- Mark Cuban, with exactly what Mavs fans hoped to hear (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “This is hopefully the first of several deals to come in the next couple weeks.”
- John Hollinger uses the Kidd signing as a springboard to explain three themes of this year’s free agency, which hasn’t been kind to restricted FAs.
- Brandon Bass’ agent, Tony Dutt, on the contract negotiations with the Mavs (via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog): “We’re making some progress, but we’re not there yet,” Dutt said. “We’re not there at all. All I can say is that we’re making progress. I’m not going to say it’s a bad offer [made by the Mavs], but it’s not where we’re trying to go.” Dutt also notes that Brandon would give Mark Cuban one last chance to match any offer before he makes a commitment.
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “…this team has loads of cap flexibility, starting next summer. Starting this summer, actually. Heaps of cap flexibility. Room to move. Beaucoup de options. If rumors are true and Kidd signed a three-year deal in the $25 million range, then he’s overpaid. No way around it. But the team also has Erick Dampier turning in with an unguaranteed deal worth about $13 million for 2010-11, a contract that figures to be worth its weight in gold on the trading market. Same for Josh Howard, who has a team option for a little under $12 million for 2010-11. Those are huge, huge chips. Chips bigger than any combination of unguaranteed deals we saw shift hands during this offseason, and this offseason saw guys like Richard Jefferson and Shaquille O’Neal switch teams for the pittance of unguaranteed deals and expiring contracts…Bottom line, even with Kidd coming back at a price that doesn’t suit his talents? The Mavericks can ship out something like $39 million worth of expiring deals between now and February. Or, the team can just hold serve, go for those 50 wins again (go get ‘em, tigers!), and become major players on perhaps the most storied offseason for free agents in NBA history…This works. And though Kidd and Dirk might be on the downside of a pair of fabulous careers, the team has a smart owner who is willing to pay the luxury tax, a fantastic coach, and loads of options. It wants to win, and it’ll pay to win. A dangerous combination, in any economy.”
- FanHouse’s Tom Ziller with a friendly little reminder: “And, if you’re keeping track, Harris, the now 26-year-old point guard Kidd replaced, the kid who is by most objective standards a superior player to Kidd, will be paid over the next three years a total of … $25.3 million. Well done, Mavericks.”
- Happy fourth, everyone. AMERICA RULZ!
- This is why we should all wait until pen meets paper before we get too excited about Gortat.
- Fish brings up a great point in his Mavs-centric breakdown of Turkoglu’s free agent signing: Carlos Delfino and Anthony Parker are not only expendable commodities at this point, but unwanted free agents that could end up in a bargain bin. Both would look pretty excellent in a Mavs’ uniform right about now, but don’t be surprised if one or both of them end up heading to Europe if they don’t find a contract to their tastes.
- Look, I love puns, but this has gone too far.
- The other half of Third Quarter Collapse, Eddy Rivera, analyzes Gortat’s game and season: “There was a lot to like about Gortat this past year. Offensively, his percentages (58.3% true-shooting percentage, 57.5% effective field-goal percentage) and his offensive rating (121) during the regular season were excellent. The latter statistic (t-1st on the Magic) shows that Marcin is a highly-efficient individual on offense. Is Gortat the most polished (get it?) offensive player? No, of course not. Marcin gets his points off of drives to the basket on pick & rolls, post-ups, put-backs, etc. Given his age, Gortat has room for growth but don’t expect an expansive repertoire on offense from the Polish Hammer. Not yet, at least…Marcin Gortat is an excellent role player who is ready to accept more playing time and perhaps a starting role with a new team – the . If you’re a Dallas fan, don’t be alarmed by his plus/minus stats. That’s what happens when an individual is playing behind, arguably, the best center in the league. The statistics become skewed. Given that his block rate and rebounding rate are eerily similar to Dwight, Mark Cuban and the Mavs got themselves excellent value with the Polish Hammer.”
- A well-done photoshopped picture of what Brandon Bass might look like in an Orlando Magic jersey. It’ll be tough to see him go, but I doubt there will be any ill wills for a guy just looking to make his name and some money in this league…while ripping down every rim in the process (via TQC).
- It looks like Avery Johnson is going to face some internal competition for the Pistons’ head coaching job (via Natalie from Need4Sheed).
- Former Mavs’ draft pick Nick Fazekas isn’t a punchline.
