News: I’m With You, Too

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 14, 2009 under News, Roster Moves | 3 Comments to Read

The Mavs already have a legion under their employ without the roster spots to accommodate them, but that didn’t stop Donnie and Mark from finalizing the details a new deal with James Singleton.  Sending James on his merry wouldn’t have caused the ship to sink, but having him around as an extra lifesaver is definitely comforting.

All indications point to a deal of the one-year, $1 million-ish variety, which is great value for a player with Singleton’s heart.  James has a tendency to succeed in the roles that he’s given, and even if he has to forcibly pry minutes from the hands of other front-court players, I’m still happy to see such a quality player back in a Maverick uniform.

Marc Stein’s column on ESPN.com notes in the sidebar that Singleton ranked 2nd in win shares among players with 1,000 minutes or fewer.  Groovy.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 4, 2009 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • The biggest Mav-centric news of late: Dirk’s ex-fiancee is, contrary to earlier reports and speculation, not pregnant.  I have no idea what happened from point A to point B and I don’t care to guess, but I’m glad Dirk won’t have to go through all the custody hoopla.
  • Pro Basketball News’ Tony Mejia might be the Mavs’ new best friend.  Shortly after being Mav-friendly in his top 100 rankings, he ranked Rodrigue Beaubois as the 9th best player in the rookie class.  That’s above Jordan Hill, Steph Curry, Hasheem Thabeet, Earl Clark, Terrence Williams…and the list goes on.  Mejia explains the basis for his rankings: “These rookie rankings are based on an a projection of future accomplishments, upside, team role and general worthiness of swagger.”  While I’m glad to see Beaubois getting some love, I’m none too pleased about this terrible misuse of ‘swagger.’
  • Mark Cuban on James Singleton, via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News: “The fact that he hasn’t to this point has us a little upset…It means he is looking for any deal he can find, dragging us along rather than committing to us knowing that with the second year [as a Maverick] under his belt, he becomes an early-bird free agent next year…If he doesn’t want to be here, we would rather he just revoke the qualifier and become a full free agent.”
  • Cubes on Greg Buckner, via the same Sefko piece: “Buck won’t be here…We will either make him part of a deal or free him up so he can get another job. It’s not fair to him to just drag it along.”
  • According to ESPN’s panel of NBAers, the Mavs will finish 5th in the West.  They also got exactly one vote of confidence for winning the West outright in the Playoffs.
  • Sean Deveney of the The Baseline comprised a list of the ten worst contracts in the NBA…and our man Damp doesn’t make the cut.  CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES, COME ON!
  • Team USA big wig Jerry Colangelo speculates on Jason Kidd’s future in international play, and echoes the thoughts of almost everyone on the planet: Kidd is done.
  • Mike Fisher gives the Mavs the Then and Now treatment.
  • Old news by now, but not mentioned here: Cuban still has a beef with the SEC.

Nearing the End of the Free Agent Bazaar

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 23, 2009 under Commentary | 28 Comments to Read

It’s nearing that time, kids.  The time when regrettable mid-level deals are forged and signed with blood, when fits-like-a-glove veterans are snatched up for pennies on the dollar, and when the yearly projects (Oh, hi Gerald.) find their new temporary home in which to fail to make the jump.  Late summer is truly a magical time for basketball fans.

The Gortat Incident seems years in the past, and while that episode may have trampled some hope for the upcoming season, there are still some serviceable free agents out there.  Most of them can be had on the relative cheap and still provide meaningful production.  Some of them can even do so in ways that would maximize a Mavs’ investment.

The biggest questions should be centered around how these potential Mavericks could change the team’s outlook towards the free agent Mavs in limbo: Ryan Hollins, Gerald Green, and James Singleton.  It’s no secret that the Mavs have some, shall we say, “issues” in the middle.  There’s Erick Dampier and a whole lot of nothing.  Will Dirk shift over?  Are any of the relative unknowns on the roster ready to body up in the paint?  Hard to say.  But the lack of “real” centers (whatever that means anymore) on the roster is a definite point of concern.  Ryan Hollins isn’t quite the remedy we had in mind when the off-season started, but locking him up for next season should be viewed as a necessity.  Brandon Bass won’t be around to log minutes at the five and muscle up on the inside, so a combination of Hollins and makeshift 5s will likely have to do the job.

That is, unless the Mavs are particularly enamored with one of the centers still swimming around in the free agent pool.

It seems like the Mavs have seen just about all they need to see from Gerald Green.  If circumstances were different, like if the Mavs were desperately trying to fill their roster rather than trim it, I could see everyone’s favorite/least favorite slammajamma prospect stick around for another year.  But there’s really no incentive to make an obligation to G-Money.  He wasn’t dynamic or even singularly effective enough last season to warrant special consideration, and given what the Mavs already have to work with, committing additional dollars and a roster spot to the Green dream seems pretty foolish.

Singleton’s place with the team is even more ambiguous.  James hustled his way into Maverick hearts last season and proved to be a rebounding machine.  It’s questionable how much floor time would be available to Singleton with Shawn Marion being worked into the mix, but James is an ideal guy to fill out a roster and bring energy off the bench.  But again, with the roster crunch the Mavs are in at the moment, it could be tough to bring Singleton back.  Doing so would likely require a trade or a waiver, which may be more trouble than a 10th man is worth, especially if another free agent option is deemed superior.

With that in mind, let’s take to the list of the remaining free agents that should interest the Mavs:

1. Lamar Odom, F (unrestricted) – Lamar is the big fish.  He’s plump from chomping on that Championship gold, and is a long shot (at best) to land with the Mavs; Even if Odom isn’t feeling the love from the Lakers, the Heat would likely one-up the Mavs in terms of both fit and personal preference.  Oh, bother.

