The Agony of Average

Posted by David Hopkins on April 19, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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“…On my word, we’ll trouble you no more.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

In March, I spoke with ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM about the Dallas Mavericks. During that segment, I said something to the effect that the Mavs are “a 500 team, but 500 won’t be good enough to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference.” Nailed it. They were .500 exactly with 41 wins and 41 losses. It’s the first time in franchise history that they’ve had a .500 win/loss percentage for a season. But what does 500 mean?

If we were to add up all the games this season as if it were one single game, the Mavericks were outscored by opponents 8,342 to 8,293. I don’t know if this number is all that significant, except to indicate that, on average, the Mavs losses had a greater point differential than their wins. Sure, the Mavs had some close games. But from this season, those blowouts are going to be what I remember most. When a game got out of control, the Mavs just couldn’t put on the brakes, couldn’t stop the bleeding. Use whatever metaphor you want.

Ever since the western dominance of the NBA, around the time when Michael Jordan retired, Shaquille O’Neal moved to Los Angeles, and the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, the question has persisted: is a Western Conference record worth more than an Eastern Conference record? When the Mavs play powerful Western Conference teams more often than lowly Eastern Conference teams, doesn’t that count for something? Keep in mind, five Western teams have 50 plus regular season wins. In the East, there are only two. At 500, the Mavs would’ve made the playoffs in the East—pushing out Milwaukee. Of course, this is price the Mavs pay for being in a better, more competitive conference.

Is the 500 worth more when you consider how many games Dirk Nowitzki missed due to knee surgery? Surely, if Nowitzki had been healthy, the Mavs could have had a few close games lean their way. They could’ve won a few more games during that horrendous December. And yet, injuries are a part of the game. This season would have been different for the Timberwolves if they weren’t thrashed with injury after injury. A Minnesota with a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio would’ve added another playoff worthy team to the loaded West. Chicago would be a reasonable threat to the Heat if Derrick Rose were playing. And this post-season, the Lakers will wonder how everything would be different if Kobe Bryant were on the court. Basketball is played in reality, but fans and sportswriters often live in a world of “what if.” I don’t see the Mavs record, sans Nowitzki, as a reason to be encouraged—but certainly no team should be “average” when Nowitzki is on the roster.

500 is the epitome, the very definition, of average. And in Dallas, “average” feel like another word for loser. Average grates on the last nerve of any fan who hates ties, hates uncertainty, and hates being stuck in the middle. That’s where the Mavs were this season, in the middle.

You want some hollow solace? Look at Portland, the team directly below the Mavs in the Western Conference standing. They lost their last 13 games. The Mavs, at least, made a push for the playoffs. The Trailblazers fell apart. Is that a comfort? To begin your defense with “at least?”

The Mavericks don’t want excuses. They want a team that can compete against any other team in this league. But that wasn’t this season.

Over the past twelve years, the Mavericks have held themselves to a different standard. To readjust expectations for this franchise is frustrating. No one wants to see the Mavericks marketing have to do what the Texas Rangers did for decades—sell the game experience of popcorn and Cracker Jacks over wins and titles. The Mavericks have been bad before. No one wants to return to the 90s. It’s hard to decide if this 500 is a bump in the road or a slippery slope to a more terrifying future.

The epilogue to this season will be what happens during the next draft and free agency period. If the Mavs make the right moves, everything can be placed in a more optimistic light.

I have a few random and wild predictions for this off season. Chances are I will be horribly wrong. But if I’m right, I’ll look like a basketball Nostradamus and that’s always nice.

Prediction #1: O.J. Mayo stays. Darren Collison goes. From reading Bryan Gutierrez’s Closing Remarks, Park Three, I just get a sense that Mayo wants to stay and Collison feels his talents would best be served elsewhere (i.e., the dude wants to start).

Prediction #2: Either Vince Carter or Shawn Marion will be trade bait. I would love to see them both stay. They were the most consistent team members during a chaotic season. But when Mark Cuban starts talking about being “opportunistic,” I see Carter and Marion as “sell high” causalities for bigger moves in the off season.

Prediction #3: Big Fish alert. It may be crass of me to say this right before the playoffs, but if the Spurs embarrass the Lakers, I see Dwight Howard as a flight risk. Would he want to play on a Kobe-less Lakers next season? Would Dallas look like a kinder and friendlier environment for the sensitive center? I’m reaching here. Among these free agents–Josh Smith, Jose Calderon, Chris Paul (yeah right), Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Nikola Pekovic, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap–someone is coming to Dallas.

Prediction #4: Corey Brewer. He will be incredible in the post season, and we’ll all wonder why the Mavericks gave him to Denver for nothing.

Do you have your own predictions? Care to explain why I am terribly misguided or a no-good homer? Post in the comments.

David Hopkins is a freelance writer – a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. David has one Mavs jersey. Nowitzki. He’s waiting to buy a Mayo jersey. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.