You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Despite the relentless turmoil and mediocrity that preceded the break, the post All-Star Mavericks inspire belief. They contain a transcendent star, several valuable wing players, and an eccentric (but effective enough) center rotation. They’ve won 11 of 18 games against a somewhat difficult schedule, and rarely seemed daunted by their opponent – notwithstanding an awful blowout loss to Houston on March 3rd, every game has been at least competitive. The current Dallas’ squad does not necessarily proclaim greatness, but it does provide an undeniably strong case as being quite good. With a win tonight against the faltering Jazz, it’s becoming increasingly possible to believe in a Mavericks’ playoff berth, and whatever unlikely glory might come with it.
Tonight’s bizarre/typical iteration of ,”Who is the most effective Mavericks’ center?”, is a prime example of the simultaneous versatility and uncertainty the Mavericks face at the position on a game-by-game basis. Brandan Wright (3-11 FG, seven points, four points), the team’s best center of late, struggled as the contest began and progressed, and so Elton Brand (5-5 FG, 10 points, five rebounds) returned to the rotation after a game-long absence and provided a much needed offensive and defensive spark. Chris Kaman (2-3 FG, four points) made a curt, eight-minute appearance that brimmed with moderate effectiveness. Tonight, Elton Brand was the Mavericks’ best ‘center’ (an arbitrary term typically used to describe any Mavs’ frontcourt player not named Dirk Nowitzki), but next game, that title could easily shift.
I’ve really enjoyed the way O.J. Mayo (4-7 FG, 2-3 3PT, 10 points) has adjusted his game upon Dirk’s (7-13 FG, 2-4 3PT, 17 points, six rebounds) return to offensive dominance. Since the All-Star break, Mayo is attempting about three field goal attempts less per game (and averaging one less turnover per game), and it’s helped aid a slight return to form for him. Mayo’s still scoring about 10-15 points nearly every night at a reduced usage, but he’s doing so as a secondary, efficient option in flux within the ebbs and flows of Dirk’s nightly performances. When the Mavericks need Mayo to score and deliver, he’s done so, but he’s also managed to adjust and recede his game in a renewed, potent offense.
Despite the misleading allowance of 108 points, this was one of the better defensive games of the 2012-2013 Mavericks’ recent history. The Jazz scored 28 points in the final 5:26 after the game had reached a seemingly finished stage, but before that mental (and almost costly) lapse, the Mavericks had limited the Jazz’s interior presence nicely. The Jazz starting frontcourt typically scores willfully and appears at first glance to pose a significant matchup problem for the Mavericks’ nebulous range of post defenders, but Brand and company did a very good job of limiting Jefferson and Millsap to a quiet total of 30 combined points.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar night of somewhat maligned veteran guard Mike James (7-10 FG, 3-4 3PT, 19 points, five assists). On his best nights, James is a dangerous spot-up three-point shooter and a capable distributor, and tonight was surely one of those nights. As a parting note, I believe this is the highest I’ve ever seen Chris Kaman jump, and thus, Marvin Williams (1-6, 2 points) fittingly missed his dunk.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
This game went all the way to the competitive limit, but Dallas’ defense eventually collapsed because of its collapses by design. The Mavericks were content to swarm the Jazz bigs on their interior catches, and although that’s sound strategy considering the personnel and skill sets of both teams, Utah benefited from far too many wide open jumpers. A result this insanely intricate obviously wasn’t decided by those comfortable J’s alone, but if we’re looking for a consistent factor that carried more weight than, say, controversial calls or specific late-game sets, attentions should rightly turn to how so many Jazz shooters found unoccupied real estate. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Gordon Hayward don’t need offensive help, and yet because of the specific gaps in the Mavericks’ defensive matchups, there was little choice for Dallas but to offer systemic help. Look to Jefferson and Millsap’s tough late-game makes, an absent whistle, or Devin Harris’ baffling number of threes, but the Mavs seemed to really lose this game when their inability to create stable offense became juxtaposed with their defense conceding that very thing to the Jazz.