You also may notice that Odom is about as bad of a fit as you can get given the current core.  LO can is a forward, and both of his natural positions are waist-deep in talent.  Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Josh Howard form one mean forward rotation, and finding room for Lamar Odom in that mix would definitely be tricky.  But Odom is unique and talented enough that those concerns come later.  If you can grab Lamar Odom as a free agent, you do it.  Period.  He’s as versatile as players get in this league and now championship-validated, which is a rather powerful thing to add to a resume.

2. Rasho Nesterovic, C (unrestricted) – I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, Rasho is big, he’s white, and he’s lumbering, but this guy is definitely better than you think he is.  I can’t think of a single facet of Rasho’s game that would warrant calling him a beast, but supposing the Mavs are truly looking to fill minutes at the 5 with free agent imports, I see them doing no better than Nesterovic.  Offensively, he won’t provide much.  Strictly a garbage buckets, open dunks and layups kinda guy.  But on the defensive end, that’s where Rasho is valuable.  Having two serviceable centers who can play D is a luxury few teams have in today’s NBA, and though Erick Dampier and Rasho Nesterovic are neither big names nor offensive juggernauts, together they could go a long way towards slowing down the league’s back-to-the-basket types.

3. Carlos Delfino, SG (restricted) -Delfino is a baller.  His game is smooth and he’s a fine shooter (.490 eFG on jumpers), but unfortunately one who is decidedly average from behind the arc (.356 for his career from three).  Delfino offers a prototypical look that would allow the Mavs to run slightly more conventional lineups from the bench.  He slashes, he hits his midrange looks, and he’s a solid defender; Carlos Delfino is a player just waiting for the right opportunity, and I feel like the Mavs could be a great fit.  Delfino would blossom with some offensive talent around him, and with all the loaded guns the Mavs are packing, he should have no problem getting open looks.  The two-way shooting guard that the Mavs have craved may be a vagabond Argentine…or at worst, he slides in as a rotation wing with a diverse game.

4. Von Wafer, SG (unrestricted) – Von Wafer is a ruthless scorer.  He’d cut the throat of a kitten for a bucket, but that same drive makes him a bit of a black hole.  For what it’s worth, he also had trouble getting along with Rockets’ coach Rick Adelman, perhaps the most players’ coachy of players’ coaches.

Wafer may never tighten the screws that keep his head on his shoulders, and that’s likely the red flag that has kept the Mavs away.  If Wafer can’t learn to play nice with his coach and his teammates, he’ll never be able to thrive in the shot-in-the-arm role that best suits his game.  I don’t think Wafer has the talent or potential to pan out as a top-level scorer, but he would rock it as a punch off the bench.  The Mavs already have that covered with a cat named Jason Terry.  You may have heard of him.  But if Von has trouble finding a home and re-enters the market for bargain value, the Mavs would be stupid to pass up the depth…unless Wafer’s even more troublesome to a locker room than I give him credit for.

5. Ike Diogu, PF (unrestricted) – Diogu may not seem like a fit at first glance, but he could be incredibly useful as a post threat on the second unit.  Ike would slide into Brandon Bass’ role as an undersized PF/C, though his game is more drop steps and less money jumpers.

Diogu’s counting stats won’t wow you, but he’s never really had an ample opportunity to strut his stuff.  His career high in minutes is just a shade under 15, and as such his career averages are decidedly pedestrian.  But when you scope out Diogu’s efficiency numbers and per-minute numbers, they’re truly stellar.  Behold, Ike’s stats per 36 (via Basketball-Reference.com.  Click here to see a larger version.):

That’s typically not the level of production you pick up late in free agency.  And more often than not, you don’t find these players pining away on the wrong end of a rotation for the first four years of their career.

6. Leon Powe, PF (unrestricted) – Leon Powe could turn out to be a great investment, but the returns will be delayed.  He’s currently rehabbing from a torn ACL, which is injury-speak for no bueno.  Logic and precedent tell you not to offer a guaranteed contract to a man with jelly knees, but logic and precedent aren’t staring down a short frontcourt rotation that could use a quality big.  Sheesh, the nerve of those two.

Hinging the frontcourt rotation on Powe’s knee could be a gamble, but if the Mavs aren’t satisfied with what they’ve got (Ahmad Nivins included.  He looked like a player in summer league, but you never know what to expect from a team with a full roster.), then they could opt for a low-salary, option-based deal with Powe.

7. Rashad McCants, SG (unrestricted) – He’s young, he’s available, and he’s a scorer.  Unfortunately, he’s not much else.  McCants is a mouth with a jumpshot, but enough of both that he could inject some swagger and balance the court with his range.  As long as the deal is within reason, McCants could be the extra gun arm needed to shoot the lights out.  He also just so happened to work out with the team a few weeks back, so he’s got that on his side.

8. Keith Bogans, SG (unrestricted) – Bogans is one of those defensive-stopper types who grabbed the label through lack of alternatives.  Bogans doesn’t have much going for him offensively, but he’s a good option as a spot-up shooter on the perimeter.  Luckily for the Mavs, that’s pretty much what they’re looking for in a shooting guard.  With the offensive talent the Mavs have, sometimes optimizing the offensive flow is as simple as spacing the floor and going to work.  When the double teams come, shooters are in position, and if they don’t, you’re looking at a high-quality shot for one of the Mavs’ offensive weapons.  It’s hard to say exactly where such a player would fit in minutes-wise, but if the Mavs are looking for back-up plans in case playing Howard at the 2 goes South, they could do worse than Bogans.  Itty bitty problems: Bogans is no spring chicken, so what you see is pretty much what you get, and there are definite redundancies in the games of Keith Bogans and the newly-signed Quinton Ross.

Mr. Blue Sky

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 21, 2009 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Denver Nuggets Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2008-2009 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 2, 2009 under Previews | 3 Comments to Read

This series is going to be a treat.  The Spurs series was an unexpected letdown in terms of competitive value, but Mavs-Nuggets will surely do more than wet your playoff palate.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images.

