The Rock and the Hard Place

Posted by Kirk Henderson on June 3, 2013 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

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It’s been a slow and frustrating descent for the Mavericks and their fans since climbing the championship ladder in 2011. The quality of team play dropped as fan favorites left for different opportunities, while new faces mostly failed to live up to expectations. To recall how the Mavericks got to this point, it’s illuminating to look back to an email sent from Mark Cuban to Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas on December 8th, 2011:

“The reality is that in the new system, cap room will have far more value than it had in the past…

The rules are different now, and while it makes it tougher this year because of the affection we have for many of the guys that are leaving, if we want the Mavs to be able to compete for championships in future years as well, it’s a hard decision, but I believe the right decision.”

Cuban has been consistent with his desire to construct a winning team within the constraints of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. During a May 28th radio interview with ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM Cuban said, “If we don’t get the big name, we want to start building that base of a team that can start having some continuity of playing together.” Despite Dirk Nowitzki being on the final year of his contract, it’s been generally understood that the Mavericks are trying to build a team around or with Dirk, while also building a team capable of being successful after Dirk retires.

But there’s been an elephant in the room that has not been acknowledged: What if those goals are mutually exclusive?

Mark Cuban has been very careful in what he’s said to the media over the last few years, mentioning how important cap flexibility is in the long term while also giving attention to Dirk’s dissatisfaction with the last two seasons. If Cuban and Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson are able to land either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, then this point is moot. But what if they don’t?

The remainder of the talent in the 2013 free agent pool either doesn’t fit with Dallas’ plan, like Josh Smith, or represent risky gambles, like Brandon Jennings or Andrew Bynum. Signing one or more of the second tier free agents might benefit Dallas in the short term by making the team more competitive. However, it’s hard to imagine any 2013-2014 Maverick squad without Paul or Howard being a “championship” or “top-seeded team,” which Cuban insists is possible.

Any influx of talent might make Nowitzki happy as he heads into his final years in a Mavericks uniform, but at what point is doing something for Dirk detrimental to Dallas long term? He turns 35 on June 19th. Dirk’s offensive game remains amazing, but he’s also expressed a desire for someone to share the load. Do any of the non-superstar free agents really strike the Dallas front office as the kind of players they can build around after Nowitzki retires?

On the flip side, if Dallas elects to sign a roster full of project players and single-year contracts again, they’re essentially wasting a third straight year of Dirk’s career. For many Mavericks fans, Nowitzki is the alpha and omega when it comes to Dallas as a franchise, and putting together a competitive team while he finishes out his Hall of Fame tenure is an utmost priority. After all, when Nowitzki re-signed with the Mavs at a discount in the summer of 2010, he did so with the understanding that the front office would do its best to surround him with high-caliber players. The lockout and ensuing CBA changed the landscape drastically, and in the process limited Dallas’ team-building options. Yet another lost year for Dirk would be tough to swallow for all involved, even if such a course proves to be best for the Mavs’ greater efforts to construct a contender.

Nowitzki has long been a good soldier for the organization, despite playing with the least talented teammates of any superstar from his generation. While he’s on the record saying he’s willing to take a hefty pay cut when he re-signs after next season, another wasted season could change his internal calculus. Loyal though he might be, Nowitzki’s re-signing in that scenario would first require that he endure another year on the “mediocrity treadmill” without losing faith or interest in the Mavs’ rebuilding efforts. Dallas has been a step above bad for two seasons, held together mainly by Dirk’s brilliance. As he ages, he can’t be expected to carry a .500 team in a Western conference that only seems to get better each season. Nowitzki has seen the peak, and to trudge through the lowlands with a middling team through his slow decline would seem a painfully unfulfilling turn.

