It certainly wasn’t unexpected given the trajectory of the first three games, but the fact and fashion of the Mavericks sweeping the Lakers hasn’t fully settled for me. A chunk of today was spent reading recaps, and it became clear that I’m not the only one who hasn’t quite found a schema for understanding what transpired. People are certainly grasping at straws, but somewhere down the road they may find themselves left simply with a fistful of air. I’m a notoriously poor straw-grasper, so I tried to find another way to capture what I’d seen. These graphs are the result.
After Games 1 and 2, Ben Golliver of Eye on Basketball pointed out the terrific scoring punch the Mavs’ were getting from their bench. That second unit didn’t just out score the Lakers, it thoroughly outplayed them:
Things got a little chippy towards the end of Game 4. Those fouls were a manifestation of immense frustration at the inability to stop the Mavericks:
The Mavericks’ shooting performance in this series was remarkable. Lax Lakers defense certainly helped, but they were converting at a remarkable clip:
Lamar Odom won the NBA’s 6th Man Award for the regular season. Jason Terry seemed to take offense at being overlooked:
Until the words come — assuming they will — for me to explain the stunning turn of events which has led to the Mavericks back to the Western Conference Finals, these graphs will have to do.
Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.
The 2007 Mavericks were dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Yet now that those Mavs aren’t the only top-seeded team downed improbably by their eighth-seeded opponents in a seven-game series, the retrospective view of Dallas’ failure should be a bit different. Only it isn’t — the San Antonio Spurs, upon their premature dismissal from the postseason, have largely been met with knowing nods and tips of hats. That’s not an inappropriate response given the franchise in question, but it’s certainly a startlingly different response than the one the Mavericks faced in ’07.
In both cases, superior teams were defeated due to the pesky complications of specific matchup problems. Lost amidst all the “better team won” cliché of the San Antonio-Memphis series is the fact that the Spurs lost the series despite their objective superiority. According to Basketball-Reference.com’s series preview, the four most probable results of the series — based on the regular season exploits of both teams — were as follows:
- Spurs in 5 (25.4%)
- Spurs in 7 (19.7%)
- Spurs in 6 (13.3%)
- Spurs in 4 (12.9%)
Granted, the series projections based on the post-deadline data alone paint a different picture. But if we view San Antonio’s 82-game season as their total body of work, there was no reason to expect that they might lose in the first round. A 75.7% chance of taking the series is a fairly dominant mark, and yet one that made sense considering the statistical profiles of both clubs. All signs pointed to the Spurs being the better team, just as they pointed to the Mavs being the better team in 2007. The two teams are more kindred in spirit than the response to this latest upset would suggest. The decidedly rosier reaction to the Spurs’ first round flub a bit confusing, to be honest.
San Antonio didn’t lose to a better team, merely one that — when playing within the context of this particular series – looked like the better team. Yet their first round demise has inspired more mourning than mocking, more admiring lament than schadenfreude. Again, these responses are not inappropriate so much as incongruent; I have no qualms with the respectful reaction to the fall of San Antonio in itself, merely with the fact that another damn impressive franchise wasn’t given the same benefit back in 2007.
The Spurs and the Mavs are, sadly, two franchises defined by their echoes. It doesn’t have to be that way, but sports fans make it so with every time they mock the ringless or fetishize the exploits of a former champion. San Antonio has won four titles in the Tim Duncan era, and as such, is generally considered immune to all criticism. They’ve somehow achieved the ends that justify all means and erase all flaws — past, present, and future. Dallas, needless to say, has not been as fortunate. But what separates these two franchises isn’t an ocean. It’s 58 pounds of hardware. It’s memories of seasons four years ago at most recent, 12 years ago at most distant. The Spurs that were eliminated from the playoffs on Friday weren’t champs at all, but the bare remnants of a team that has, throughout its lifetime, accomplished great things.