The Mavs’ 0-4 record against the Nuggets in the regular season is well-documented, but those games couldn’t possibly mean less.  Josh Howard returning from injury (and his renaissance) are akin to a major trade: it significantly changed the way that the Mavs approach the game, the way they execute on both ends, and the way Carlisle manages the rotations.  The five games’ worth of Playoff Mavs has been shocking not only in quality of play, but also just how this team has evolved since their regular season dog days.  The regular season irrelevancy goes double for the Nuggets.  Denver was a good regular season team, good enough to secure the number 2 seed in the West.  But the way that the Nuggets completely erased Chris Paul and the Hornets at large was a remarkable feat that the regular season Nuggets just weren’t capable of.  At this point, no one can accuse either the Nuggets or the Mavs of not approaching the playoffs with the appropriate level of focus.

These teams match up exquisitely, and provide a bit of yin and yang at every matchup.  Chauncey Billups’ function is to set up his teammates as a function of his scoring, while Jason Kidd’s function is to score as a function of getting his teammates going.  Dirk Nowitzki and Kenyon Martin will face off at power forward, but couldn’t have more contrasting styles.  Josh Howard, a player who broke into the league with his defense and developed more consistent offensive skills, will do his best to stick with Carmelo Anthony, a phenom with a wide offensive range who has only recently begun to groom his defense.  And yet, despite these very glaring differences, each of these players provides functionally similar contributions (Billups’ and Kidd’s leadership, Dirk’s offensive impact and Kenyon’s defensive one, and Josh and Carmelo’s versatility).  The defensive pieces seem physically able to counter the other team’s offensive weapons, but offensive talent will undoubtedly prevail.  Essentially, you’ve got two teams doing very different things and producing the exact same results.

However, both teams have found great success by breaking down iso-heavy play into a team-oriented approach.  Finding consistency with the role players is again going to decide a series for the Mavs.  J.J. Barea, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Hollins appear to be up to the challenge, but success against the decidedly mortal Spurs may not be indicative of future success.  Unfortunately, Denver has a huge leg up with the way their reserves have been executing on defense.  The Nuggets won’t be able to enact the same strategies that worked against Chris Paul and the Hornets, but the fact that as a team the Nuggs were able to execute to near-perfection on the defensive end is a bit concerning.  Chris Andersen and Anthony Carter are natural defenders off the bench, but even those considered suspect on that end (J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza) have stepped up their game and helped the Nuggets to thrive on D.  If the Nuggets are able to repeat their defensive performance, the impact of players like Barea and Bass could be rendered irrelevant.

But with players like Smith and Kleiza, if you can break their concentration by denying them the instant dividends of stops, you can potentially turn them into defensive liabilities.  Dallas will need to work the mismatch game and continue to move the ball if they’re going to have that kind of early success, because despite what skill set and physique will tell you about the Kenyon Martin, he can’t guard Dirk one-on-one.  This season, Dirk has averaged 30 points (44% shooting), 11.3 rebounds, and just 1.5 turnovers against Denver.  Over their entire careers, Kenyon has been able to “hold” Dirk to 27.8 PPG (48.5% FG) and 10.1 RPG.  Martin has become a talented, physical defender that can give a lot of players trouble.  I just don’t believe Dirk to be one of them.  Dirk has the range to pull him to uncomfortable spots on the perimeter, he has the pet moves to put Martin in foul trouble, and even if Dirk doesn’t have position or an angle, he has the height to shoot over him.  Even the league’s best defenders aren’t ideal for guarding just anybody, and Martin is no exception.

The later George Karl realizes that, the better.  But the Mavs need to be prepared for the impending defensive pressure.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some of the same double-teaming strategies employed by San Antonio, with the Nuggets betting they can outlast the Mavs’ supporting cast.  Dirk’s passing ability will definitely come into play once again, as his ability to find open perimeter shooters and slashers down the lane will greatly affect the flow of the Dallas’ offense.  That means that the other players on the floor need to create and work in space and be ready to answer the call.  In the last series, that was Josh Howard, J.J. Barea, Erick Dampier, and Brandon Bass.  But with Antoine Wright poised for a more prominent role this time around, things could get a little trickier.  Wright is indispensible in his ability to spell Josh Howard as a defender for Carmelo Anthony, but his shooting is a bit suspect.  His ability to either finish his looks, swing the ball after drawing the rotated defender, or use that space to drive to the basket will be crucial.

Brandon Wade/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

“Guarding Carmelo Anthony” has been a prominent theme here, and figures to be one throughout the series.  He looked completely unstoppable in the regular season, and Carlisle will have his hands full coming up with ways to slow him down.  James Singleton is a rugged, physical rebounder and defender, but he lacks the technique and speed to keep up with a player of Anthony’s caliber.  Antoine Wright will certainly have a go, but Anthony’s versatility will give him trouble, as well as Wright’s offensive limitations.  Enter Josh Howard, the Mavs’ most promising defender at small forward.  Howard didn’t have to guard an elite wing last series, but still played very impressive defense with a variety of on and off the ball tactics.  And, most importantly, he was very focused and very active, a welcome to contrast to the sometimes lackadaisical Josh we’ve seen in the past.  But everything won’t come up roses for Howard.  He’s still a little wobbly on that bad ankle, and trying to protect against the drive while predicting Melo’s pull-up jumper won’t help in the least bit.  Anthony’s got a killer first step and a vast repertoire, two factors that go heavily in his favor.  It’s up to Josh to show that he’s ready for the challenge, and that whether he’s guarding Ime Udoka or Carmelo Anthony, he’s a top-notch defender in this league.