If nothing else, this game taught us plenty about Rick Carlisle’s desperation for offense, and more specifically, his designs to improve the Mavs’ offensive potential with perimeter shooting. Dirk Nowitzki (40 points, 13-26 FG, nine rebounds, six assists) was predictably spectacular, but no Maverick seemed both interested and capable enough to assist him throughout the bulk of this game. Jason Terry (27 points, 11-25 FG, 4-9 3FG) was absolutely tremendous late and both Delonte West (16 points, 5-8 FG) and Vince Carter (18 points, 5-15 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists) did great work in spots, but had all of their efforts come earlier and more consistently, this game may have been decided in regulation. Dallas was wanting for scoring of any kind beyond Nowitzki, so much so that Carlisle kept Brendan Haywood on the bench for the game’s final 30 minutes in favor of the more offensively capable Ian Mahinmi, and parked Marion — who was unmistakably absent in his time on the floor — for the final 27 minutes in favor of either Carter or West. That’s a pretty lengthy substitution of defense for offense, particularly when Jefferson is so formidable down low and Gordon Hayward was blowing by Jason Kidd with regularity. Yet considering the downward slope Dallas’ defense has taken over the last 20 games or so, an offensive jump-start is an absolute necessity. This isn’t a one-time occurrence; this team’s scoring is in shambles, and the defense is no longer oppressive enough to pull out consistent wins. Substitution patterns this radical may have been too great a cost, but Carlisle’s concern for the offense within the context of this game and the playoffs is rather clear.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The story of this game begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki (14-21 FG, 40 points, six rebounds, 29 minutes), as is so often the case. It’s a rare treat to watch Dirk play an offensive game so full of efficiency, production, and unheeded will. Dirk was at his best throughout Saturday night’s matchup with the Jazz, taking advantage of poor defense and open opportunities to sink jumpers at his discretion. Dirk’s signature, elusive mid-range jumper made a welcome return back to its typical successful form, and a myriad of Jazz defenders were unable to hinder Dirk’s rhythm and improved lift. Quite simply, it’s fantastic to watch him play such a unique, terrific brand of basketball. Following four consecutive losses, a Mavericks’ victory and Dirk’s return to superstar output certainly felt important to righting the proverbial franchise ship with the Western Conference playoff race reaching a frantic pace.
In his first game back with the Mavericks, Lamar Odom (3-5 FG, nine points, five rebounds, three assists, 18 minutes) displayed both an impressive amount of energy and skill. Odom has been faced with considerable struggles this season, both on and off the court, and it was nice to see a positive crowd reaction to Odom’s strong play on Saturday night.
I was initially puzzled by Rick Carlisle’s decision to insert Vince Carter (3-8 FG, nine points, four assists) back into the starting lineup for Rodrigue Beaubois (1-4 FG, three points, two assists). Carlisle’s comments after the game indicated he was looking to keep Beaubois’ minutes to a low after he logged 31 minutes yesterday against the Hornets. It’s a reasonable concern, given the busy upcoming schedule for the Mavericks, and Carlisle has consistently managed lineups and minutes effectively throughout his coaching career. Still, it’s an odd decision after such a stellar game from Beaubois only one night before, and a clear display of Carlisle’s willingness to constantly tinker with the starting lineup. However, Beaubois did little to invalidate Carlisle’s decision, as the attacking, effective style Beaubois utilized so impressively Friday night was replaced with a more passive and jumper-filled regimen, resulting in a generally underwhelming performance.
The defensive strengths of Brendan Haywood remain intriguing. Haywood seems to struggle with lateral, instantly moving centers, as evidenced by Brook Lopez’s recent dismantling of Haywood during a 38-point scoring output, but he seems to shine against shooting, gradually moving centers, as evidenced by tonight’s strong effort against Al Jefferson (4-12 FG, 11 points). It’s a logical separation, as Haywood isn’t exactly fleet of foot and doesn’t possess great reactive ability, but it’s still interesting to intake the dichotomy of Haywood’s matchup-reliant failure and success, within only a few brief nights.