Over the years, San Antonio has garnered universal respect through the consistent rebuking of public doubt. Every time a new season or playoff series began, the Spurs had to prove themselves all over again. They were too old. They didn’t have the depth. They were too limited on offense. Some of those points were valid, but over the years that hardly mattered; the Spurs answered their critics with great regular season marks and long playoff runs, even though they were often presumed to be defeated before they even had a chance to compete. As odd as it was, we were all waiting for the day the Spurs would finally fall, and their refusal to abide by the limits of mortal teams only fueled the legend of their excellence.
Only this time, basketball fans have relented. They’ve abandoned the adversarial framework that built up San Antonio’s mythical empire in the first place, and though that concession may benefit the Spurs’ public image, such a shift is of no good to the general discourse.
We know that the Mavs’ 2007 loss to the ‘We Believe’ Warriors is viewed as chokery. Dallas has the unfortunate characterization of being a “regular season team,” as a decade’s worth of work has not resulted in a single championship ring.
I’m also quite certain that had this year’s Lakers — the reigning back-to-back NBA champs, mind you — lost in 6 games to the Hornets in the first round, it would be universally regarded as an embarrassing and derisible failure. They would be considered “soft,” and everyone from Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant to Phil Jackson would be questioned.
The team that “hasn’t won anything,” was mocked for continuing their ringless trajectory, and the team that has won everything (including those affirming championship rings) would be ripped to pieces for their inability to make it out of the first round. So where, exactly, does that put the Spurs? They’re somehow given the full respect of a champion but without any of the baggage, perhaps the only No. 1 seed in the modern era capable of losing a first-round series with minimal heckling. Many readers and writers of the narrative seem to have things jumbled; highly successful regular season teams are otherwise taunted for the playoff shortcomings regardless of a championship pedigree, yet San Antonio remains untarnished.
To reiterate one final time: as an organization, a team, and a basketball concept, the Spurs deserve respect. I just see no compelling reason why their failures exist on a different plane from those of all other teams, or why the context of this loss is so unique as to be treated with reverence. Sports fans have nothing if not the selective enforcement of their own personal rules, but all I ask for is the slightest bit of logical consistency.
Danny Crawford has refereed 18 Maverick playoff games since 2001, and yes, Dallas has registered a ridiculous 2-16 record in those contests. That’s not only statistically significant, but adorned with flashing lights and warning signs; as much as we’d like to sweep all of this under the rug, the numbers are glaring, particularly in contrast to the Mavs’ otherwise solid playoff performance. Something could very well be up with Crawford, to a degree that impacts his ability to officiate a Maverick game fairly.
We just don’t know. That record (in addition to any foul differential, free throw differential, or other miscellaneous refereeing measure you can conjure) tells us to be on the lookout, but not to indict.
I offer this with absolute certainty: there is no more dreadful playoff narrative than one involving officiating. Referees are the supposedly impartial mediators of any athletic contest, and once their credibility — for reasons of bias, not necessarily ineptitude — comes into question, the entire discourse falls further and further into the abyss.
So tonight, watch the game carefully, and keep an eye on Crawford. Be skeptical if you will, but don’t go hunting for evidence of a conspiracy. The sheer improbability of the Mavs’ performance in Crawford’s games unfortunately demands that fans of the Mavs and the league at large be alert, but not that anyone subscribe to paranoia, madness, or defeatism. Fans of a team wronged can sometimes engage in the type of tribalism that isn’t healthy for anyone involved, so please, please, stay reasonable. We’re going to see how things play out, in a crucial Game 2 between the Mavs and Blazers, with the Crawford subplot running in the background.
Hopefully this is the closest it ever gets to center stage.
We’re five months and 15 days removed from the announcement that Rodrigue Beaubois’ fracture would require surgery, and only now — through back channels, no less — are those outside the team finally granted an update on his status. Beaubois’ agent, Bouna Ndiaye, sees his client’s return as just a week or two away, which only puts the second-year guard a good three months or so behind schedule. Recovery isn’t a race, but it’s still nice to hear a lap time once in awhile if only to gauge progress. The Mavs remained tight-lipped on Beaubois’ status throughout, and that itself is something of a modern miracle during the Age of Leaked-and-Internet-Spread Information.