- Jason Kidd’s decision in free agency could facilitate Steve Nash’s departure from Phoenix. Maybe the Mavs want to re-sign Kidd just for the revenge factor.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, via TrueHoop: “On the day Gerald Green was given a blank page to write the next chapter of his career, he took one of sports most used idioms to a new level in describing his eagerness to prove he belongs in the NBA. ‘I’m so hungry I could eat this phone,’ Green said during a telephone interview Wednesday, the day he became an unrestricted free agent…’It’s been a roller-coaster,’ said Green about the start to his career. ‘It’s gone up and down and in circles. But I don’t ever give up.’ It’s low-risk, high-reward players like Green that Thunder general manager Sam Presti has become known for targeting. Green turned only 23 in January and figures to be four years from entering into the prime of his career. For now, he’s seemingly a cost-effective option that potentially could provide Oklahoma City with another perimeter shooter and rangy defender on the wing…Gym rats like Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming, Green said, taught him the value of hard work. And with the help of former Mavs assistant coach Mario Elie, now with Sacramento, Green said he’s blossoming into more than just an athlete and has developed a better understanding of fundamentals and basketball concepts. Elie has worked on Green’s footwork and got him studying more film during his free time. When asked what areas of his game he’s seeking to improve this summer, Green responded, ‘Everything, but really I want to be that defender that I know I can be.’ It’s a desire that could raise some eyebrows in the defensive-minded Thunder’s front office.” “Rangy defender” is definitely one way to put it.
- Ben Q. Rock of Third Quarter Collapse reviews Marcin Gortat’s season, and give some pretty heavy praise.
- Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, via Ball Don’t Lie: “Looking to address the Charlotte Bobcats’ need for a backup power forward, general manager Rod Higgins has contacted agents for Antonio McDyess and Brandon Bass…Higgins said both discussions were preliminary, but he made it clear either one could fill a hole on the depth chart. ‘You look at our roster, and he makes a lot of sense,’ Higgins said of 6-foot-8 Bass, who played a total of four NBA seasons with the Hornets and Mavericks. ‘But he’s going to have options, too.’”
- A case against re-signing Jason Kidd, but one that essentially boils down to “OMG 2010!” I don’t see the cap numbers being there, Kidd or no Kidd, for the Mavs to make a run at a max contract free agent. Regardless, any cap space the Mavs have or don’t have will likely hinge on Josh Howard’s team option for that season. It’s also worth noting that letting Kidd bolt this summer would likely turn into a disastrous campaign, which puts another feather in the cap of the Nets. The Nets have the Mavs’ draft pick in the 2010 draft, and a regular season failure only makes the Kidd-Harris trade look that much more foolish.
- Kidd ranked as the 19th highest-paid American athlete, while Dirk ranked 16th among his international peers. (via TrueHoop)
- Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni’s thoughts on Jason Kidd, via Alan Hahn of The Knicks Fix: “There’ll always be that talk. I thought he had a great year this year. I though he played well. I think he was shooting better than he ever has. So there are a lot of parts of his game that are getting better . . . I think he’s got another two or three years left in him at the highest level…At least. Stockton went until his was 40-something. Athletes today, there’s a little bit of change and they can contribute in a lot of ways another four, five years. I don’t think you ever know and at some point it’s going to catch up with you, but he’ll always be important for what he does with a team for a few more years to come, for sure…I was always asked the same thing when we got Steve Nash at 32, does he have anything left? They have it left. They keep themselves in shape. Life has changed a little. And it’s up here (points to his head). If you have it up here, you can go. He’s still excited and hopefully a new challenge will help him to achieve more. Hopefully.”
The Magic have expressed interest in signing free agent Brandon Bass, who is seen as a young, rising power forward. Bass’ agent, Tony Dutt, said Wednesday he did speak with the Magic. “Yes, I did speak to (Magic General Manager) Otis Smith and they did show interest in Brandon,” Dutt said…Perhaps the Magic might have an edge over other suitors for Bass. They took care of another Dutt client two summers ago, signing Rashard Lewis to a six-year, $118-million contract.
- In a few weeks, I’d hope that this photo is nothing but a Mavericks fan wearing a jersey of a Mavericks player. ‘Quis doesn’t quite solve all of our problems (though he’s certainly better than Antoine Wright), but if the Mavs could ink him to a reasonable deal, I wouldn’t mind using up a chunk of the MLE after some of our other options are exhausted. Then again, I’m a sucker for ‘Quis.
- Sean Deveney breaks down the context of this year’s free agent crop.
- Some absolutely horrible news came out of Houston yesterday: Yao Ming’s problematic foot may cost him the season, and possibly even more than that. The Rox were already looking at a year largely without Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest is an unrestricted free agent. I won’t even try to dig around in Artest’s head for his intentions, but keeping Ron-Ron in Houston just got a bit tricky.
- On a slightly brighter note (and one that has nothing to do with free agency), the Rockets took over operations for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Not only will there be three D-League squads in Texas (Austin, Frisco, RGV), but all three will be controlled by their respective big league counterparts. We’ve never been the most progressive state in the world, but in the realm of basketball development, Texas is right there on the forefront.
- The Mavs and second round pick Nick Calathes apparently both agree that it’s in Calathes’ best interest to play in Europe this season. Hopefully we’ll see Calathes, who was in the 1st round ballpark, talent-wise, with the Mavs in 2010 or 2011.