Personally, I wouldn’t take any chances.  The more Josh is able to rest the better, because Anthony can be tired out just like Tony Parker was.  If you give Carmelo a variety of looks and coverages to keep him on his toes, he may be worn down enough to be visibly impacted.  Equally important is Josh’s offense, which can assist greatly in wearing down Anthony.  Provided he’s making Carmelo work around screens and stay in front of him on the way to the basket, Josh can play a huge role in limiting Anthony’s minutes/effectiveness due to foul trouble and fatigue.  Of course that’s only the beginning.  Antoine Wright and James Singleton need to turn into the Mavs’ own version of the Nuggets’ Dahntay Jones, bullying and pushing on Carmelo every step of the way.  That kind of beating can both wear down and test the patience of any player.

Speaking of Dahntay Jones, the Mavs defenders need to be fully aware of what he can (not a lot) and can’t do (quite a bit) offensively.  I’m of the opinion that Jones’ defender should bring a strong double on either Chauncey Billups or Carmelo Anthony, forcing Jones to either make a play or make a shot.  He doesn’t have much of a midrange touch and is reluctant to camp on the perimeter, which means that the Mavs’ frontline has to simply rotate to protect the basket should Jones opt to drive.  Jones isn’t on the floor for his offense, so it’s up to the Mavs to take advantage of that by bothering Denver’s two best offensive options instead of Jones.  Even that solution isn’t a cure-all, but the Mavs have to make the best of what they have defensively.  It’s going to come down to so much more than K-Mart vs. Dirk or Chauncey vs. Kidd, because those are both going to be group efforts.  Team defense is what it takes to stop teams as balanced as the Mavs and the Nuggets, and so the ability of Antoine Wright to stop J.R. Smith, while completely relevant, is really only the beginning of the discussion.

Photo from friends.mavs.com

It’s not that I don’t have great respect for Denver’s defense, but for the Mavs it really is as simple as “Do how we do, baby.”  Jason Terry will face some tough defenders in Jones and Anthony Carter, but hopefully it’s nothing he won’t be able to overcome in transition and playing the two man game with Dirk.  Essentially, Terry is the one spot where Denver can really take something significant away from a major Maverick producer.  If Chauncey “takes away” Kidd’s offensive production, at best he’s taking away a spot-up shooter and bothering Kidd’s dribble.  I have too much faith in Kidd’s court vision and ball-handling abilities to fret about that.  If the Nuggets play Dirk one-on-one he’ll get his, and if not you’d hope that the role players are able to make up for the scoring with their suddenly easier looks.  Howard has off-games, but he also provides a very different kind of player than anything the Nuggets had to face with the Hornets.  Though Denver is a very different team than San Antonio, the series comes down to the same basic premise: rely on offensive efficiency while limiting the Nuggets enough to win.  The Mavs simply don’t have the personnel to rely on defensive prowess to win, so their ability to execute against Denver’s D will determine their fate.

This series is a very winnable one for the Mavs.  They have enough offensive firepower to overcome even the staunch Nuggets’ defense, and they have just enough to limit the Nuggets’ production offensively.  Both of those rely on a million other factors, but the Mavs have have the players and the fight in them to advance.  That said, I’m picking the Nuggets to win in seven.  It’s going to take incredible strategic prowess to eliminate Dirk’s impact, but it would take a damn near miracle to eliminate Carmelo Anthony’s.  Historically, he’s had his way with the Mavs, and though Carlisle has been nothing short of excellent thus far, I’m just not sure that the team can totally withstand an attack that centers around Anthony, but is by no means reliant on him.  If Anthony (or Billups, or a combination of the two) can exploit the Mavs like Tony Parker was able to, Denver’s role players will finisht the job in a way the Spurs’ never could.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

So, Children, What Did We Learn Today?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 29, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

The first round is in the books, and the Spurs are no more (for now).  There have been a lot of micro-level observations about the Mavs’ play and their responses to the Spurs’ specific strategies, but it’s about time that we make a good, honest appraisal of where this team is.