Even more interesting, though, is that the implied complications with Beaubois’ injury became a bit more public, albeit through a French outlet. In an interview with BasketNews* (translated via Google Translate, so add salt to taste), Beaubois was surprisingly forthcoming; he was apparently close to a full recovery when a small crack reappeared, thus setting him back substantially in his recovery timeline. It’s been obvious for some time that something had gone awry in Beaubois’ rehab, but to have the fortress surrounding the team hold for this long before — ahem — cracking in the final chapter seems odd. Not odd as implying that there’s something more to this reveal than there is, but just generally odd given how secretive the entire recovery process has been up to this point. As of a few days ago, Beaubois’ status was as mysterious as ever, but now we have not only a prospective timetable courtesy of someone very close to the situation, but an indication of what may have derailed the recovery process.
These are strange days of sports media and subsequent media consumption, and the fact that Beaubois’ status was so secretive for so long is much more the exception than the rule. Though, at the risk of stretching this topic further than its bounds will allow: do teams have any kind of obligation to release updates on player injuries to the media and in turn, the fans? Is there any distinct reason why those updates should be on the daily menu other than our own hunger for them? There are plenty of cases in which withholding injury information could be beneficial, but there doesn’t seem to be too much of a benefit in that level of disclosure. The more available information the better, but lest we forget: injuries are just another ground on which sports media seek to know that which teams often choose to protect. Coaches won’t disclose their exact game plan, general managers won’t tip their hand, and, if they so choose, teams can turn into a strongbox when it comes to the specifics of a player’s injury.
*Link via Mavs Moneyball.
Let’s for one second forget that the Mavs were on the verge of true contention with Dirk Nowitzki glowing after every jumper and Caron Butler settling into a rotation he could finally call his home. Let’s momentarily misplace the fact that without Butler, Dallas is hurting for complementary scoring, and that Jason Terry is no longer reliable enough to carry that burden on his own. Let’s just wipe clear the notion that without Butler performing at a high level, another year of Dirk Nowitzki’s prime could end in a premature playoff exit.
All of that matters, I’m sure, but frankly none of it should be relevant in any way that impacts Butler’s decision-making. It’s a damn shame that Caron couldn’t be a part of some magical Maverick effort that toppled the Lakers and soared past the Spurs, but does that mean he should attempt a comeback this season when doing so would scrape the bottom of his rehabilitation projections? Why try to rush back into things at the four-month mark when recovery from this kind of injury could take six months and then some? Hasn’t Butler seen what happened to Brandon Roy? To Josh Howard? To all of those who haven’t respected the course of nature and medicine?
The notion that Butler could — or worse, should — return to the team for a playoff push is absurd. It would be a detriment to the team, and potentially a huge detriment to Butler’s health. The fact that he wants to play for the Mavs is admirable, but foolishly so. If it’s merely a mechanism to facilitate Butler’s rehab, then I wouldn’t dare take it away. But if he or the Mavs are seriously considering a pre-playoff or mid-playoff return a real possibility, I fear for the repercussions for both parties. Dallas has done a great job this season of refusing to wait on anyone. They didn’t bide their time and wait for some disaster to befell the Lakers; they grabbed the conference by the throat and played top-notch defense (before their recent drop-off, at least). When Rodrigue Beaubois’ return kept getting pushed back, the Mavs made it work offensively, and turned Beaubois into a welcome addition rather than a bare necessity.