A Mavericks’ victory appeared in hand when the Mavericks surged to a 22-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but a series of turnovers and stalled offensive movement allowed the Jazz a brief comeback attempt. Dirk Nowitzki was forced to return along with the Mavericks’ primary unit, and the Jazz comeback was eventually quelled behind Dirk’s ten points in the final five minutes.
Jason Terry (8-15 FG, 22 points) had a confident, natural bounce back game. Terry remains, and will remain, the Mavericks’ second most important player. The Mavericks’ defense has been impressively strong this season, but the scoring output of the team has become a significant issue. As a result, Terry is even more essential to the Mavericks’ continued success.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Rodrigue Beaubois (22 points, 9-15 FG, 3-5 3FG, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks, two turnovers) is such a fascinating player to watch that Rick Carlisle, unprompted, crafted a persona for Beaubois as entertainer. Even with that in mind, this particular performance may be the promising guard’s finest work — as a competitor, as an entertainer, or in virtually any other role you would seek to assign him. It wasn’t Beaubois’ most prolific game nor his most significant, but never has Beaubois created such a profound impact without caveat. There are no “buts” or asterisks; Beaubois was tremendous, as he flashed every angle of his high-scoring potential with impressive drives, cuts, and jumpers. With so many elements of his game tuned to precision, Beaubois finally found his way. Mais il arriva que le petit prince, ayant longtemps marché à travers les sables, les rocs et les neiges, découvrit enfin une route. Et les routes vont toutes chez les hommes. “Bonjour, dit-il.” C’était un jardin fleuri de roses.
If I may gush further: Beaubois’ full-speed reads on pick and rolls were a thing of absolute beauty. He previously would approach such sequences as strictly a two-man game, but with experience, Beaubois’ scope has widened. He sees the baseline cutter and the open spot-up shooter — the men that, in the flurry of addressing their compromise in coverage, the defense has forgotten. Beaubois may always be a scorer first and foremost, but this was a fantastic passing display on a night when it was sorely needed.
This game completely exploded in the fourth quarter. Dallas had managed to protect a meager lead prior to the final frame, but Utah was still very much within range of a win due to their effectiveness on the interior. Then, the Mavs snatched the possibility of a Jazz win away without much notice or remorse, and what had once been a very reasonable affair grew into a walk-off victory for Dallas in a matter of minutes. It’s good to see the Mavs close out a game so dominantly, but it’s even better to see a previously struggling offense put together four consecutive quarters of 28 points or more.
A few more detailed looks at the Mavs’ upcoming season are on their way, but in honor of the CelticsBlog-hosted NBA preview circuit, I present to you a first look at the immediate future of the Dallas Mavericks:
Last Year’s Record: 55-27; best in the Southwest, second in the West.
Key Losses: Erick Dampier, screen-setter extraordinaire and instantly expiring contract, Eduardo Najera, a signed-and-released Tim Thomas, Matt Carroll, Rodrigue Beaubois’ preseason, and hope for a big name free agent.
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi, Dominique Jones, Alexis Ajinca, Rick Carlisle’s faith in Beaubois, the benefit of a full training camp.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Dirk Nowitzki was re-signed on a bargain deal relative to his current production. Brendan Haywood was inked to a long-term contract that has brought the Mavs a fair bit of criticism, though the partial guarantees written into the deal and the market this summer (not to mention the fact that re-signing Haywood was a flat-out necessity) make his deal fairly palatable. Erick Dampier was traded for Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs shed Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera’s contracts while picking up an interesting young big in Alexis Ajinca. Mark Cuban shelled out $3 million for the chance to select South Florida’s Dominique Jones in the first round of the draft. Ian Mahinmi, a per-minute wonder with plenty of promise, was had for two years and minimal salary commitment.
Yet the biggest moves of Dallas’ off-season were the ones never made. The Mavs’ brass made pitches to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson in an effort to lure them to Dallas via sign-and-trade, but the former two had grander ideas and the latter his eye on a much larger paycheck. Erick Dampier’s instantly-expiring contract was a hell of a trade chip, but it sat unused while the most attractive free agents on the market committed to playing anywhere but Dallas.