  • The Mavs have some fight in them.  In the regular season, the Mavs could gut it out with contenders one night and then blow one against Milwaukee another.  But we’ve seen a completely different look from the team in the last five games (well, four of the last five games).  Where the old Mavs would roll over and hit the snooze button, the new Mavs leap out of bed fully energized and karate chop the alarm clock in half.  They’ve been able to leap gaudy offensive efficiency numbers in a single bound, and their defense has been passable enough to secure wins.  Tony Parker and Tim Duncan took their turns going on mini-runs in this series, and the Mavs built on the resilency they showed in the final games of the regular season and fought back.  Call it experience, call it better offensive execution, or call it mental fortitude, but when the Mavs get hit they’re hitting back.  That’s pretty huge progress from a squad that tended to fold like origami when faced with the slightest coercion a few months ago.
  • The Mavs are not an elite defensive team, but they’re also not a bad one.  They currently rank 8th among playoff teams in defensive efficiency at 102.9, which for comparison’s sake would have ranked 7th in the regular season.  They’re notably better than Houston (104.0), one of the best defensive teams in the playoffs.  The sample size is hideously small, but there is a pretty big piece of anecdotal evidence that goes in the Mavs’ favor: against the Spurs, the Mavs were able to stop the Spurs from doing what they wanted to do.  Poppovich wants to use Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as a mechanism to open up three point shooters, which can kill teams from the corners.  Parker and Duncan are obviously still big-time contributors, but San Antonio’s offensive strategy hinges on those shooters.  I’d be lying if I said the Mavs completely took away that strategy.  Parker’s deep penetration still allowed plenty of open looks.  But as the series went on and the team resigned itself to the fact that Tony Parker’s going to be able to get his, the approach shifted.  Kidd and Barea began playing the angles, hoping to limit Parker and funnel him into the help rather than stop him.  And on the perimeter, Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and even Dirk were locked in place on the shooters, either expecting the kick-out or rotating perfectly.  The defensive rotations and shot contesting in Game 5 was some of the best we’ve seen from the Mavs all season.  Don’t discount that, especially when this offense only needs a little breathing room to win.
  • Josh Howard is back.  We all had our fingers crossed that throwback Josh wasn’t a mirage, and we lucked out.  Frankly, he deserves a post all to himself, and he’s going to get one.  But for now, it’s worth noting that there are four players that are legitimate stars on this team, even if the stat sheet isn’t in their favor every night.
  • The bench seems deeper than ever, and the mob is ready to contribute in a big way.  J.J. Barea was pegged as a potential X-factor for the Spurs series, but Brandon Bass’ and Ryan Hollins’ contributions were nearly as valuable.  The ability to throw a variety of defensive looks at Tim Duncan to keep him on his toes while also having a safety net for Erick Dampier’s foul trouble was indispensible.  James Singleton has been lost in the shuffle of Josh Howard’s return, but he could be a piece of the puzzle to defend Carmelo Anthony (supposing Denver guts out another win).  The success of Barea and Bass make stopping the offense that much more difficult, and they’ve eased the burden on the big guns by playing smart, gutsy basketball.  Plus, Antoine Wright was a non-factor in the last series, but he’ll be an important defensive piece in a series against either the Nuggets or Hornets.  At various points throughout the season, I’ve worried that a bench consisting of Barea, Hollins, Bass, and Singleton was akin to loading up your pistol with peanuts when you ran out of bullets.  Not only did they each prove me wrong individually, but on the whole this bench is stronger than I’ve given them credit for.
  • Blocking out a star won’t stop its light from shining through.  The bench was so successful in part because of all the attention Dirk and JET received.  The Spurs were clearly ready to let Kidd, Josh, and the rest of the bunch decide the fate of this series, but those open shots and clear drives don’t happen unless Terry is getting trapped on the wing or Dirk is doubled at the free throw line.  Both of their shot attempts were down, but their floor presence was unmistakable.  Dirk showed off his much-improved passing game, and both he and Terry patiently waited out the defense.  Yet even with both shooting significantly fewer shots, the Mavs’ offense looked unstoppable at times.  The ball is moving to the open man, the turnover rate is as impressive as ever, and Dirk and JET are still making their mark despite their point totals.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d still openly weep when Dirk goes for 50, but every time he makes a bullet pass to a cutter, an adorable little angel puppy gets its wings.  Aww.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2008-2009 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2009 under Commentary, Previews | 7 Comments to Read

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: I think the Mavs will win this series in six games.

Now that you know the ending, let’s see how we got there.

It’s almost frightening how little we actually have to go on for this series.  The Mavs have been without Josh Howard for most of the season, and the decisive hammer of Manu Ginobili’s prolonged absence didn’t fall until late in the season.  That restricts this version of the Mavs to just one single regular season contest against these Spurs.  It seemed pretty meaningful around March, but does that one game really set the precedent for a series of complex strategies, extremely specific approaches, and series-long adjustments?

We shouldn’t throw out the one piece of evidence that we have on these grounds, but just don’t expect an instant replay every time out. Unless you expect Tony Parker to go for 35+, because that’s something we’re going to have to get used to.

Manu Ginobili’s injury is going to hurt the Spurs, and it’s going to hurt them a lot.  But this is the playoffs, and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich are going to bring their A+ game.  That’s just the way the Spurs roll.  So I fully expect TP and Timmy to step up their games and almost fully compensate for Manu’s lost production.  The problem lies in the fact that in doing so, they’ll have to completely force the issue, dominate the offense, and probably tire themselves out.  For two teams that have a history of taking games to the wire and potentially beyond, that’s gonna be a wee bit important.

For everybody that’s hoping for Tim Duncan’s ever-so-slightly injured knee to suddenly explode, think again.  I know he doesn’t have that much playoff experience under his belt, but that young man’s going to be pretty darn good some day.  And you know what?  Odds are he is going to blitz Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and whoever else is unlucky enough to guard him.  That’s just how he do.  The key with Duncan is to make his work as difficult as possible.  Dampier isn’t an ideal match for Duncan defensively, but he’s the best we’ve got.  He has to bother TD enough to sandbag that field goal percentage, put a hand in his face, and make Duncan really go to work.  He’ll get his, but it won’t be easy.

With Parker, I don’t even know where to begin.  Antoine Wright, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and J.J. Barea will likely all get their shot, and I don’t think any will have much success.  The best strategy is to try to give Parker space, and force him to make jumper after jumper.  But giving a player like Parker that kind of space is pretty counterproductive.  He’ll simply rear back and charge full speed ahead into the lane, using that extra space to generate the momentum to get right to the cup.  Parker is a helluva finisher, and on top of that he’s a master of theatrics.  It’s practically a lost cause.  But what is there the Mavs can do, really?  Hopefully the length of Howard and Wright can bother Parker for stretches, but I’m not counting on it.  The key is to find a way to endure the onslaught, and strike back with some vigor on the offensive end.  Duncan and Parker can’t do everything, and they will make mistakes.  The Mavs just need to force a few extra mistakes, pressure as much as possible, and limit the contributions of the rest of the bunch.  That and pray that Parker doesn’t go into God-mode.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

When you look at this series, it’s easy to focus on the 2006 pieces; it’s Dirk, Josh, and JET vs. Parker and Duncan.  But save a big of your attention for Jason Kidd, who just so happens to be an incredible point guard.  I doubt that Kidd will have another big scoring night against the Spurs.  Most of his points figure to come off of spot-up threes.  But what Kidd does is open the floodgates for the Mavs that aren’t always creating for themselves.  Erick Dampier is suddenly throwing down oops.  J.J. Barea is getting wide open looks at threes.  Brandon Bass is fed in just the right place in the post.  James Singleton catches a bullet pass right under the basket.  These are things often overlooked, but none of it happens without Kidd.  The volume scoring is going to come from the brightest of stars, but Kidd is chipping in 6 points here and 8 points there by setting up the ‘other’ Mavs with easy buckets.  Huge.