If Caron’s return is touted as a possibility, it would only be deluding this team — from players to management to ownership — into thinking they may eventually have an asset at their disposal that they certainly do not. Even if Butler could return this season, he’d be limited. Even if you think that’s better than nothing, it’s not. When healthy, Butler was a genuine asset to this team, and he worked terribly hard (both in terms of his conditioning/physique and his understanding of the offensive and defensive systems) to get to that point. But without the same ability to move both laterally and toward the basket, Butler isn’t worth all that much. He’d likely be frustrated, as any capable player would be when reduced to a spot-up shooter. The Caron Butler Mavs fans had slowly grown to appreciate over the course of this season is no more — until after his full recovery, anyway — and even the most diligent rehab work won’t change that.
Wade through trade rumors if you must, but this team has to get better, and they’ll have to do so without even whispering Caron’s name.
The Mavericks and their fans are no strangers to torment. Between the collapse/shenanigans of the 2006 Finals and the epic 2007 upset at the hands of the world-beating (or at least Maverick-beating) Warriors, this team has endured plenty. Still, Maverick nation is about to confront a startlingly new brand of disappointment: the letdown of mid-season injury.
For most of this decade, the Mavs have lived in a bubble, immune to the dings, strains, and breaks that befall so many other NBA franchises. They have no Greg Oden or Yao Ming, no Tracy McGrady or even Grant Hill. They’ve had Dirk Nowitzki, a picture of health throughout his NBA career, Jason Terry, an iron man in his own right, and a pretty ridiculous run of luck even among “injury-prone” players. The closest thing Dallas has encountered to a catastrophic injury was Josh Howard’s bum ankle, but even that ailment occurred after Howard had regressed and begun to drift out of favor.
Rodrigue Beaubois’ broken foot was a bummer, but there’s never been any particular gloom or finality in his injury, even as we all await his return. Beaubois will come back, he’ll resume his career, and he’ll most likely make an impact for the Mavs this season. It’s a simple story with an upbeat ending, something which Caron Butler isn’t lucky enough to have. Butler will have season-ending surgery to repair his ruptured right patellar tendon, bringing his year — which was on an impressive upward trajectory — to a grinding halt. Butler had been improving. He had grown comfortable playing off of Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki rather than creating for himself, and though he still flirted with the occasional long two-pointer in isolation, those weren’t his main squeeze any longer. Butler was catching on the move, attacking the rim, and spotting up. Gone were the days of a million jab steps, and the boost in Caron’s efficiency was anything but coincidental.
Now take all of Caron’s progress and toss it. It’s of little import now. I haven’t the faintest clue if Butler has any future in Dallas whatsoever, but he’s certainly without one for this season. His next few months are effectively blank, filled with rehab and rest, “just trying to stay positive,” and “supporting [his] teammates.” It’s not fair, but it never is. The only difference between today and yesterday is that on this particular day — this once in a decade day, apparently — it’s the Mavs facing the business end of the fates’ pointy stick. It had to happen sometime, so take relief in the notion that it could certainly be worse; what if it were Butler returning sometime this week and Nowitzki out for the long haul?
It’s a damn shame that the Mavs are at least temporarily retired from the ranks of the contenders, if they ever truly reached that point at all. They have a chance to climb back, but for now the criteria for the re-ascent is too conditional, too possible without being probable. Dallas is still good. Quite good, even. But until proven otherwise, they’re an honorable mention. It’s odd to think that Butler, who was once regarded as a Howard-like nuisance in the Mavs’ offense, has become this vital, but that’s the case. He’s far from an elite player (in fact by most measures, he’s merely average), but in the context of this particular team he means quite a bit. Not enough for Dallas to free fall and pull a quick trigger on a trade, but enough to put them a safe step below the likes of San Antonio.
The Mavs have been long overdue for a substantial injury, and now one has derailed the team despite all promise. Happy New Year.
Rick Carlisle announced after last night’s game that Dominique Jones would enjoy a luxurious stay with the Texas Legends, but held one minor detail close to the vest.
Rodrigue Beaubois will be joining him. Kind of.