As the Mavs attempt to thread the needle in building a team for the future that will simultaneously make the most of Nowitzki’s twilight years, the front office is flirting with disaster. Despite all assurances to the contrary, Dallas’ plan seems to be to land Paul/Howard or bust. The Mavs are reportedly shopping this year’s pick for salary cap space, as has become something of a trend; Dallas traded away younger assets like Corey Brewer and Jordan Hamilton only to make cap space in the past, and the bid to have max-level cap room has left the Mavericks’ cupboard alarmingly bare. If Dallas strikes out with Paul and Howard, it’s quite possible the 2013-2014 Mavericks will be a bad team with a murky future. Despite trying to place themselves in the best possible situation for this off season, the Mavericks are left at the mercy of the decision-making of others.

It’s an uncomfortable situation with meager chance for positive resolution. Yet this is the lot of a team rebuilding around an aging star owed $22.7 million in single-year salary, left only to rely on the long-shot landing of Paul or Howard. For now, acquiring either superstar remains a vague possibility for a franchise in need of hope. Yet come July, the overwhelming likelihood is that both Paul and Howard will sign elsewhere, leaving Dallas to face difficult questions with few — if any — encouraging answers.

Radio Gold

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 29, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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After making an appearance on KESN-FM over the weekend, Mavs owner Mark Cuban once again took to the airwaves as he appeared on KRLD-FM on Tuesday afternoon. If you missed his initial appearance over the week, you can listen to it here. In his latest radio appearance (which can be heard here), Cuban further explained the team’s two-year plan, more of a behind-the-curtain look at their sales pitch to prospective free agents, what the heck is going to happen to Roddy Beaubois, and how this summer is different than last summer.

There was plenty of gold in Cuban’s comments. When there’s plenty of gold, there is only one way to tackle it.

Here is the quoteboard for Cuban’s appearance on the Ben and Skin show.

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Risk Aversion

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 28, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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A safe way to go through life is avoiding risks. You can’t lose when you don’t take a chance. But you can’t win much either.

That’s a way of life that many people go through as some can’t take losing or the realities of losing. Many fans were heartbroken last summer after going through the drama with Deron Williams only to find out that he was going to stay with the Brooklyn Nets, spurning the Mavs and the opportunity to play with Dirk Nowitzki. A new year of free agency is upon us and the Mavs will once again try to swing for the fences as they pursue Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

Many fans start wincing at the idea of the Mavs trying to pursue these big fish, remembering the feelings they endured through the entire process last year. (First off, you probably should avoid getting on the roller coaster in the first place.)

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Answered Questions

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 24, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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There have been a lot of positive remarks about the questions and answers series that has started during the offseason. I think people are just thirsty for Mavs information or debate, but we’ll continue running with the series. If you ever have questions you want tossed into future a batch, you can always send them through Twitter or through the comments section.

This batch provides a good mixture of looking back, looking ahead and evaluating who the true gambles are this offseason with free agency. If Dirk and Carlisle were your kids and you had to pick one as your favorite, who would you pick? Wait, parents don’t have to pick a favorite child? Oh, that’s good to know for the future. Anyways, a variation of that topic is brought up.

For now, here are 10 more questions and answers about the Mavs.

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Picture This

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 23, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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Information is power. Getting seduced by information is dangerous. There is the clichéd saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, there were three photos that popped up last week that are very relevant in the Mavs’ universe. They provide information, two more interesting than the other.

The first one came on Friday morning as owner Mark Cuban reinforced his point to the fans that he is committed to making this past season as an aberration as opposed to the new norm.

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Money Talks

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 20, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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The game of basketball has turned into the business of basketball. Players are still slowly learning that fact. Fans should understand that now. The 2010-11 Mavs are a great example of how business could get in the way of a good thing.

Dallas won the title that year and decided that it wasn’t a safe risk to “bring the band back” for another run at the title. Giving the core a chance to defend their title would have been enjoyable, but there was clear and reasonable logic behind the move the front office made. Mark Cuban has gotten a lot of heat for that decision, but the results of the playoffs this year suggest he was right for letting everyone go. As the Conference Finals are in motion, the Indiana Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi is the lone former Mav from the championship roster who still is playing.