On an individual basis, let’s look at what the Spurs have defensively.  Roger Mason Jr. is likely guarding Terry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen will take turns with Howard, and Matt Bonner/whoever else Pop digs up will draw the short straw with Dirk.  How is any of that beneficial for San Antonio?  Each of those three Mavs is fully capable of eclipsing their counterparts and more, and seems poised to do so based on each Spur’s defensive inadequacies.  Mason is a nice player and a great shooter, but lacks the discipline to effectively hound the JET.  Bowen has lost a step since he’s lost a step, and even then Howard gave him trouble.  Michael Finley is Michael Finley, and try as he might, those legs are spry no longer.

The Spurs Dilemma in 2006 was this: Bruce Bowen couldn’t guard both Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at once, and whoever was free of Bowen’s shadowing went off.  Howard knew just how to attack the Spurs inside with his array of post-ups and runners, and when Bowen was switched on him, the Mavs went straight to Dirk at the elbow.  This year’s model shares that in common with the Spurs of old, but with one notable exception: Bruce Bowen just isn’t the lockdown defender he used to be.  If Bowen can’t significantly limit the production of one of the two, and another Spur doesn’t have unexpected defensive success, how exactly does San Antonio hope to stop the Maverick attack?

I will say this: to his credit, Matt Bonner has played Dirk unusually well.  He’s big but not too strong, not particularly quick or athletic, and doesn’t seem to have any specific attributes that fit the bill for the thorn in Dirk’s side.  But he doesn’t give up ground, doesn’t fall for Dirk’s fakes, and holds his own.  Unfortunately for Bonner and the Spurs, that’s not enough.  Without Manu storming from the stables, the Spurs will need to completely clamp down on at least one of Dallas’ big scorers.  Their best shot just so happens to be against one of the most deadly and resilient scorers in the league today, and one who isn’t going to go down quietly against San Antone.

The bench play will need to be enormous if Dallas wants to take the series.  J.J. has shown flashes of Devin Harris in him, exactly the kind of quick, penetrating point guard that has given the Spurs trouble in the past.  Brandon Bass has the midrange shot and the quickness in the post to give Tim Duncan a headache, not to mention enough strength to bully a bit.  James Singleton and Ryan Hollins will have their turn, and whatever they can offer could make for advantage – Mavs.  I doubt very much that you’ll walk away saying that Brandon Bass won or lost this series, but that doesn’t make his contributions any less important.  These two teams have such incredible players at the top that they’ll trade blow for blow all series long.  Establishing and reaping the benefits of the players farther down the chain of command is where the series could very well be decided.  Of course that could very well work against the Mavs, if the Spurs can get their peripherals in a groove and negate the impact of the Mavs’ reserves.  In J.J. and Bass we trust.

The Mavs have to hope that home court advantage doesn’t come into effect.  Take care of business at home, and steal some momentum on the road.  A potential game seven would be where everything favors the Spurs: an army of clutch performers, one of the best strategists and motivators in the game, and a roaring home crowd.  I’m not sure the Mavs would be able to overcome.  But if all goes according to plan, it hopefully won’t have to come to that.

Photo by Dustin Chapman.

Pop’s impact cannot be denied.  I’ve got nothing for respect for the Spurs’ ringleader, and am sincerely jealous of his beard-growing abilities.  But for just one second, let’s show Rick Carlisle some love.  Carlisle has shown exactly the kind of creativity and adaptability that every team should want of its coach, and what he’s lacked in motivational polish he’s made up for in his willingness to try anything and everything to get the Mavs a win.  He’s not Popovich.  His ring-less fingers make that painfully apparent.  But Carlisle is no scrub.  He knows what he’s doing, he’s been here before, and he draws one mean out-of-bounds play.  The coaching advantage undoubtedly goes San Antonio’s way, but the margin may be slight enough to have its impact discounted.

Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs staff, notably Darrell Armstrong) will have quite a task in managing Josh Howard’s…situation.  Howard hasn’t shown any signs of reverting to his jumpshot-happy self, but Carlisle needs to ensure that it stays that way.  Howard’s understanding of his role in the offense will be absolutely paramount if the Mavs are going to make it out of this series alive, and that requires Josh and the coaching staff to be fully in sync, from head to ankle.  Health is only a subplot.  Howard is going to be slightly limited, and that’s something the Mavs will have to deal with.  Off-days in between games will nurse tender joints, and there’s nothing an ice pack, a band-aid, and some good ol’ fashioned aspirin can’t fix, right?

Making playoff picks is tough because there are so many internal forces at work.  But for once, my job seems easy.  My gut, my heart, and my head are all telling me Mavs in six.  The series is close enough to be a toss-up, but every force in this universe tells me the Mavs are going to pull it out.  File these thoughts away as the delusions of a Mavs fan if you’d like, but I’ve got a feeling.  And a thought.  And an instinct.  All together that has to amount for something.

Oh! The Players You’ll Grow!

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2009 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

In the NBA, depth is, at once, all things and nothing.  It is overrated and understated.  Assumed and glaringly evident.  Precious and nonessential.  It’s a valuable tool in enduring injuries and the rigors of the regular season, but rarely a true advantage in the playoffs.  And yet, it’s difficult to find favorable playoff positioning without solid depth, regardless of the non-impact it plays on the next level.