The Mavericks announced today that both Jones and Beaubois have been officially assigned to the Legends, though Mark Cuban clarified that Beaubois’ involvement with the Mavs’ D-League affiliate is for marketing purposes only. It’s an interesting way to put people in seats for the Legends’ game against the Austin Toros, but I’d be curious to know if having make a public appearance to support the Legends really necessitates including him on the actual roster. Couldn’t he just show up for an advertised appearance at the games? Sign autographs, shake hands, pose for photos holding a peace sign?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see exactly what it is Beaubois does with the Legends, but I’m a tad disappointed the Mavs aren’t utilizing the D-League as the next step in Beaubois’ recovery, and a bit perplexed as to why this endeavor is worthwhile in the first place.
Jones’ assignment is a bit more straight-forward; he’ll stay in the D for a spell (Carlisle mentioned three games as a possible duration), primarily to continue to work on his game and see the court for some extended minutes. The only thing we can definitively say about Jones’ game is that he’s struggled as a scorer. His most NBA-ready skill may not be quite so NBA ready after all, as he’s been able to get to the rim but has had trouble finishing for the Mavs. His journeys into the paint have no scoring destination, and while that’s given Jones an opportunity to show off his playmaking abilities, rookies who miss layups don’t tend to stick in Rick Carlisle’s rotation.
There’s nothing really wrong with Jones’ ability to complete layups and dunks in traffic or with contact, he just has to get his bearings as a pro player. The D-League affords him an opportunity to do just that, while also working on ways to improve his physical individual defense into a more versatile defensive arsenal. Once Jones tightens up his drives and learns to become a better team defender, he’s a lock for regular playing time in the NBA.
So one more serious addition, and one superficial one for the Legends, who can now boast that they have “seven first-round picks” on their roster.
It’s been a pretty interesting first two weeks of existence for the Texas Legends. The Mavs’ D-League affiliate is off to a 2-1 start after winning back-to-back games against the Idaho Stampede, and on top of the excitement of a young season, the Legends have added two players of note to their roster.
First, the Legends added 2008 lottery pick Joe Alexander to their current crew thanks to a waiver claim (he was essentially a late admission into the D-League pool), and he’s stepped in to produce immediately. In his two games for the Legends thus far, Alexander has averaged 19.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per context. He still isn’t ready to step into a contributing role in the NBA, but it would honestly surprise me if Alexander goes the entire D-League season without an eventual call-up. Limited though he may be, Alexander is worthy of a spot on someone’s bench, even if a stint in the D is far more beneficial than watching the first years of his career pass him by from some NBA club’s bench. The Legends will reap the benefits of Alexander’s production as long as they can, but it’s clear he’s not long for this D-League world.
Additionally, it seems that Rashad McCants has finally decided to grace the Legends with his presence, and he could play as early as tomorrow night. McCants immediately becomes the Legends’ best player and most likely call-up prospect, and should he really strut his stuff against D-League competition, he too seems destined for a spot on an NBA roster. It’s hard to gauge the nature of the relations between McCants and the Legends at this point given their awkward introduction, but he’s shown up, so that’s a start. It’s likely that McCants understands the D-League’s benefit to those on the NBA’s fringe, and that regardless of his prior relations with the Legends specifically, he’s willing to give it a go in the name of resuming his NBA career. Take that speculation as you will, though, or throw it out entirely. The far more important fact is that McCants will be a Legend, and though Dallas doesn’t figure to be a likely suitor for his services given their cluttered wings, he’s a player worth keeping an eye on should the Mavs face any unfortunate injuries.
Both are solid moves for the Legends, but unfortunately with the roster the Mavs have at present, neither figures to impact the mothership in any meaningful way. Alexander could conceivably play some minutes behind Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, but he’s hardly a more deserving contributor than Ian Mahinmi or Brian Cardinal. McCants may be useful to some team, but to add him when Jason Terry, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, DeShawn Stevenson, and eventually Rodrigue Beaubois are all competing for minutes is just foolish. Neither is a defensive standout (or even defensively competent, at this point), nor do they offer skills that can’t be found elsewhere on the roster. We should think of the Mavs and Legends as part of the same whole, but these particular moves aren’t likely to serve Dallas this season unless injuries become a significant problem.
