“This is why I am here. This is the death I have foreshadowed. Mad gods have come to destroy us all.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
From what I’ve heard, the world is ending. I’m not talking about the end of the Mayan calendar and the doomsday projections for this Friday, December 21st. I’m talking about the Mavs season and apparently the future of the franchise — if the most pessimistic prognostications are correct.
In case you were wondering, the Apocalypse will look something like this: Dallas loses relevance as a Finals competitor. They get stuck in the middle. Not good enough to go deep into the playoffs, not appealing enough to win big name free agents, and not bad enough to get lucky in the lottery. And even if the team did try to “suck for luck,” this is a ridiculous strategy because it creates a culture of losing that is difficult to recover from. Also, it’s a bad idea when you consider this well-written and thoroughly depressing column by Jonathan Tjarks. Would the Mavs be able to appropriately develop high draft picks? No matter. If this is the end, it looks ugly.
If I am to believe the Mavs fans, the ones who pace and rant, who wear placards proclaiming the end, they say the signs have been here all along.
“Nowitzki shall steal fire from the gods.” According to the prophets, the Mavs were never meant to win an NBA championship. The near miss during the 1988 Western Conference Finals and tragic slip during the 2006 NBA Finals is proof that the gods did not want the Mavs to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Other indignities, such as losing a future two-time MVP to the Phoenix Suns, the 2007 playoffs, and the entire 1990s is only further indication that the gods hate Dallas. So, in 2011, when the Mavs beat the Heat, they brought apocalyptic wrath upon the franchise. Like Prometheus, Dirk Nowitzki stole the fire from LeBron and Wade, heirs of destiny. If I know anything about NBA history, it’s that the Association loves dynasty teams. The Mavs messed with the plan. (For another example of “messing with the plan,” see the 2004 Detroit Pistons and ask them how they’re doing now.)
“David Stern shall hand down a new and terrible law.” If the new collective bargaining agreement hurt any team, it hurt deep-pocket teams that are usually over the luxury tax line and do not have a huge media market to offset the new penalties. In other words, the new CBA was a Mavs-killer. Or at least, it is forcing Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson to find a new approach.
“A mighty gladiator shall leave the battlefield.” Tyson Chandler left the Mavs for New York. I’ve written about this before in a previous column. Regardless of who you feel is to blame or what factors forced the situation, it’s a widely acknowledged that Chandler returning offered their best chance at defending their title, and the Mavs would be significantly better with him than without.
“Lamar Odom shall disgrace himself before the world.” A year ago, I was giddy when the Mavs acquired Lamar Odom for practically nothing. And then, Odom proceeded to crumble into pieces before our very eyes. His meltdown in Dallas will become the thing of myth or folklore. I’m not a person who believes in “bad mojo,” except in two instances. The first is booing your own team. It took a lot of strength to avoid booing Lamar Odom, but I did it for the team. The rest of you brought some bad karma on our heads. The second…
“The fandom shall be clothed in red.” If your team is blue, do not wear red. This may take some explaining. On January 25, 2012, my wife and I saw the Mavericks get thoroughly whipped by the Minnesota Timberwolves. That evening, Dr. Pepper also distributed RED Mavs t-shirts to all the fans as part of their “I’m a Pepper” promotional campaign. My wife and I left our t-shirts in the seats. Ever since that day, the Hoop Troop has been launching those cursed red t-shirts into the crowd via slingshot and air cannon. Showering the American Airlines Center with bloody damnation. I’m not joking. Those shirts have to go. Burn them.
“The guards shall flee the sinking ship.” When Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left for the Knicks and the Celtics respectively, it wasn’t just about the money and the contract. They were also expressing their disapproval with how the Mavericks were being managed. Terry said as much here. The debate is a matter of continuity versus youthfulness. If Kidd played the way he did last season, would he be worth a three-year deal? Probably not. But with the way he’s playing in New York, I would rather have him than Darren Collison at the moment. And yet, if Collison is a long term investment, I might stick with Collison just to see what potential is there. Regardless, Kidd and Terry leaving did not do anything to assuage the fears of doomsday fans.
“The mighty knee shall be felled.” For Mavs fans, the real fear, when the sky falls and darkness covers the land, is the day that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer a Maverick. During this season, the Mavs received a glimpse of that terrible day with Nowitzki recovering from the knee surgery. Scary, isn’t it?
“Hence when Cowboys shall rise, the Mavericks shall fall.” Here’s another crazy one, similar to my red shirt theory. The Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks share a karmic link. Early 80s? Cowboys made it to the NFC East Championships in three consecutive years. The Mavericks just got started as a franchise and were looking terrible. Later in the 80s, the Mavericks became a perennial playoff team and made it to the Western Conference Finals. The Cowboys were the terrible ones now. The 90s! The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls, arguably the one of greatest NFL teams of all time. During which, the Mavericks were one of the worst NBA teams of all time. In 1998, the Mavericks acquired Dirk Nowitzki, and the Cowboys have only won a single playoff game since then. This season, the Mavs have been without Nowitzki. And surprisingly, the Cowboys are 8-6 (almost the exact inverse of the Mavs record, percentage wise) and may get into the playoffs.
Now that we’ve gone through all the doom and gloom, I should confess that don’t buy it. The Mayan calendar is not a prelude to disaster, and the Mavericks are going to survive. The word “apocalypse” is Greek in origin, and it means “an unveiling” or “a revealing.” In the same way, these difficult months without Nowitzki have revealed a few things.
1. Respect for O.J. Mayo. Without him, right now, it’d be bad—as in Charlotte, Washington, Toronto, bad. Would Jason Terry have done better in his place? I don’t think so. Dallas is fortunate to have Mayo, and should give fans reason to hope. When Nowitzki returns, opponents will stop double teaming Mayo and make him a great second scoring option.
2. It’s hard to judge the Mavs without Nowitzki. The last time the Mavericks were without Nowitzki for a significant amount of time was during the 2010-2011 championship season. Nowitzki missed 11 games. The Mavs were 3-8 (.273). By contrast, 11-13 (.458) doesn’t look nearly so bad. The next nine games — eight of which come against the 76ers, Heat, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, Spurs (again), and Heat (again) — do not help matters.
3. Fix the turnovers, and the world will be back in alignment. A lot of these losses can be attributed to an embarrassingly high turnover rate. Give the new team a month or two to figure each other out, allow Rick Carlisle to make the necessary adjustments, and the turnovers should go down. While the Mavs may never be a great rebounding team this season, turnovers are a manageable problem.
The 4-1 start was nice, and it’d be great if that could be the story for the Dirk-less Mavs this season. That’s just not the case. However, with Dirk Nowitzki returning soon, there is always some measure of hope. I’m not ready to hide in my fallout shelter just yet.
David Hopkins is a freelance writer — a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He does not like the color red. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.