- The NY Daily News is reporting that the Knicks plan to meet up with Jason Kidd to discuss his free agency tomorrow morning. In the back of your mind, note that this is the Daily News. That’s all that really needs to be said on that subject. Still, I don’t doubt the Knicks having some very real interest in Kidd. Ideally (for New York, at least), Kidd could help lure some bigger names to the Big Apple, while running D’Antoni’s offense better than Chris Duhon ever could. The question remains if Kidd wants to put a chance for a championship on hold, despite what could be similar offers coming from contending teams. Kidd could make sense on either the Lakers or the Cavs, and if either team offered him the full midlevel (though L.A.’s tax situation makes the extra salary quite a burden), would Kidd really turn them down to suit up in New York? Of course, let’s not forget the Mavs in all of this; Mark Cuban has made it crystal clear that the Mavs don’t just want Kidd back, they need him back. It’s tough to get a read on exactly how Kidd viewed his most recent stop in Dallas. But supposing there weren’t any ill wills, the Mavs should have the inside track to re-signing Kidd by holding up a bigger check.
- So far, the trade market has dictated a bit of a rich-getting-richer, poor-getting-poorer atmosphere. The Spurs get Richard Jefferson while the Bucks save money. The Magic get Vince Carter while the Nets save money and get younger. While I wouldn’t say the Mavs are as rich as Orlando or San Antonio, they can certainly benefit from a similar mindset. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have spoken frequently about taking advantage of the opportunities that arise, and the climate seems ripe for the capitalizing.
- Retaining Brandon Bass should be, and likely will be, high on the Mavs’ list of priorities. As the Morning News points out, the Mavs can offer Bass a long-term, competitive contract without actually using up their midlevel exception. That would allow Nelson to secure frontcourt depth while also taking aim for a player like Rasheed Wallace or Marcin Gortat. Considering the generally poor cap situation going into 2010, I’d hate to see Bass walk out the door for no compensation whatsoever.
In the spirit of giving the season a full evaluation, I’ve decided to do an extended take on the point-counterpoint formula. I’ve already done the plus side, so it’s time to get our hands dirty.
Let’s start with what we do know: the Mavs are not positioned to be contenders. That was a well-known fact in ’08-’09, and the relatively hazy future of this franchise is perhaps equally established. There is genuine talent in Dallas, a fact made all the more painful by the difficult-to-fill needs in the rotation.
Those needs are both significant and urgent, symbolizing the flaws of Mavs past, present, and future. The most glaring of which: poor perimeter defense with no help to speak of. Good defensive teams have either quick, skilled perimeter defenders to cut off penetration or an aware frontcourt to erase defensive mistakes. Great defensive teams have both. The Mavs aren’t so lucky.
Jason Kidd is the team’s best perimeter defender, but lacks the foot speed to stay with point guards and the height to contest shooting guards. Jason Terry logs most of his minutes as the Mavs’ 2 guard, but shows an inability to defend either guard position particularly well. Antoine Wright and Josh Howard, on the other hand, demonstrate some defensive aptitude, but haven’t been able to share the floor for significant stretches. That said, neither is a lock-down defender capable of shackling the league’s elite wings. J.J. Barea is shorter than you are, and though his heart is in the right place, that won’t buy him those glittery bell-bottom jeans in the window that will transform him into a star. Put all of those defensive limitations in a blender, and you’ve got a stable of players that have trouble moving laterally and cutting off the driving lanes. By golly, if that’s not a recipe for defensive excellence, then I don’t know what is.
Oh wait, yes I do: a complete lack of shot-blocking help defense. As a defender, Dirk Nowitzki has improved by leaps and bounds since his early years in the league, but he is not, and can never be, an effective shot blocker. Dirk simply doesn’t have the frame or athleticism to challenge shots effectively in the paint. On top of that, the cheap fouls that shot blockers tend to chalk up could send Dirk to the bench and debilitate the Dallas offense. As a result, the Mavs need to get help D out of the center position almost exclusively, and Erick Dampier isn’t too great at that. Although Damp is undoubtedly the Mavs’ best on-ball defender in the post, his lack of mobility and vertical explosiveness limit his ability to swoop in for the block and the glory. That’s why things get even uglier than one would expect; the Mavs’ key bigs are capable of fouling to prevent easy buckets, but aren’t likely candidates to soar across the lane with a play-saving block. Rotating quickly to challenge the spot or coming over to challenge the shot — those are the staples of quality interior defense, and until the Mavs can find an excellent help defender to pair with Dirk, they’ll continue to suffer at the hands of quick point guards and penetrating wing players.
Out-scoring your opponents can work for a spell, but eventually you need to get some stops. That’s where the Mavs failed with flying colors. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- The Mavs were 15th in the league in defensive efficiency for the regular season. That mark is peachy for a rebuilding team, but for would-be and should-be contenders? Notsomuch. Top-10 would be nice and Top-5 ideal, but it’s clear that a middle of the pack defense won’t be enough to cut it.
- Going by PER, Mavs’ opponents play at a level well over the league average. The Mavs allow opposing point guards to average a PER of 19.4, which is roughly on-par with Steve Nash. Opposing wings are coming in around the 16.6 mark, which is in the ballpark of a Lamar Odom or a Rashard Lewis. And opposing centers are registering a PER of 17.4, which is near Utah’s Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur. The rock bottom positional average for PER comes at the power forward slot, and even they play at the level of an average player (15.1).
