldn't be running out of ammo anytime soon.
Sign Power Forward to Back Up Dirk
The Mavericks never really had a true backup power forward last year. The fact that Shawn Marion is versatile and the Mavericks often played three-guards at a time helped with that, but a true backup power forward would be nice.
Tim Thomas went back and forth a few times, and he's exactly the type of player the Mavs need. A big body that can dole out some fouls, take up some minutes and be physical defensively.
Earl Clark is one of the free agents that intrigues me, because he's sort of a poor man's Lamar Odom. He's big, has some shooting touch and can rebound almost by default because of his size.
The newly-single Kris Humphries would be another possibility; he can rebound and hit elbow jumpers, but his price tag might be a little too much.
Brendan Haywood can be turned into a young power forward form a team under the cap, like Houston and Patrick Patterson.
Brian Cardinal was great for the Mavs for stretches in the Finals, but he's more of a third stringer.
If the Mavs feel like getting older, someone like Kurt Thomas can play smart team defense, snag some rebounds and hold down the fort as well.
Find out What They Have in Dominique Jones
Dominique Jones, the Mavericks 2010 first-round pick, never really got off the ground last year. He didn't show any Beaubois-like flashes of brilliance, so as the season wore on, his minutes were given to more experienced, proven players.
This year, as previously discussed, the Mavs will need guys to play minutes, particularly when the schedule gets strenuous.
Jones is a guy who will be given an opportunity to play, and thoughts of him as a poor man's Dwyane Wade next to Beaubois, a poor man's Chris Paul, tempts me every waking hour.
Jones has that Wade-type build of a combo guard, which allows him to attack, take contact and finish, as well as making many free throws.
He seems to be more of a Caron Butler isolation type of guy, but Carlisle can find ways to get him moving to get him into comfortable sports—and Jason Kidd is certainly the guy to get him the ball in those spots.
Like I said, my dream scenario is Beaubois and Jones developing some chemistry and giving the Mavericks a dangerous offensive frontcourt to support Dirk in his waning years (and since we're dreaming, why now Dwight Howard at center? And I have a jet pack!).
This will be a good season to see if Jones is worth salvaging, even if it likely means some time in the D-League.
Keep the Same Chemistry, On and Off Court
The Mavericks possessed all the intangibles needed to win a title last season. Obviously, that's apparent in hindsight, but even throughout the season, you saw glimpses of the Mavs' chemistry.
The guys got along, they liked each other and more importantly, they trusted each other.
Kidd could swing the ball to Terry, who could pass up a shot to give DeShawn Stevenson a more open one because all three players believed the other one could make the play.
They counted on Dirk to carry them, but when he didn't, someone else stepped up and the team began to flow through him (see Game 6, 2011 Finals).
Guys who have had problems in other destinations like Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and even Jason Kidd had none of those problems.
Whether it's good coaching, the influence of longtime teammates Dirk and Jason Terry, or the way the towels came out of the dryer—it worked.
When the Mavericks go searching through free agency, they need to make sure they're bringing in someone who will mesh. Rudy Fernandez is already a risk of that, but hopefully the Mavs will win out.
After all, when the chemistry is good, it makes it easier for Brendan Haywood to swallow his reduced role, Terry to brush off a 2-for-12 shooting night or the team to overcome whistles that seem to be blowing at all the wrong times.
There are going to be tough times, especially in the playoffs. During the 2011 playoffs, I remember three separate times when I was convinced that the Mavericks were done. Blowing the huge lead to Portland in Game 4, losing at home against the Thunder in Game 3, and giving back homecourt advantage to the Heat in Game 4 of the finals.
Each time I seethed after the game thinking the Mavs were done, and each time they rebounded. That's what it's going to take to win another ring, because Dirk and Cuban have nine naked fingers left to fill.