The Mavs also made runs at two candidates for their mid-level exception. Al Harrington: miss. Udonis Haslem: miss. Dallas wasn’t sinking any battleships.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there’s no mistaking Jefferson’s talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier’s contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier’s contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Dirk Nowitzki. In an otherwise unremarkable offense, Nowitzki is one of the few unmistakable standouts. He still presents a match-up problem for every player in the league, and even at 32, Nowitzki’s offensive game is as potent as ever. His rebounding rate has dropped a bit. His defense is still lacking, though probably underrated on the whole. But Nowitzki is the player through which all things come and all things go for the Mavs.
Taking care of the ball. The Mavs had the 10th best offense in the league last season, but were ranked 13th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in free throw rate. How? Dallas turns the ball over on just 12.2% of its possessions. Nowitzki is an absurdly efficient go-to scoring option in part because of how deliberately careful he is with the ball. Jason Kidd may pick up quite a few turnovers, but between Nowitzki and a few other high-usage, low-turnover players (Jason Terry, Caron Butler), Dallas puts up plenty of shots without giving up scoring opportunities.
Creating turnovers without fouling. Typically, successful NBA defenses fall into one of two general categories: a more conservative, field goal percentage-limiting style, or a more aggressive scheme based on forcing turnovers. Great defenses can sometimes manage to do both. Dallas manages to do neither, at least to the full extent of each defensive theme. Of the 10 teams that forced the most turnovers last season on a per possession basis (GSW, BOS, CHA, MIL, DET, UTA, OKC, MIA, PHI, and DEN), seven were also among the bottom 10 in opponents’ free throw rate. This is pretty intuitive; the more teams pressure ball-handlers and try to force turnovers, the more likely they are to be whistled for fouls.
Dallas, however, has managed to be fairly successful in creating turnovers (they ranked 11th in the league in that regard last season) without picking up all that many fouls (the Mavs were 3rd in the league in opponents’ free throw rate). It’s a strange balance, but thanks to anticipation on the wings and an overall conservative style (perhaps a bit too conservative at times), Dallas has made it work. Not well enough to do serious damage in the playoffs in the last few years, but well enough to remain in the West’s second tier in spite of other defensive shortcomings.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Shot creation. Nowitzki can manufacture a reasonably good shot attempt against almost any opponent when covered one-on-one, but aside from Dirk, Dallas doesn’t have many players that can create quality shots reliably. Rodrigue Beaubois is likely the team’s second best option in that regard, as Beaubois can use his speed to free himself up for an open look or execute relatively simple drive-and-kick sequences. Otherwise, Jason Terry’s shot-creating abilities looked stifled in last year’s playoffs, and Caron Butler is a decent isolation option…which might make a difference if decent isolation options were considered useful for offensive success.
Jason Kidd is, oddly enough, the question mark. Against San Antonio last season, he wasn’t able to create open looks for the likes of Terry, Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, and the Mavs suffered. One of the reasons why Beaubois seemed so brilliant in that series was his stark contrast to Kidd; while the future Hall-of-Famer claimed to be troubled by illness and a bad back, Beaubois was slicing to the hoop in a way that no other Maverick can. If Kidd can stay healthy for the playoffs and redeem his performance against the Spurs, the Mavs’ offense could be pretty potent. It comes down to Dirk providing another year of solid production, Dallas recognizing the kind of shot-creating star it has in Beaubois, and Kidd finding a way to make the rest of the offense work. Without all three of hopes points coming to fruition, the Maverick offense will struggle at times.