As if the defensive shortcomings weren’t enough, the offense could use some polish. The Mavs have already been quite productive on the more beloved side of the ball, but sorely lack the offensive versatility that made them so successful in the past. The common gripe with the Mavs has been their lack of a post-up threat, but that line of thinking is misguided; true post scorers are difficult to come by and not entirely necessary. More important is getting easy baskets through any means necessary, whether it’s in the post, through dribble penetration, or off of smooth, quick cuts and expert passes. That, more than anything, is what’s missing from the Mavs’ attack. The offense has become so unbelievably one-dimensional that it’s merely great when it could be spectacular. Increasing the number of attempts closer to the basket would bump up efficiency (especially through free throw attempts), shift the burden off of Dirk’s shoulders, and give the mediocre defense some extra wiggle room. The offense sure as hell ain’t broke, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a bit of a fix.
The bench might be in for a similar fix. I openly applaud the work of Brandon Bass and friends, but the two most productive bench players are only building on strengths. Bass and J.J. Barea play the positions of the Mavs’ two best players, making Carlisle’s job difficult in terms of finding productive minutes for everyone. We have Bass playing some center, Kidd playing some 2 guard, and none of it coming without some take to the give. For all the production that Bass and Barea provide, they bring liabilities with their lack of size and defensive limitations. Bass is a gentleman, a scholar, and frankly a beast, but he ends up giving four or five inches to opposing centers. Barea is an underdog with a heart of gold, but he’s six feet tall in heels. For all of their strengths, those limitations are not going away, and playing out of position places them under a microscope in front of a telescope under a comically large magnifying glass. Even a Mavericks’ strength is essentially a weakness; the team is plagued by having productive players fight for minutes and effectiveness at the same positions.
In the spirit of giving the season a full evaluation, I’ve decided to do an extended take on the point-counterpoint formula. This post will shine the rose-colored spotlight on 2008-2009.
There are countless ways to evaluate a season. To some, anything short of a trophy is an abject failure. I am a stark advocate of basketball for basketball’s sake, viewing the means as an end unto themselves. If you view every season that doesn’t end with a ring as a failure, you’re sadly marginalizing not only a year’s worth of toil and trouble, but also a complex narrative (be it complete or incomplete) rife with elements of macro and micro-level intrigue. Is there really no beauty in a breakdown? No silver lining to undeniable failure? Or, in the case of these Mavericks, no redemption in the season’s smaller victories? I find that idea not only unsettling, but a bit ridiculous. The championship validates the season and the effort (and in the most supreme way imaginable; I don’t mean to devalue the almighty trophy), but
The easiest way of finding joy in the Mavs’ playoff defeat is to focus on their blatant defiance in the name of low expectations. Many projected the Mavs to fall out of the playoff race entirely at the hands of the Shaq-infused Suns. Neither Dallas nor Phoenix was burdened with particularly lofty hopes for the season, but within the twosome you can see a divergence: the Mavs certainly battled issues with consistency, but adversity was met with important plays and important wins. The Suns, by contrast, stumbled to the finish line when in need of a dead sprint. It’s not quite the championship, but it’s certainly a minor victory. The impacts of a veteran team missing the playoffs can be catastrophic, and are in an entirely different spectrum than a failure to advance beyond round X. The Mavs’ brass is blessed in a way to have the choice of continuing to tweak or blow up the team, because missing out on the postseason could certainly have forced a few hands.
The only reason that’s possible, and the only reason making the playoffs and beating the Spurs were possible, is because of the offense (5th in offensive efficiency in the regular season, 3rd in the postseason). It’s easy to lump a complicated variety of factors under that tag, but let’s look at some of the keynotes:
- Dirk Nowitzki’s effect on the offense cannot be underestimated. The impact of his scoring was linear, but in providing opportunities for his teammates through improved passing and drawing in the defense. As the best player on the team, the offensive burden falls on Dirk’s shoulders. Not only did he succeed with flying colors, but accepted more responsibility without so much as a pip.
- I don’t know what more we could have asked of Jason Terry offensively. With the exception of his failures to produce with any kind of consistency in the playoffs, the JET provided a much-needed bench presence and a more than adequate second fiddle. I don’t think anyone predicted that Terry would eventually come to be the emotional leader of the Mavs when he was acquired for Antoine Walker five seasons ago, but that’s exactly what he has become. Maybe his gutsy play, his constant jawing, and his showmanship gets under the skin of opponents, but it was exactly the shot in the arm that the Mavs and the fans needed. That kind of emotional connection with the fanbase is tremendous, especially when trying to use the home court as a rallying point.
- Jason Kidd deserves credit for proving that old point guards can be taught new tricks, and especially for doing so without abandoning what made him great. In substantially improving his three-point stroke, Kidd added exactly what the Mavs’ offense called for. At the same time, his ability to establish his teammates with perfectly placed passes should never be overlooked. Kidd pulled points out of players like Ryan Hollins and Erick Dampier, which isn’t exactly an easy task at times.