A final footnote on McCants, via Marc Stein’s report for ESPN Dallas:
The delay in McCants’ arrival, one source close to the 26-year-old insisted, stemmed from a few lucrative offers in China that he ultimately turned down to join what ranks as a star-studded lineup by D-League standards.
The maximum salary in the D-League is $25,500 – well shy of the $2.6 million McCants earned in his last season in the NBA with Minnesota and Sacramento in 2008-09 – but the source said McCants intends to donate his Legends checks to the Urban Born youth and teen charity foundation (www.urbanborn.org).
There is a conflict of interests between the Texas Legends and Rashad McCants.
The nature of that conflict may seem unique, but it’s not as situation-specific as one might think: McCants wants to play for an NBA team (and unlike many D-Leaguers, is a legitimate candidate to do so), but the Legends want McCants. Boil down all of the misunderstandings and miscommunication thus far, and McCants’ story is only notable because he’d rather play for an NBA squad than a D-League one. Who wouldn’t?
McCants’ camp may be a bit peeved by his lack of a proper tryout with the Mavs, but at this stage, that only makes sense. McCants and his agent — Lindsey Maxwell — are pursuing NBA leads, the coveted endgame of almost everyone in the D-League. That’s exactly what every NBA hopeful should be doing, and no one can blame McCants for trying to find a way into the L. Not even his would-be coach with the Legends, Nancy Lieberman.
“I have to tell you: how can you argue with the fact that [McCants'] agent is exploring all potential possibilities for him?” Lieberman said. “That’s the mark of a good agent. I don’t think anybody should read into it. I think he has the ability to take a look. He has the time to take a look.”
“I would do the same thing Rashad McCants is doing. He’s got an agent, he’s got to look at all of his options, and then he’ll make a choice on where he needs to be.”
Then again, I’m sure Lieberman wouldn’t mind one bit if McCants ended up a Legend. Helping her players reach the next level is one of Lieberman’s goals, but having a proven scorer like McCants would be tremendously helpful for the first-year coach of a newly christened franchise. And, in return, Lieberman and her staff may boost McCants’ NBA profile and skill set to make his D-League stay worthwhile. “If [McCants] comes here, he will be welcomed with open arms,” Lieberman said. “We will set him up for success. Quite honestly, my job and my coaching staff’s job is to make sure that we identify a weakness of certain players. We correct the weakness — we’re solution-oriented coaches — and we get ‘em out of here. Our job is to get them back to where they belong or get them to where they didn’t think they could be. And we’re going to do that.”
Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, a team source has confirmed that the Mavericks will keep both Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal for the coming season. After all, why choose between them when you can have the set?
Additionally, the Mavs announced that they have waived Dee Brown and Adam Haluska. Sorry, fellas.
Novak and Cardinal filled out the Mavs’ roster, leaving no room for Brown, Haluska, Rashad McCants, or Sean Williams to latch on. None of those players were expected to make the Mavs’ regular season roster, but the confirmations for Novak and Cardinal made the exclusion of their fellow training campers a certainty. There’s hope for those four yet, provided hope comes in the form of an invite to play for the Texas Legends.
That’s up for them and the Mavs to decide. As I discussed earlier today, Dallas has the ability to designate up to three of those four players in order to secure their D-League rights for the Texas Legends. We’ll know more as the Mavs keep cutting, but Brown, Haluska, McCants, and Williams are all realistic possibilities to make the Legends inaugural roster.
UPDATE: The Mavs announced this afternoon that they have also waived McCants and Williams, which means that at least one of the four players won’t be playing for the Legends next season. Considering that both of those players were signed explicitly for the purpose of being waived and for the Mavs to procure their D-League rights, I’d bet on McCants and Williams both landing in Frisco.