A lack of elite production in any particular category. When people say that the Mavericks lack a team identity, they’re wrong. What they really mean to say is that Dallas isn’t really a top-level team in any particular statistical regard. The Mavs were a solid team in most capacities last season, but with the Lakers looming above and so many other team fighting for the no. 2 seed in the West, just being solid may not be good enough. The Mavericks were neither an elite offense nor an elite defense last year, and that’s troubling, particularly because their primary off-season acquisition was a back-up center that will replace the already steady Erick Dampier. Any improvement that will thrust Dallas into elite company will have to come internally, and that puts a lot of pressure on Rodrigue Beaubois, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win 50 games to extend the Mavs’ current 10-year streak, rest the veterans as much as possible, and make it to the conference finals. Any playoff series would be a step up from last season’s first round exit, but Dallas has enough talent to aim high. Not ‘up, up, away, and through the Lakers’ high, but high enough to be L.A.’s stepping stool on the way to the Finals.
Here are some developmental goals for some of the younger guys:
Rodrigue Beaubois needs to prove that the production from his fantastic rookie season is sustainable, while working to improve his ability to run the offense and defend opposing point guards.
Dominique Jones needs to find a way to crack the Mavs’ wing rotation, which is currently clogged with veteran talent. Jones’ on-ball defense and ability to get deep into the paint could be quite useful, but nothing will be given to Jones. He’ll have to pry every minute he gets from Terry, Butler, Beaubois, and J.J. Barea’s fingers.
Ian Mahinmi needs to continue to work on his face-up game, work the offensive glass as well as he did in the preseason, and focus on improving his ability to defend centers. There aren’t all that many minutes to be had behind Dirk, but if Mahinmi can grow into a capable defensive option in the middle, he could become a Maverick fixture.
Alexis Ajinca needs to outplay Ian Mahinmi and force the Mavs to give him a serious look. He’ll start the season at the back of the center rotation, but if Alexis can outplay Ian in practice and in his limited floor time this season (which won’t be the easiest thing to do considering Mahinmi’s gaudy per-minute numbers), he’ll have a chance to feast on the Mavs’ center minute scraps. Other than that, Ajinca needs to continue honing his hook shot, and improve his defensive positioning.
J.J. Barea needs to be a bit more choosy with his shots in the paint, and really hone in on his coverage of the pick-and-roll. All things considered, he’s not a bad backup, but it’s his D on screens that really gets him in trouble.
5. Do you have a video of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash playing guitar that could take us back to the simpler times, when defensive inadequacies were just a cute little quirk of our beloved Mavs?
Jason Terry on LeBron, Wade, and Bosh uniting in Miami (via Rey Moralde of The No Look Pass): “They gotta come through Texas first. We’ll see what happens. I’m still mad about the ’06 Finals. LeBron just walked into a fire he doesn’t know about.”
Udonis Haslem, to whom the Mavs had reportedly offered their MLE, will re-sign with the Miami Heat for a significantly lesser salary. Hard to blame him, especially when he’s choosing both loyalty to the franchise/fan base and a better shot at a title over the extra coin.
Rick Carlisle on John Wall’s debut (via Kevin Arnovitz): “He has fantastic ability and tremendous upside. He’s a different version of Derrick Rose, a little different kind of player, a little different body type and a little different style of play. They both have a great ability to defend. As they learn more, they’ll both get better and better. Wall is a little longer athletically and maybe a little more of a scorer.”
Al Jefferson wouldn’t have been a suitable replacement for Brendan Haywood, nor is he a particularly wise usage of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. But what if he could be had for something far less? That’s apparently what the Mavs are asking of the Timberwolves, according to Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas:
Dallas, meanwhile, is determined not to ship out Dampier’s fully unguaranteed $13 million contract just to take back someone else’s long-term deal. The Mavs are telling teams that they have to furnish a clear roster upgrade if they want the ability to acquire Dampier, cut him instantly and wipe $13 million off the books.
Sources say Minnesota has been urging Dallas to part with Dampier’s contract and draft considerations in exchange for Al Jefferson, who has three years left on his contract at $42 million. The Mavericks keep telling the Wolves that they won’t surrender Dampier’s contract in a Jefferson deal because they have it earmarked for a Gasol-type trade, such as a theoretical sign-and-trade arrangement for James or as the centerpiece of Dallas’ longstanding pursuit of Paul. The problem? It’s a steep drop in terms of difference-makers that might be available after LeBron and his good buddy CP3.