- J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass really evolved into dependable offensive players late into the season. Barea’s size and recklessness painted him as a man doomed to fail, but J.J. has reined in his game and transformed from wild card to solid playmaker and effective spurt scorer. His decision-making has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year, and no attribute is of more import for a backup point guard. Bass exercised equal discretion, using more selective attempts and possessions based on position and mismatches. He tries to throw down everything around the rim, and his midrange jumper provides an excellent complement. Though the Mavs don’t have the best track record when it comes to drafting, both have proven to be welcome additions to Donnie Nelson’s resume when it comes to acquiring “low-level”, low-priced talent in free agency.
Of course, the offense isn’t truly given a chance to shine without Rick Carlisle’s willingness to install his system and let go. In handing playcalling responsibilities to Jason Kidd, he not only instilled confidence into the team’s core, but also allowed a very capable and talented floor general to control the pace of the game. The fact that Rick was able to have that kind of faith in his players in his first year as a coach here was tremendous, and the dividends were as obvious as they were impressive.
Rick Carlisle’s successes as a coach were exemplified in the series against the Spurs, where he out-coached Gregg Popovich. Pop is probably my favorite coach of all time (and I know how blasphemous that sounds coming from a Mavs fan), and to see our man Rick win out over one of the best in the biz was a treat. Carlisle made all the right moves in regard to tinkering with the rotation (notably pulling Barea out of his magic hat) and altering the defense the best he could. As a result the Mavs picked up the series in only five games, an impressive feat by almost any standard. However, Carlisle’s regular season adjustments and willingness to compromise were crucial to the Mavs not only securing the 6th seed in a tight playoff race, but even making it into the postseason. At the season’s dawn, Carlisle planned on running more of a motion offense that would create more ball and player movement. The goal was to produce easy shots, but the system never clicked. Rather than shove his agenda down the players’ throats, Rick catered to the team’s strengths and adjusted the offense to include similar concepts and sets from years past, with a strong emphasis on the Dirk-Terry two man game (imagine that). It was a central reason why the team was able to rebound from its slow start, and exactly the adjustment needed to combat the loss of Josh Howard to injury. A little familiarity goes a long way.
Donnie Nelson made quite the blunder in inking DeSegana Diop to a midlevel deal this summer, but like Carlisle he was willing to admit to the fault. Diop’s miserable start to the season signalled to the Mavs to get while the getting’s good almost rock bottom. Nelson responded by ditching the expensive, appreciating midlevel deal for Matt Carroll’s depreciating one, and netting a surprise addition in Ryan Hollins. Hollins was a welcome surprise and — at a bargain bin price — an ideal candidate for frontline depth. I don’t think Hollins will ever be a starting caliber center in the league, but he’s more than capable of bringing energy, shot-blocking, and athleticism in a role similar to the Birdman. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but right now that sounds pretty good.
James Singleton also proved to be a stellar addition for little risk, and his ability to fill any frontcourt position in a jam was quite valuable. He also looks like a miniature version of Erick Dampier, which is both weird and kind of cool. But Singleton’s rebounding and activity were nice additions to the squad, and he’s exactly the kind of situational role player you want to have on your roster.
Though Singleton and Hollins didn’t play prominent roles in the series against the Nuggets, both (in addition to J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass) were indispensible in creating some semblance of a bench. Jason Terry distorted the Mavs’ bench scoring, which was completely nonexistent early in the season. But as Carlisle grew more comfortable with his reserves and as they grew into the system and as players, we saw several guys capable of putting their fingerprints on a game. I still don’t feel like the bench is strong enough in the right places, but I do have a tremendous amount of respect and pride in what the bench was able to accomplish given the limitations.
In a lot of ways, that was the Mavs’ season in a nutshell: success in spite of limitations. Josh Howard was limited by injury all season long and fittingly, in the playoffs. But that didn’t stop him from being quite effective against the Spurs, or from competing to the best of his ability against the Nuggets. The offense was able to thrive despite going the season with essentially two proven scorers. The team’s pivotal decision-makers were able to adjust their game plans for the better when met with failure. The Mavs weren’t good enough to continue on the the conference finals and beyond, but they did remedy some of their weaknesses, and improved markedly by the end of the season. That’s the reason why we saw the Mavs hang tough with the Nuggets in a series of close games before ultimately falling in 5. The final tally is misleadingly lopsided, but the team that seemed incapable of solid, sustained play just months ago put together a wonderful offensive performance and a significant change in mentality. The Mavs toughness didn’t really manifest itself in ways that would make Kenyon Martin proud, but the refusal to surrender despite an insurmountable 0-3 hole and the refusal to bow down to the Nuggets’ physicality is certainly an improvement.
Like it or not, the Mavs have changed. This isn’t the same team that was the cream of the Western crop in ’06 or that won 67 games the following year. Jason Terry’s role has changed, Devin Harris and Jason Kidd are remarkably different players, there’s a new coach at the helm, and the depth is not what it once was. Playoff berths and 50 wins are reasonable goals for this squad, but to expect them to repeat past successes because this team shares laundry with its predecessors isn’t quite fair.
