Do you need superstars to succeed? That is the question.
Outside Dallas’ magical one-superstar title run in 2011, many of the champions of the past decade have been littered with teams with more than one superstar or one with a platoon of super role players.
There is a team that emerged this season that had me wondering if they had a blueprint that the Mavs might want to look in to. That team was the Denver Nuggets. They were the most unrecognized team to have a 13-game winning streak in the history of the NBA. Unfortunately, they were streaking as the Miami Heat went on what turned out to be a 27-game winning streak. Miami had the second longest winning streak in NBA history, only surpassed by the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak in the 1971–72 season.
The question that always loomed over Denver during their streak was whether or not their success was sustainable during the playoffs because they didn’t have a star? Denver is a team loaded with depth and used that to their advantage. They have talented players such as Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and others, but they don’t have someone who is known as someone who will carry a team during a playoff run. They don’t have the true superstar.
Nuggets head coach George Karl spoke to ESPN leading up to the playoffs about if he was concerned about living up to the pressure of going into the playoffs as a 57-win team without a superstar.
“My first answer is that basketball is a team sport,” Karl told ESPN. “Those stars that you talk about are really important to great teams. But, sometimes those teams are built upon that star having too much responsibility.
“I think we have stars on our team. They just come up in different ways and in different games. I think the way we’re trying to do it is a new philosophy in the NBA, and I think more people should try it. How many great players are there? There’s only six or seven guys that I think are a guy that you put on your team and have a chance to get you to the championship.
“Why can’t the team be the reason you get the championship? The team that wins the championship plays as a team more than any other team. That’s what builds a championship. It’s kind of a philosophical hypocrisy here. You’re saying you need a star to build a team, I say, well, let’s put a team together and it’ll make a star.”
His comments really hit me across the head. I don’t necessarily think his team’s end result in the playoffs is an indictment on this process. Sometimes you just run into a buzz saw. The 2006-07 Mavs were a team that won 67 games and looked primed to avenge their crushing loss to the Heat in the 2005-06 Finals. They ran into an unconscious beast in the form of the Golden State Warriors and were eliminated from the playoffs in quick fashion.
One thing Dallas has a leg up on over Denver is the fact they’ve got the star in Dirk Nowitzki. Yes, he’s older, but Dirk showed over the course of the second half of the season that he can be that guy that puts a team on his shoulders.
Dallas simply has to take advantage of this summer. They have to ensure the twilight of Dirk’s career is not mired in bottom feeding times. They don’t have to be the No. 1 seed in the West, but they also can’t be fighting for dear life just to get IN to the playoffs. Sure, Dirk’s health goes a long way in determining the team’s success, but all signs seem to suggest he’ll be healthy going forward.
Every summer is pivotal, but the Mavs have to be progressive in their pursuit of bettering their team this summer. They took a chance this year with one-year contracts and most of them didn’t really pan out. With cap space to work with this year and even more so going forward, hitting home runs isn’t the necessity this summer. Solid singles or doubles are going to work out in this finite window – Dirk’s time as an elite player.
This is actually a situation where the Mavs can have their cake and eat it too. If they find the right role players that work alongside Dirk, they can have what both sides of the superstar argument want. They can have their star and their players that make the team into its own star.
That’s what made the 2011 title run for Dallas so magical. Dirk was otherworldly with his performance, but the rest of the team delivered and “play as a team more than any other team” as Karl put it. They’re already ahead of the game over Denver with the superstar in their back pocket. When it comes to deciding to go with strength in numbers or go for the star, Dallas needs to go for both. With the window of Dirk’s prime starting to close, Dallas must capitalize.
Whether there is a set formula or not that worked in 2011, Dallas will use every resource they have to figure out what they need from each position out on the floor. That’s something we’ll also cover next week.
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.