Let’s look at what the Mavs would have theoretically had to do to bring most of the band back. Remember, Brian Cardinal and Peja Stojakovic are out of the league now. That leaves J.J. Barea, Caron Butler, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahinmi, DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Terry. One guy to remember but won’t exactly be figured into this equation – Corey Brewer. He signed a three-year, $9,177,000 deal. He is now a free agent.

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Deep Thoughts

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 17, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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I think. I probably think way too much. That’s just what happens when you have time on your hands. Again, I just sat and thought about random things revolving around the Mavs. Answers popped up, and this is the end result. Another batch of 10 questions and answers in regards to the summer and the future for Dallas.

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Size (Does or Doesn’t) Matter

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 16, 2013 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Point guard or center: Where do the Mavs focus their attention this summer? That is the question. Last week, we covered how both positions were clearly below expectations for the Mavs and that they need to replenish those positions with upgrades.

I posed the hypothetical question to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon during one of our Bloom and Doom sessions during the year about whether Tyson Chandler or J.J. Barea would have been more valuable to Dallas during this season.

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Passing Thoughts

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 14, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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Needless to say, there’s a lot of free time on my hands. I like to think when I have a lot of free time. I like to think when I do not have a lot of free time. With that in mind, I’ve sat and wondered about various subjects revolving around the Mavs. I went ahead and got my fingers working on the keyboard and came up with questions and answers about the Mavs. Here are 10 of the questions and answers now. I will share the other 10 later this week.

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Center Stage

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 10, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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It’s time to wrap up the position by position evaluation. If the point guard position was the worst spot for the Mavs, the center position was the second choice. Folks got a harsh reminder that Tyson Chandler wasn’t going to be walking back through that door. Going into the 2011-12 season, Dallas had the likes of Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi that had to be replaced.

They got creative by replenishing their center spot by signing veteran big man Chris Kaman to a one-year deal. They also claimed Elton Brand off waivers as he was released by Philadelphia due to the amnesty provision. Brandan Wright continued to log minutes at the center spot, but he also saw more time at the power forward position.

Summing it up:

The centers definitely never had a chance to get into a groove as both Kaman and Brand expected to be playing off of the attention that Dirk Nowitzki received from the opposing defenders. Dirk’s time away due to his knee surgery definitely altered that plan for both big men. That certainly changes the expected results for the centers, but the numbers are still pretty poor over the course of the season.

In terms of rebounds from the center position, Dallas’ centers tied for dead last in the league at 4.3 rebounds per game. The two teams they tied with made the playoffs, but they definitely had more to work with. The teams were the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. Both teams were clearly limited with their size in the frontcourt, but they had athletes that helped masked that deficiency.

Those rebounding numbers for the center show a pretty significant correlation to the fact that they weren’t good at getting second chance points. Dallas’ centers were below average in second chance points as they only averaged 3.5 per game. New Orleans’ big men led the league in that category at 6.5 per game.

The Dallas centers had the 11th worst defensive rating for centers at 103.8. Elton Brand was brought in to be the enforcer and anchor in the paint. His defensive rating for the season was 102, better than his career average. He wasn’t necessarily outmatched in his position. Brand isn’t the tallest center in the world, but he’s able to use his frame and long arms as leverage as a defender. The problem was that he wasn’t necessarily set up in a position to succeed as the perimeter defenders weren’t exactly staying in front of their man. That forced the centers, like Brand, to help more than they probably should have needed to.

 What do they need?

You either believe you need a dominant center and pair him with Dirk, or you need a highly-skilled point guard and pair him with Dirk. Both would clearly be ideal, but it’s entirely possible the Mavs might have to select just one option.

It’s always ideal to now follow the blueprint that was created with Tyson Chandler. Dirk has said it over and over again that a mobile center who can play defense is one that works best alongside him. Comparing this summer to next summer, this summer’s crop has the potential to bear more fruit as next summer has intriguing names but the options are relatively limited. That means centers, which always get paid, will really get paid next summer because the options are just so limited.

Through free agency and the draft, there will be plenty of options for Dallas when looking at centers. It is very evident that, like the point guard position, they really need to take care of the center position this offseason. It will be very interesting to see which route they take when it comes to the center spot.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.