There is always a plan in the mind of the fan. There is always a plan in the mind of the analyst. There is always a plan in the mind of the GM. There is always a plan in the mind of the owner. There is always a plan in the mind of the player.
This much, we can know.
It is almost astonishing to consider how rarely these carefully laid plans of ours coalesce with the course of reality. Every NBA season ends with only one happy ending. The building of teams is no different. And yet, we strive forwards, expecting, hoping.
The reactions to the Monta Ellis signing, mine included, are filled with sentiments of exaggerated woe and disbelief. The Mavericks have now failed to sign Tyson Chandler (two seasons ago, and quite willingly) Deron Williams (last season), failed to sign Dwight Howard, failed to sign Andrew Bynum, failed to sign Andre Iguodala, failed to sign Nikola Pekovic, and failed to address most major team needs. They have however, signed several aging guards and now one Monta Ellis.
In the midst of so much disappointment and so little apparent effort to fix the issues that plagued the Mavericks last season, the franchise has offered instead a talented guard known only as a high-volume scorer and little else – to the tune of three years and almost $30 million. Had you asked any well-informed Mavericks fan who the least exciting marquee free agent signing this offseason could be, many would have spoken Ellis’ name aloud and shook their head with that special combination of misery and aversive hope.
The signing of Monta Ellis is not a fully discouraging one upon its own merits. He may be overpaid under the discussed terms of the contract, but there are many worse players than him in this association. He has flashed great talent and excitement in the past, scored aplenty, and passed quite well when it suited him. He’s a player with some potential within, some promise that an optimistic Mavs’ fan might convince themselves Rick Carlisle is just waiting to coax out into utter joy.
But despite this, despite the relative harmlessness of the Monta Ellis signing and what it will bring (a few overpaid wins, some fun nights, some dismal nights), it is very difficult to not finally despair. Everything this offseason and the last were supposed to be, everything the organization and its proud owner promised a zealous following these years would represent, every expectation – all of that seems well and dead now.
Plan Powder, one of the worst code name plans in the history of code name plans, has died a quiet, unremarkable death, and the only befitting eulogy I can think to offer is “Good riddance.” Good riddance, Plan Powder. Now be off to Jason Kidd rejections and that mercurial Rajon Rondo trade.
There is a certain entitlement that comes packaged in all this fan despair, despair which is, of course, mostly meaningless. The fate of the Mavericks’ franchise will not decide this world nor the fate of a Roland Emmerich-created universe. Destinies will (hopefully) not be entirely decided by the moves of an unsure front office. All things are lost in time, even disappointment.
But because we are foolish enough to be subjected to the course of sports in moments like these, the above referenced form of entitlement seeps into our aching, needy bones. The Mavericks have been a very well-supported, burgeoning franchise for more than a decade now. Modern Dallas fans are not used to tanking, not accustomed to middling days, not adept at staring mediocrity in its etched face year after year. To a tortured fan base like Charlotte, such woe must seem particularly paltry. Who are Mavericks’ fans, they of the recent championship and long-sustained success, to cry out in such brief, formulaic darkness?
The answer, I suppose, lies within the scope of all Mavericks’ questions and answers – that is, within the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki. Oh, how that towering giant deserves far more than years and years of mediocrity to close a stunning, vital career. We all know this. We all know Dirk deserves better, past title secure or not. No genius should die in obscurity. One does not wish the fate of Nikola Tesla upon the basketball career of one of the twenty-five greatest players in NBA history, a beloved cornerstone, and by all appearances, a quite admirable person.
The fans of these Dallas Mavericks have lived and died upon the shoulders of Dirk for more than a decade, and, as go the illusions of fandom, we live and die upon his fate now. Save the Dirk Nowitzki, save the world, etc. You get the idea, I presume.
That plan so eagerly promised, the one expected to carry Dirk upon its wings into a final few years of competitiveness and blissful retirement, has failed miserably up to this point. Plan Powder, dare I speak its alliterative name once more, can now firmly be called a colossal loss, unless some sterling trade opportunity impinges itself upon the wind, a la Mark Wahlberg’s face in The Happening. But otherwise, the plan has gone the way of John Leguizamo in the second act.
And so I’d offer to you that we do not despair for the sake of Monta Ellis. It’s not about Monta Ellis, just as it’s not about O.J. Mayo, not about Chris Kaman, and not about Darren Collison. It’s about the harsh juxtaposition of what is promised and the swooping stark reality that crushes foregone dreams. It’s about Dirk Nowitzki. It’s about failure. It’s about watching the embers of a fading franchise flicker so weakly that you can hardly trace the light before dawn. Sunset is coming, and I have no hope that Ethan Hawke will be waiting on the other side.
Monta Ellis answers the call. But do not despair, we whisper one last time. Maybe some mythical center will arrive under the quiet of autumn. And when he does not come, bearing 7-foot armor and a strong sense of team defense, what will we say? Will we look to 2014, hoping for some redemptive salvation of a plan gone wayward long ago?
I don’t know. And neither do you. But do you believe Donnie Nelson does?