The Mavs’ hard-line stance could always change if they miss out on their other summer targets. For now, though, look for them to take a measured look at their options on the trade market for the next month or so, disappointing as it would be if they can’t turn their best asset into tangible help for Dirk Nowitzki after so much hoopla. Just to be clear, though: Sources say Dallas does remain interested in Jefferson if the Wolves prove amenable to a deal that does not involve Dampier’s contract.
The Mavs would understandably want to pick up Al Jefferson for expiring contracts and Matt Carroll while holding on to their most valuable trade chip, it just seems awfully unlikely that Minnesota would ever agree to such terms. Al’s contract is rather large for a player with such glaring holes in his game, but he’s not enough of a burden that he warrants unloading for cap savings alone. If Dallas really wants to add Jefferson, it’s most likely going to take Dampier. Expecting anything less is just a part of the negotiation, but hardly worthy of anything more than a rumor.
There are only a few core deals that the Mavs could use to trade for Al Jefferson without using Erick Dampier’s contract, assuming that the only player coming to Dallas is Jefferson:
DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera (with his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) for Al Jefferson
DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and J.J. Barea for Al Jefferson
Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and Matt Carroll for Al Jefferson
Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract for Al Jefferson
Terry and Stevenson make the most sense for the Wolves, but only if their intent is to clear as much salary as possible. They would trade Jefferson’s $13 million salary for $5 million guaranteed if they opt to waive Terry, and Dallas could include cash and draft picks to sweeten the pot if they so choose. Would all of that be worth it to earn the right to pay Jefferson over the next three seasons? Perhaps, but only if the Mavs don’t intend to force him into an uncomfortable role: playing center alongside Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk is a unique cat, and his game isn’t easy to build around. It takes a particular set of players that can complement his strengths while making up for his weaknesses, and in that regard Jefferson disappoints. They’re not comparable, just familiar; even if Nowitzki and Jefferson aren’t the same in form, they are in function. It’s a neat diversion, but wouldn’t work as a starting pairing.
Now, a big rotation of Dirk, Brendan Haywood, and Al Jefferson? $13 million is a lot to pay for a big off the bench, but yeesh. Diversion turns to full-time fancy, and concerns about fit are obliterated. It would likely be painful for Mark Cuban to absorb both Jefferson’s deal and the tax implications, but considering it’s salary the Mavs would have been paying out to benchwarmers (and possibly Terry) this season anyway, the financial difference this season would be rather negligible. It’s all about how optimistic the Mavs are in their ability to move under the tax line (and conceivably the cap) in the coming seasons. With Nowitzki, Haywood, Marion, and perhaps another player yet to be determined all eating up space until 2014 at least, it may not be as financially liberal as it seems to throw in Al.
Ed. note: Now that the Mavs have re-signed Brendan Haywood and the Celtics have signed Jermaine O’Neal, consider this a comparative piece explaining the Mavs’ choice. Haywood was the better option all along for a number of reasons, and if it came down to Dallas choosing between which center to pursue, they made the right call.
There is no poetry to Brendan Haywood’s game. Many of his moves lack polish, and he isn’t easily captured in cliché. Haywood is simply an effective individual defender and a capable finisher at the 5 who is somehow unspectacular enough to live comfortably under the radar and skilled enough to be a vital part of the Mavs’ off-season plans. Regardless of what you’ve read elsewhere, Haywood is the option at center. Any reasonable alternative (Chandler, Biedrins, Jefferson, Shaq, etc.) save from Jermaine O’Neal would be a clear defensive downgrade, and none of those players can boast Brendan’s two-way utility.