This season, the Mavs have had their own fun little adventures in bench depth.  In the past, the Mavs were considered one of the league’s deepest teams: they boasted either DeSegana Diop or Erick Dampier, a productive bench scorer in Jerry Stackhouse, assorted veteran defenders in Adrian Griffin and Devean George, a sparkplug in Darrell Armstrong, and versatility in players like Marquis Daniels.  At the start of 2008-2009, they had Jason Terry, a slightly regressed Diop, an injured Stackhouse, undersized forwards, an undersized point guard, and a few aging pieces.  Things only seemed poised to fall from there, with Diop regression from shot-blocking force to interior waste of space.  Stack’s foot got sick and never got better.  And the rest of the bench unit played like they suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of forty.

Diop is long since gone, with Ryan Hollins and Ryan Hollins taking his place.  It was a trade that seemed largely financially motivated, a desperate attempt to save as much as possible by dealing Diop’s now incredibly generous (previously it was just ‘quite generous’) midlevel contract.  But since that time, Ryan Hollins has bolstered a bench rotation that has impressed time and time again, showing demonstrative growth since those early months.  We wondered where the Mavs would find a filler at center without Diop, but Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins have fit the bill.  We wondered how J.J. Barea would be able to get by defensively, but his improvement and Jason Kidd’s defensive versatility give the Mavs plenty of options.  We lamented the lack of size and interior scoring, but Bass and Singleton have been relentless rebounders and effort scorers.  Combine those three with Jason Terry, and you essentially have created a bench from nothing.

Barea’s growth in particular has been remarkable.  At the beginning of this season, I wondered whether Barea wouldn’t be better served as a team’s third point guard, a spark plug to fill to role of the now retired Darrell Armstrong.  His shot came and went, he seemed to get blocked frequently, his passing was often careless, and at 6’0” (yeah, right), he was a huge liability defensively.  Virtually all of those weaknesses have been washed away.  Barea isn’t just a sparkplug, but a bundle of energy able to channel his energy into aggressive drives to the rim that produce scores for himself or others.  He’s developed a heightened court sense, more aware than ever of how the defense will respond to his moves and the moves of his teammates.  It seems petty, but things as simple as picking his spots and being in the right place for a spot-up three have been huge differences in his game.  Barea rarely forces the issue anymore, and is a contributing scorer on a regular basis.  He’s not a great defender, but his counterparts perform at an average level (15.6 PER).  He uses his size as an advantage, drawing offensive fouls on a regular basis.  This is a six-foot, undrafted point guard who has taken his role on the team by the throat, earned every minute on the floor, and excelled.  I don’t know if Barea will ever be a starting caliber point guard in the lig, but as a back-up, the guy has been studly.

Brandon Bass has emerged as a quality rebounder, a strong defender, and a dominant scorer for stretches.  His touch from midrange is feathery soft, and his dunks are solid as a rock.  And, like Barea, he’s picking his spots more carefully.  He’s not playing for a spot in the rotation, he’s playing because he helps the team wins.  Maybe having that security is just what Bass needed, but regardless, Bass’ play on both ends is more disciplined and more effective.

If Bass was, in part at least, a known commodity, James Singleton has been this season’s big surprise.  He can’t contribute offensively in just any situation, but his work on the defensive end and on the glass is universally effective.  He’s a big, strong body that can give lots of players trouble, and he plays with an energy that few opponents can match.  He’s 100% effort and a quality look at the 3,4, or 5, which is the kind of defensive versatility the Mavs had no idea they had.

All of this, and the Mavs still have Ryan Hollins and Gerald Green in the oven.

Depth isn’t the be-all and end-all.  But it ain’t nothin’ neither.  When the situation calls for it, a coach needs to be able to rely on his bench to not surrender a lead or the team’s momentum.  I definitely feel that between Terry, Barea, Bass, and Singleton, Carlisle has that.  Would a lack of depth be the Mavs’ vulnerability in the playoffs?  Luckily, we won’t have to find out.

Big Yellow Taxi

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 30, 2009 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

This summer Kidd will become an unrestricted free agent and there’s a good chance that the Cavs will again look into his availability. He has said he wants to remain a Maverick, but Sunday he certainly made it seem like playing alongside James in Cleveland was a viable option. “I could sit and watch from the bench,” Kidd said. “[LeBron] is so talented, he’s going to get guys wide open shots. So we’ll look at free agency and what happens for me next year.” The Cavs are thrilled with point guard Mo Williams, who became an All-Star this year. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for another, especially if Kidd were to accept a more limited role, as he did for Team USA. Though the Cavs have Delonte West and Daniel Gibson who can handle the ball, they don’t have another true point guard on the roster.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

After Sunday’s loss to James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kidd said he tries not to think about James calling him and suggesting a reunion next season. The two became friends when they played together for the U.S. Olympic team. “Yeah, that’s a hard call,” Kidd said. “You don’t want to answer the phone. I just have to explore my different options I’m going to have this summer.” Kidd tries not to think about the summer. There’s plenty of season left for the Mavericks. But with the Mavericks playing the Cavaliers, it was inevitable the subject would come up. “I could sit here and watch from the bench,” Kidd said, joking that James plays much the same way he does.

How do two very reputable beat writers cover the exact same event and the exact same quote in such drastically different ways?  Is there really enough subtext in Kidd’s comments to add fuel to everybody’s fire?

Mike Fisher has an eloquent response at DallasBasketball.com:

Eddie’s story doesn’t say that. It says Kidd “laughed” as he was talking of “sitting on the bench” while LeBron starred. But Kidd did not dismiss anything. He did the opposite. He addressed something. And he did so in the wake of a 28-point loss to the very team that is ostensibly planning on courting him. One of the Mavs players visiting Cleveland and leaving the impression that he might want to play there next year? Even if he was just being polite? Now I’m even more tired and more pissed.

I don’t blame him one bit.  That comment is kosher for the routine, casual nature of pre-game questions.  But following one of the Mavs’ worst losses of the season, I’m not sure I want one of the Mavs’ star players laughing at all, much less joking about the possibility of ditching the team in the off-season.

But that’s not the real worry here, is it?