The Mavs are still a very good basketball team, and to be honest they’re still finding themselves. Offensively, I think the Mavs have it figured out. But they have yet to achieve anything close to their defensive potential. That might sound like a criticism, and to some extent it is, but it’s also a reason to be optimistic about things to come. Were the Mavs’ defensive failures this season a product of poor scheming, poor execution, or poor effort? Likely some combination of the three, which means we’re looking at a perfect time for improvement. It’s up to Carlisle to reinforce his defensive system and create an environment that rewards playing solid defense. It’s not that grown men need a “GREAT JOB!” sticker for every accomplishment, but the foundation of the team needs to congratulate effort and execution. Regimes run by fear and intimidation eventually crumble, but a defensive scheme hinging on mutual respect and team incentive can go far. Just ask the Spurs.
The buzzword on this blog for the playoffs has been resiliency, and that’s why I don’t feel dirty doling out points for a morally victorious season. I have no idea whether that mindset will translate into next season, but the very possibility has me excited. Not necessarily excitement that requires championship validation, but nonetheless excitement for another successful season that keeps the championship dream, however distant, alive.
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
The Mavs’ season ended not with a bang nor a whimper, but with the sigh of a team that just didn’t have enough. The Nuggets were the better basketball team, and they played like it. That’s why, for the first time in a long while, I rested easy after the Mavs bowed out of the postseason. There was no implosion and there was no letdown. Although we Mavs fans were holding onto the hope of another Western Conference Finals, they should be able to find solace in the way these Mavs fought and the way that Dirk thrived.
All the credit in the world has to go to the Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were a good basketball team playing their best basketball at the right time, but the Nuggets are a superior basketball team playing even better basketball with more two-way consistency. Personally, I’m ecstatic every time I get to watch the player that Carmelo Anthony is morphing into. Something about his game was both equally troubling and appealing, and to see him do away with the silly turnovers and the forced shots is to see him morph into an incredible basketball player. He showed every bit of that transformation in this series, and put the cherry on top in Game 5 with 30 points on 13-22 shooting (he had to miss 6 straight attempts to fall to that mortal mark). Melo will never be the playmaker (read: LeBron) that some wished he would be, but I sincerely doubt that many will be disappointed with his finished product.
Chauncey Billups (28 points on 10-16 shooting, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) made the point guard match-up a bit of a joke. While the Mavs’ veteran floor general was ignoring easy layup opportunities, being caught in the air with nowhere to go, and getting completely abused by a fairly rudimentary two-man trap in the half-court, Chauncey was doing more than his fair share to push the Nuggets over the edge. His shots were timely and brutal, and the lack of mistakes in his decision making was a perfect way for Billups to put his stamp on this series.
But before I get too gushy about the Nuggets’ stars, let’s not forget our own. Dirk Nowitzki finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the rest of the team simply could not carry the burden of doing the rest. Dirk was positively glorious. He was drawing fouls on any Nugget that dare try to defend him, and when Dirk wasn’t waltzing his way to the free throw line he was draining jumpers that barely touched net. Though his 5 turnovers are quite uncharacteristic, I think he’s done more than enough to absolve himself. After all Dirk has done to carry the Mavs this season and this postseason, he’s certainly earned that much.
The Mavericks’ defense was undoubtedly their downfall. Though it’s easy to point the finger to the careless turnovers or flubbed offensive possessions, you hardly even need to single out the atrocious transition defense and nearly as miserable half-court execution. The perimeter defense just isn’t good enough to stay with quality NBA players, and the Mavs lack the type of help side defenders that can compensate for that weakness. The result is layups, and dunks, and free throws, which are a bit easier than the Mavs’ jumpers. Dirk is a fantastic jumpshooter, but he can hardly keep pace with a Nugget layup drill.
Jason Kidd (19 points, 9 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 threes) had a tough time running the offense, and couldn’t stay in front of Chauncey Billups to save his life. But to Kidd’s credit, he came out in the second half ready to make a difference. The Mavs trimmed their 10-point deficit in a jiffy, in large part to Kidd hitting open three after open three. It was a nice second half effort to step up as Dirk’s scoring bro, but needless to say I expected a more complete game (and series) from Kidd.
Brandon Bass (17 and 7) was great, and J.J. Barea (7 points on 3 of 5 shooting) played some good minutes to spell Kidd during his turnover phase. Unfortunately for both of them, J.R. Smith (18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists) was better. How many momentum-killing long threes did Smith hit in this series? He can shoot from the damn parking lot.
The Mavs had chances to win this game, but here’s the important thing: they earned those chances. Dallas sprinted out of the gate to a quick lead, but eventually ceded it to the Nuggs. Then they fought back several times in the second half, only to be held at arm’s length by a Carmelo three or a J.R. heartbreaker. But this outcome is something the Mavs should have been expecting since Game 2, and rightfully so. Congrats to the Nuggets, but plenty of congratulations to the Mavs for putting up a helluva fight, staying within reach, and hoping for a miracle. The fact that it never came doesn’t make their effort any less impressive.