That’s why it warms my heart that the Mavs are now linked to the fairer O’Neal, even if he’s not quite the catch that Brendan is. Their defensive abilities are certainly comparable, but what worries me most about Jermaine are his offensive delusions and relatively inferior rebounding. Last season, O’Neal averaged about six more FGAs per 36 minutes than Haywood, despite the fact that the two are roughly equal in terms of their offensive efficiency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be rather important for O’Neal to not see his roles on the Mavs and Heat as congruent. Miami’s dearth of scorers last season afforded Jermaine an opportunity to be more of a focal point, whereas he would fall down a few pegs on the Mavs’ scoring ladder.
If not for a few rather glaring asterisks on O’Neal’s application, he could be considered Haywood’s equal. Jermaine is 31 going on 60, and heavy minutes, significant usage, and a long NBA career have sent O’Neal’s athletic abilities through a meat processing plant. Even though Haywood isn’t likely to improve from here on out, his career is at least moving laterally, which in this case functions as an advantage. O’Neal’s injuries are also a bit of a concern, as he’s played 70+ games just twice in his last seven seasons (Haywood played five 70+ game seasons over that same span).
However, the most frightening footnote of all — fair or unfair — is O’Neal’s latest playoff performance. Jermaine completely disappeared against Boston’s defense in the first round, when Miami needed offense more than ever. Dwyane Wade desperately needed some kind of help to make the series competitive, but Jermaine could only manage 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds on 20.5% shooting. In case you’re curious, that’s good for a 2.5 PER. The Celtics were operating at a special level all throughout the playoffs, but that’s the same level at which the Mavs hope to compete. If Jermaine couldn’t even manage to be competent against the turned backs of the Celtics while all eyes were on Wade, would he really be a wise choice for the Mavs’ starting center?
Haywood was merely himself during the Mavs’ abbreviated postseason run, and made three more field goals than O’Neal (12 to 9) despite taking about half of the attempts (21 to 44). He didn’t step outside himself, defended well when given the opportunity, and played the victim almost as well as Rodrigue Beaubois. There should never have been any dispute over who was Dallas’ rightful starting center, yet Brendan was denied both minutes and opportunities on the basis of some ridiculous criterion. It didn’t stop him from posting a 19.3 PER over six playoff games, but Haywood was clearly restricted from making his full impact by forces outside his control.
A Haywood-O’Neal center tandem would be fantastic for Dallas, but it’s admittedly a bit of a long-shot. The Mavs and Jermaine were both reportedly interested in a union, but since, the Celtics have emerged as the front-runners to sign O’Neal. On top of that, Miami is a legitimate option for Brendan Haywood if they fail to entice LeBron James (luckily, there doesn’t seem to be any other serious competition). LeBron would eat up the cap space with Haywood’s name on it, and while his joining with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would be the bane of the league at large, it would be a positive development for the Mavs. With no one left to bid against, Dallas would likely be able to come to reasonable terms with Brendan, and the starting five for next season would be secured. Throw in a coup for Jermaine and good return on Dampier, and the Mavs have the potential to be one of the most complete teams in basketball.
Regardless of whether Nowitzki wants fanfare or not, the Mavs have launched DFWDigsDirk.com for fans to show support for ze German. Nothing too special, but the Mavs’ official store is offering a 41% discount on all Dirk merch as part of Dirk’s honorary week.
Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “…I would be shocked if the Mavericks don’t hang around the hoop and try to get a rebound in the Chris Bosh situation. People have been downplaying Bosh because he may end up being a package deal with LeBron James. But Bosh met early today with Houston GM Daryl Morey and if the Rockets are making a push for Bosh on the basis of pairing him with a perhaps-healthy Yao Ming, the Mavericks can do better than that. If the package deal with LeBron falls through, the Mavericks should be in the hunt for the 6-10 hometown kid, even if he’s a little reluctant to play in his backyard and put that extra pressure on himself. Dirk would help him alleviate it.”
Even though the Mavs may look like a better team on paper, the Rox are far and away the more likely Bosh destination. For one, Houston has a plethora of interesting assets (their own draft picks, the Knicks’ draft picks, young talent, expiring contracts) that could tempt the Raptors in a sign-and-trade, but the bigger issue is Bosh’s willingness to suit up for Houston. He’s a far more natural fit alongside Yao than he is alongside Nowitzki, and don’t think for a second that Chris doesn’t know that. Considering how set he is on playing power forward, he may be the least attainable free agent out there.
