The 2012-2013 NBA season is barely past the halfway mark, but the campaign has felt much longer for Dallas Mavericks fans. Heartbreaking overtime losses, a carousel of starting lineups and a steady spate of sloppy play have made this team difficult for fans to attach themselves to. With little hope of reaching the playoffs and a roster of tourist free agents, Mavericks fans may soon decide the team as constructed simply isn’t worth watching the rest of the way.
That view was discussed in a brief Twitter exchange between two insightful analysts, our own Kirk Henderson (@KirkSeriousFace) and CBS Sports’ Zach Harper (@talkhoops). Henderson asked if Harper’s lack of recent Mavericks coverage on the Pick and Troll podcast was due to the team being generally unremarkable, prompting Harper to reply: “There just isn’t anything there right now. Team in transition without their Hall of Famer? What’s there to say?”
Although Dallas is all but certain to miss the playoffs, there is still quite a bit for devoted Mavericks fans to discuss regarding the remainder of the season. No, the Mavs won’t soon replicate the high-flying, must-see moments of the Los Angeles Clippers or offer the same star-power-meets-train-wreck appeal of the Los Angeles Lakers. This season offers the Mavericks a glimpse at the twilight of the franchise’s best player, a great coach doing fine work, veterans trying to energize unlikely bids for the Hall of Fame and a likable, unselfish roster that still gives its all in good times and bad.
Dirk Nowitzki has always been, and will forever be, must-see television. Dirk initially struggled after returning from the first surgery of his long career but he increasingly resembles his former self. Seeing Dirk perform his classic one-legged , gravity-defying step back or use veteran guile and footwork to blow past a much faster defender is still remarkable year after year. That Dirk is doing it at this age and in his first major physical rebuild is nothing short of spectacular. His age also represents a somber reminder to Dallas fans that Dirk has a limited number of games left to witness. Few NBA fans get the opportunity to watch the greatest player in their team’s history, and the experience is one Mavs fans should be grateful for.
The silver lining of the ever-evolving roster surrounding Dirk has been getting to watch Rick Carlisle, one of the best coaches of his era, work his magic. There are few things Carlisle hasn’t tried, with our own Bryan Gutierrez noting in this week’s installment of The Rundown that the Mavericks have played a mind-boggling total of 18 different starting lineups. The experiments haven’t always been successful — the Mavs’ backup point guard spot, for instance, still yields more questions than answers — but the variety of different options have prompted a great examination into in-game strategy and the host of accompanying discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of various lineup configurations. While the results aren’t always pretty, it has been educational for all who watch as a master craftsman tries to fashion a reliable vehicle out of spare parts.
Two of the most well-worn spare parts the Mavericks possess are veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Amid a sea of change, Matrix and VC have played consistently well through thick and thin. Marion has been Dallas’ most reliable contributor, and even at his age he remains one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league. Carter has successfully anchored the Mavericks’ second unit and transformed it into one of the best in the league in recent weeks, in addition to earning a role as a staple of Dallas’ late-game lineups. Any time Dallas has needed a big shot or scoring off the bench Carter has been willing (and sometimes able) to provide. Although the Hall of Fame cases for Marion and Carter are long shots, it has been remarkable to watch them each produce at such a high level at this stage of their careers. Knowing that one or both of these players may soon depart only increases the appreciation of getting to watch each of them play in what may be their last year in a Mavericks uniform.
A number of errors, notably turnovers, rebounding, defensive lapses and late game collapses, have conspired to doom the Mavericks. While the list of faults is long and diverse, one explanation is notably absent as an excuse: effort. Through it all, the Mavericks have maintained optimism and put their best effort into every contest. While heartbreaking, close overtime losses like the ones that came against Oklahoma City and Miami were thrilling games to watch. Fans can’t expect a great performance every night, but they can rely on the team doing unselfish and devoted work on both ends, underwhelming though their attempts may be. They can also watch and debate about the future of players like Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, whom the Mavs may incorporate even more going forward.
The 2012-2013 season won’t be one to remember for Mavericks fans but that doesn’t mean it’s one to give up on. This is one of the last seasons fans will get to watch Dirk’s brilliant play and could very well be the last season they get to watch veterans Marion and Carter. Carlisle’s adjustments offer plenty to learn for believers and great fodder for discussions about roster mechanics and which players show promise going forward. The Mavericks aren’t a playoff team but their play still offers plenty for fans to enjoy and take pride in.