- Dear Jason Kidd, You need to eliminate the jump pass from your brain. I don’t want you to be able to perform that action anymore. Know who you’re going to pass to, stay on your feet, and be a damn point guard. Love, Rob.
- Chris Andersen was rendered a non-factor in the last two games he actually played, largely because Dirk was very aware of his presence. Andersen tried to swoop in on several occasions for a weak side block on Dirk, only to find Nowitzki waiting patiently to draw the foul. Great stuff as always from Dirk.
- This was not a good series for Jason Terry. I might go as far as to say that this was the worst playoff run of his career. Rick threw him into the starting lineup, and it did a whole lot of nothing.
- Can someone explain to me how Anthony Carter got three offensive rebounds, all of which were around the basket?
- Great season, guys.
- Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie: “Now, I’d like to discuss Dirk Nowitzki. Not unlike Carmelo, just about any shot he decides to toss up will have a solid chance of going in. And like a lot of players who can go over either shoulder, on either block, in either direction, in a number of ways, the sheer amount of possibilities and ways for Dirk to score sometimes boggles the mind. His mind, most importantly. It leads him thinking way too much, trying to set up the perfect shot, when sometimes a one-footed fadeaway off of no contact from 17-feet is a 70 percent proposition.”
- Also, I missed this yesterday, but KD named Dirk and Brandon Bass as honorable mentions on his “Top five most improved playoff performances,” and unfortunately ranked Jason Terry second on his list of “Top five NBA playoff fall-offs.”
- Rick Carlisle on Dirk, via Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “The one fadeaway shot that he hit was a force of sheer will to get that ball in the basket, because it was an incredibly difficult shot…I’ve seen Bird make those shots many time during the prime of his career. The great ones, they somehow find the will to do it and they get it done. You know, he’s one of the great ones.”
- There are some Nuggets who don’t have much to stand on when it comes to discussing “class,” but that doesn’t mean the crowd at the AAC needs to get into the act. There are some lines that fans aren’t meant to cross, and when family comes into the picture, any insult becomes intensely personal. For everybody’s sake, let’s stay away from that. I don’t care who said what or who did what at this point; cut it out.
- Jeremy of Roundball Mining Company: “…the Nuggets have lost their physical edge. Along with the points in the paint Dallas crushed the Nuggets on the boards. I generally do not make a big deal about rebounds unless the Nuggets get or give up an avalanche of second chance points, but the Mavericks completely controlled their defensive glass giving up only six offensive rebounds to Denver while corralling 41 defensive boards.”
- Yes, Erick Dampier suffered, but THIS IS A MYTH. I REPEAT, THIS IS A MYTH.
- Woodie Paige, The Denver Post: “In a game of plots, conspiracies, subterfuges, gambits, feints and ploys, it came down to a one-on-one, face-to-face, mano-a-mano Star Wars lightsabers duel between Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki edged Anthony. The Mavericks edged the Nuggets. This was Frazier-Ali, Connors-McEnroe, Gibson-Drysdale, Ben-Hur-Messala, Skywalker-Vader, Russell-Chamberlain, Magic-Bird. Staring down, looking up. Point for point, rebound for rebound, big play for big play. Basketball is a team game, but there was an individual clash of the titans Monday night that was epic and classic, a pleasure to watch, an amusement park ride, a test of wills, drives and jumpers. If you don’t like that, collect butterflies.”
- Even if the Mavs fall in Denver, there’s a pretty big difference between losing in four and losing in five.
- Bob Sturm of Inside Corner: “With Dirk playing in the post as a ’5′, then Bass can be a ’4′. It is not exactly Gasol and Odom, but it makes quite a bit of sense against many teams. If Dampier cannot provide any reason for the opposition to guard him, and if he also brings almost no energy plays, then allowing the offense to run through Dirk on the post against guys who cannot guard him make the Mavs impossible to deal with without a double team. And, then, your shooters make them pay. Dirk as a 5 might be the future of this team. So, maybe a true defensive Power Forward is what this team really needs to allow the Mavs to “play small” even though they would have a 7-foot center. It all starts with Dirk being interested in banging around, but he banged for 44 last night and Denver had no clue what to do.”
- In the subplot that I currently could not care less about, Mark Cuban apologizes to Kenyon Martin, his mom, and his family. A kind gesture, but come on, do we still have to talk about this?
- ESPN’s Marc Stein: “The historic part: Nowitzki and Anthony became just the third twosome ever in a playoff game to each total at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. Jerry West (41 and 10) and Elgin Baylor (45 and 17) did it as Los Angeles Lakers teammates against Detroit in 1962. Michael Jordan (42 and 12) and Charles Barkley (42 and 13) did so for Chicago and Phoenix, respectively, in the 1993 NBA Finals. Then the list ends with Dirk and Melo.”
“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Our man Dirk sure knows how to put on a show.