The concern is that just over a year ago, the Mavs’ sent their young starting point guard and two first round picks to New Jersey for a chance to waltz with the venerable Jason Kidd, and there is a realistic chance that they’ll be left with nothing this summer.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

The growing sense in Dallas is that there are only two threats to the Mavericks’ hopes of re-signing Jason Kidd this summer.

Having just turned 36 and facing an unavoidable pay cut from this season’s $21.4 million, Kidd hasn’t dropped a single hint about leaving the team that originally drafted him in 1994, focusing instead on trying to make sure the injury-plagued Mavs reach the postseason, preferably as nothing lower than the West’s No. 7 seed. Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

1. Kobe Bryant convincing big-guard-loving Phil Jackson and the Lakers to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with L.A.’s midlevel exception.

2. LeBron James convincing the Cavs to make a run at his dear friend Kidd with their midlevel exception.

…Dallas certainly needs to keep Kidd after the goods it surrendered to New Jersey in February 2008 to get him — Devin Harris and an unprotected first-round pick in 2010 — but serious interest from either L.A. or Cleveland could be a real threat.

Depending on how you prioritize the Mavs’ talent, Kidd could be anywhere from the team’s best player to the third best.  What he does at the point is irreplaceable given the current chips, and finding an acceptable substitute in a timely fashion given the Mavs’ salary cap situation would be nearly impossible.  That’s why, as much as it pains me to say it, the Mavs’ future rests squarely in the hands of Jason Kidd.  If Kidd opts to leave the Mavs this summer, any chance of contention in the near future leaves with him, and the rebuilding plan should go into effect immediately.

Assuming we actually have a rebuilding plan.

It would depress me greatly to see Dirk wearing any uni but Maverick blue, but is it really fair to him to ask him to stick around for a lost cause?  It’s an idea that’s been beat around all season long, but it’s one the Mavericks’ brass may have to confront head-on if Kidd skips town.  The bare bones roster would be significantly crippled, with Jason Terry and Josh Howard as the only other steady producers…if even they could be called that.

The Denver game made one point painfully apparent to me: Jason Terry is no point guard.  His ball-handling under durress is sloppy, and his wayward passes without so much as a hand in his face were inexcusable.  I previously thought that given the Mavs’ system, Terry could man the point alongside a playmaking 2.  Now, I’m not so sure.  His play could be markedly different if he was given a training camp to adjust, but my flirtation with the idea is all but dead.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Brandon Bass and James Singleton, two of the Mavs’ most important players off the bench, share Kidd’s unrestricted free agent status.  Singleton is coming off his first year with the team, and Bass off his second.  Both were acquired via free agency, so the Mavs don’t possess Bird rights (which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign) for either player.  Essentially, the team would be left with the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception to sign Bass, Singleton (assuming he remains in the team’s long-term plans), a replacement point guard (within reason; think Kevin Ollie, Anthony Carter, Marcus Williams, Jason Hart) that pretty much has to be an unrestricted FA (lest their previous team match the offer sheet, as would likely be the case with restricted FAs), as well as Gerald Green and Ryan Hollins.

It’s hard to anticipate how the economy will play a role in all of this.  While the cap handcuffs the Cavs and the Lakers from offering big-money deals to Jason Kidd, the anticipated deals for Brandon Bass are a bit more difficult to anticipate.  On one hand, the economic struggles of many of the league’s owners could limit both the length and total value of any offers that Bass, a good not great power forward, gets.  But on the other hand, Mark Cuban is hardly the only opportunistic owner; it seems reasonable that there will be other front offices looking to take advantage of a seller’s market.  Harm could come even if Bass, Singleton, and Hollins (notably 3/4 of the team’s current center rotation) receive such offers without taking them.  For a team on such a tight budget, even driving up the price on the Mavs through competitive offers could still prove damaging.

Say what you will about Kidd, or about the Mavs’ chances with him as their starting point.  But right now, the team needs to hang on to the few assets that they do have, and Kidd is definitely near the top of that list.  We knew that trading for Kidd would limit the Mavericks’ window, but I never would have anticipated that his impending free agency would turn the entire franchise into a game of Kerplunk, potentially as the final straw that would cost the Mavs all the marbles.  No Kidd means no hope, and no hope means no justification for the contracts of Erick Dampier, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard.  That opens up an entirely new can of worms as to where precisely the Mavs go from there, but that seems like a conversation for the day that we lose everything.

Stock your bomb shelters, kids.  We could be due for the fallout.

Where Have All the Minutes Gone?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 24, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

The center position is tricky for the Mavs.  Erick Dampier is effective in spots, but the bench lacks a go-to backup center with size for the situations when Damp isn’t bringing the funk.  As such, Brandon Bass, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins are left filling in the void at center, the few minutes behind Dirk, and very rarely, at the 3.

All three give the Mavs something unique: Brandon Bass provides scoring and strength, James Singleton provides defense and rebounding, and Ryan Hollins provides size and athleticism.  But while they all have their own individual strengths, each is flawed in a way that prevents them from grabbing a stranglehold on the backup 5.  Rick Carlisle’ had to use some creativity in his rotations to get the most out of this bunch, and he doesn’t seem to have settled on any concrete rotation, even 70 games in.  Take a look at the minutes of each of the four centers on the Mavs roster charted over the course of the season:

Erick Dampier:

Brandon Bass:

James Singleton:

Ryan Hollins (minutes as a Maverick only):

More to come this week on concrete rotation vs. fluid rotation, but what do you guys think of this?  Singleton’s minutes have been especially troubling, considering that he’s done little to merit random DNPs or drops of 15 minutes or more.  Superficially, Bass’ minutes seem to be the most consistent of the bunch, while Hollins’ goes from contributor to benchwarmer by the day.

You are an enigma, Carlisle.  But I will solve you.