Even though the summer’s premier free agents give the Mavs a nice pipe dream to chase, the far more realistic option is an Al Jefferson/Andre Iguodala style trade without the red tape of free agency.
Donnie Nelson clearly prefers veteran free agents to undrafted ones, and for obvious reasons. There are a number of intriguing veteran options to be had on the market for a chunk of the Mavs’ MLE, but I can’t help but wonder: does that also open the door for a D-Leaguer or two?
Caron Butler on Twitter, back on Tuesday a little before midnight: “About to check out twilight ill get back and let you’ll know what’s good holla”
The Dallas Mavericks’ search for help to support star forward Dirk Nowitzki included inquiries about Minnesota Timberwolves center Al Jefferson prior to last week’s NBA draft, according to sources close to the situation. Sources with knowledge of the Mavericks’ thinking, however, told ESPNDallas.com that Jefferson is a “down the list” target for the team who is unlikely to be pursued further until after Dallas makes a series of sign-and-trade bids for top free agents.
Two sources said the initial round of Mavs-Wolves discussions never got beyond the preliminary stage. Minnesota still wants more than mere salary relief for Jefferson, and Dallas is not willing to part with any of its prime trade assets — such as Erick Dampier’s $13 million non-guaranteed contract — to acquire a player with proven low-post scoring skills but a troubled injury history. Sources with knowledge of Minnesota’s thinking told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that the Wolves are determined to move Jefferson before the start of next season, seeing Kevin Love as a better (and more cost effective) fit.
Al Jefferson has long been a popular solution for armchair GMs who diagnose the center position as the Mavs’ most glaring weakness. That it may be, but acquiring a scoring 5 without considerable defensive abilities could be a mistake that would lock-up Dallas’ long-term options. I know the Mavs are in win-now mode, but it’s important that they don’t disregard their evaluation of skills in their acquisition of talent. Jefferson is a terrific back-up plan, and the fact that the Mavs have him somewhere down the list of their preferred targets is an encouraging sign.
At this point, the inner-workings of a Mavs trade are fairly well established: Dampier’s contract would be the centerpiece, with complementary talent or picks thrown in to sweeten the pot. With Jefferson, a line would need to be drawn: if a trade would include Rodrigue Beaubois or multiple first rounders, the Mavs would be wise to walk away. If not, aiming for Jefferson is worthy of consideration.
Al is a fine scorer, and one of the better face-up post threats in the game. Yet his defense could end up holding the Mavs back from truly progressing. It’s no secret that Dirk Nowitzki’s defensive abilities are a bit lacking, and even though he’s worked on that part of his game and become a decent (if unimpressive) defender, he needs a center beside him that can not only guard the most imposing big the opponent has to offer, but also protect the rim from penetrating guards and wings. Jefferson just doesn’t do that. He’s improved his defensive fundamentals since his early days in the league, but at best he’s a passable one-on-one defender in the post. At worst, he’s slow on his rotations, biting on fakes, and failing to use his size to his advantage.
The Mavs can’t afford that. Kidd is too slow, Terry too unreliable, Beaubois too green. The Mavs’ perimeter defenders need a safety net behind them, and Jefferson is talented enough to demand big minutes without providing it. That’s the problem with Al; he’s too good to leave off the floor and not a good enough defender to substantially improve the Mavs while on it. Plus, if Dallas acquired Jefferson, it’s highly unlikely that Brendan Haywood would re-sign with the team, regardless of the offer.
The question then becomes whether or not Dallas could be a dominant enough offensive outfit to make up for their other deficiencies. Without seeing how a Dirk-Al tandem would operate, it’s impossible to say for sure. While I’m confident that the two could coexist (Nowitzki and Jefferson are simply too versatile not to), additions such as these are hardly quantifiable. The Mavs would definitely be a better offensive team, but the trade talks haven’t developed enough to warrant a serious and specific analysis.