In a game where the anarchy of flagrant and technical fouls ruled, Dirk was able to make order out of chaos. He was never involved in the game’s numerous entanglements, not once caught fuming with uncontrollable anger or demonstrating anything but the desperation and calculated resolve that makes him such a force. The result? Dirk poured in for 19 in the fourth quarter, the importance of which is amplified by the Mavs’ narrow margin of victory. The Mavs needed every single point to reel in a victory that desperately tried to escape their grasp. Though this time, no near-foul, heart-breaking shot, or referee could stand in their way.
Plus, how’s this for irony: the Mavs were feeding off of the energy of Antoine Wright wrapping up Carmelo Anthony in the way that he was ‘supposed to’ at the end of Game 3. After Anthony grabbed an offensive rebound early in the second quarter with the Nuggets nursing a 14-point lead, Antoine Wright wrapped up his arms to foul him on the floor. For seconds after the whistle blew, Wright refused to let go of Anthony’s arm. Carmelo wasn’t all too pleased about that, and responded by trying to push AW off, only to maybe possibly kind of catch a bit of Wright’s cheek. The implications of which were much more significant than a simple technical foul; the Mavs and the crowd were awakened to fight off the surging Nuggs, and a game that seemed destined for a blowout was suddenly altered into a competitive affair.
The Dirk takeover had commenced, and it was really one of those nights. One of those nights where Dirk’s greatness can hardly be quantified, but also one of those nights where the numbers (44 points on 25 shots, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 16-17 FT) turn out quite beautifully. Dirk’s attack was as captivating as it was methodical, as he used every trick in his book and then some to lure the Nuggets’ defenders into fouls, including an insatiable desire to score at the rim. K-Mart, Nene, Melo, whatever; Dirk took advantage of whoever was guarding him, turning every matchup into a problem with his footwork, balance, and silky smooth jumper. More coming on Dirk in a later post.
Carmelo Anthony (41 points on 29 shots, 11 rebounds, 5 steals) provided the perfect foil for Dirk. Whereas Dirk’s moves were calm, planned, and deliberate, Melo’s game represented the brash improvisation and spontaneity that makes him such an effective scorer. His pull-up jumpers were exclamation points, and each steal and subsequent fast break dunk a flurry of its own. Melo’s night was exemplified by his clutch, hard-hitting three pointer with just seconds remaining, a chilling reenactment of his Game 3 shot that pulled a seeminglysafe four-point lead into an ever-vulnerable two-point one. I’m just glad that this time around, that shot was dangerous and not deadly. It’s also certainly worth noting that J.R. Smith went absolutely hog wild on huge, game-changing jumpers. Some of his attempts deserved to go in and other’s didn’t (a certain straight-on bank shot, perhaps?), but Smith bailed the Nuggs out of many a shot clock violation by hitting important shot after important shot.
Though Dirk was undoubtedly the shining star (and the Gold Star, hint-hint), he couldn’t have done it without some help from his friends. Josh Howard gimped his way to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and though his shot selection in the fourth very nearly cost the Mavs the game, they couldn’t have even been in this game without him. J.J. Barea (10 points, 5-8 FG) and Brandon Bass (11 points, 4-6 FG) were able to get easy baskets at difficult times, and Jason Terry (12 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) made his presence felt in spite of foul trouble. Roll all of that up into a ball with superior team defense (though you’d never guess it based on Carmelo’s totals), a much more dependable Jason Kidd, and world’s finest Dirk Nowitzki, and you’ve got yourself a win.
Sad team defense is often tough to point out in the box score, but it was clear that in these last two games, the Mavs were much more willing to prevent Denver’s transition attack and contest many (notably not all) of the Nuggets’ attempts in the paint. Of course that starts with the perimeter guys — Kidd, Howard, Wright, Terry, Barea — but relies on the rotation of bigs like Dampier, Bass, and Dirk to make things work. This is one area in particular where I thought Dirk Nowitzki excelled, and though his individual defense may not have received any of the spotlight, his effectiveness on that end should not go unnoticed. He and Bass proved that they can work together as a defensive tandem and still be effective, which means quite a bit for the team’s most efficient offensive frontcourt.
- Please, please, please, NBA, have some consistency with the flagrant calls. The Mavs were called for two very iffy flagrants to finish the 2nd quarter, one of which, combined with a technical arguing the play and a Melo bucket, turned a 5-point deficit into a 10-point one at the buzzer. I remain convinced the fouls on Kleiza and J.R. Smith were just that, fouls.
- The Birdman didn’t suit up for this one due to some severe stomach cramps.
- I’d feel bad if I didn’t single out Brandon Bass by name for praise for his defense. Erick Dampier racked up six fouls in just 23 minutes, so Bass played a huge role in keeping Nene to a very mortal 9 points and 8 rebounds. Essentially, Nene has been the difference between a nail-biter and a blowout for the Nuggets. When he’s on his A-game, they can just roll over teams. But when a physical defender really digs in and gives him trouble, their offense can really struggle.
- The Mavs won the battle of the offensive boards 9-6 and got the win. That’s no coincidence.