Mining for Gold: Part One

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on April 15, 2013 under Interviews | Read the First Comment

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Talking with Mark Cuban is always a mixed bag. You get to hear about Donald Trump, Shark Tank and other things, while avoid sweat that drips off him as he’s working out on his stairmaster. Those topics come up, but there is often great discussion that comes from the chats with Cuban. The last two home games were no exception. The Mavericks were still clinging to hope and life going into the game against the Phoenix Suns.

Even with the hope, the writing was on the wall, so the media decided to see if Cuban would be pensive and start looking ahead to the summer. He obliged. Here is the quoteboard for Mark Cuban for the game prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns.

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You Never Know

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on April 4, 2013 under Commentary, News | Read the First Comment

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ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon reported prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would be willing to give Baylor women’s superstar Brittney Griner the opportunity to have a chance to play in the NBA.

“If she is the best on the board, I will take her,” Cuban said. “I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it already. Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”

Griner replied with a positive response to the possibility. “I would hold my own! Lets do it.” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night in response to Cuban.

Brittney Griner finished her spectacular career second all-time in scoring, and her 748 blocks are the most in men’s or women’s college basketball. With 3,283 career points, Griner finished with the second-highest point total in Women’s NCAA Division I history (Jackie Stiles – 3,393 points). In his initial comment about Griner, Cuban said that if they don’t plan on using a second round draft pick on Griner, the Mavericks certainly wouldn’t be opposed to giving her an opportunity to join the team’s Las Vegas summer league roster.

The idea or notion of Griner being affiliated with the NBA was met with some obvious resistance, on multiple levels. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma called Cuban a financial genius, but “his genius would take a huge hit if he drafted Brittney Griner.”

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A Matter of Trust, part 3

Posted by David Hopkins on March 26, 2013 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

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“The dilemma remains unresolved. I must consume the energies of your Earth or you must slay me, and end my hunger forever.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Click here for part 1: Coaching, and click here for part 2: Management.

If you haven’t read Bryan Gutierrez’s interview with Zach Lowe, you should–in part, because Lowe agrees with me about Cuban, GMs, draft picks, and the CBA. And it’s always nice when intelligent people agree with me. It rarely happens.

I also mention the interview, because Gutierrez and Lowe discuss what might be the newest defining moment in Mark Cuban’s tenure as owner of the Dallas Mavericks: the decision to not wheel and deal for Tyson Chandler after winning the NBA championship. Of course, it wasn’t just Cuban. Donnie Nelson was also part of the discussion. According to Cuban, even Nowitzki was on board or at least understood the reasoning behind the plan. Chandler wasn’t the only player affected. The later departure of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry possibly indicated their lack of faith in Cuban’s strategy for the future.

The plan: Sign players to one-year contracts to create cap space, which they’re putting a premium value on, in order to have financial flexibility and better options. Who is to blame for any negative outcomes — Cuban for taking a calculated gamble or the NBA for approving a CBA that penalized owners with deep pockets?

Frankly, the Mavs weren’t a favorite to win it in 2011. If they hadn’t won the championship, Cuban’s plan wouldn’t be under such scrutiny. I’ve seen Cuban explain his thinking about ten different times. I’ve read the same online arguments over and over by disappointed fans. I’ve heard sports talk radio hosts dumb down the issue with “good ol’ boy” logic and bumper sticker wisdom. I’m convinced we’ll be debating this until the Mavs win another championship, whenever that might be.

Even though it’s hard to resist, I don’t want to focus solely on Cuban and the CBA. Let’s go back a few months earlier, before the lockout, immediately after the parade, when an arena full of Mavs fans were chanting, “Thank you Mark! Thank you Mark!” That was a good day for Cuban.

What did Mark Cuban do to deserve such praise?

When he purchased a majority stake in the Mavs franchise on January 4, 2000, Cuban became the most interesting and most enthusiastic owner in pro sports. With his billions, he probably could’ve purchased a better team that promised a better return for his investment. But he loved this wayward team and wanted to make them great. Whatever criticism he may have earned, no one could accuse him of not caring. His impact went beyond writing checks.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Boston Celtics 94

Posted by Kirk Henderson on March 22, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • This could easily be called “The Brandan Wright Game” (23 points on 11 for 16 shooting, eight rebounds). Though his best offensive game as a Maverick was exciting to watch, I remain impressed by his growth as a help defender and rebounder. Early in the season he would challenge anything within 15 feet of the bucket, often leaving his man for the offensive rebound. Wright’s much more selective in his challenges as of late, and it has helped improved the Maverick’s rebounding ability. His on ball defense has improved as well. In the fourth quarter, Wright made a brilliant strip/steal of Jeff Green on a fast break attempt that he passed to Darren Collison as he was falling out of bounds. Collison drove the length of the floor for a pull up jumper. That strip/steal is not a play Brandan Wright makes at the start of the season.
  • Considering how hard I’ve been on the shot selection of Mike James this year, I feel it’s important to note that this may have been his best game as a facilitator of the offense. Though he recorded only six assists (and one turnover) in his 25 minutes, he drove the lane looking to pass instead of shoot and many Mavericks, particularly Vince Carter, couldn’t seem to convert the nice set ups provided by James. Hopefully, the pass-first Mike James is here to stay for the remainder of the season.
  • Though Coach Rick Carlisle downplayed Dirk Nowitzki’s small number of shot attempts over the last three games, the Dallas announcers made it a point of discussion throughout the first half. Though it’s good that something as basic as shots doesn’t become an issue in the locker room, the Maverick players seemed to respond to the rumblings, looking to actually get their best player the ball. Dirk had 11 field goal attempts in the first half and finished with 22 points and seven rebounds.
  • The Vince Carter circus was in full effect against the Celtics, as he took and made a few shots that only a player of his talent can make. Arguably, his best play was a miss in the fourth quarter. Carter drove from the right side, faded towards the middle of the lane and in an attempt to draw contact he threw the ball up on the rim. It took a number of bounces and came off the left side of the rim. None of the Celtics bothered to box Brandan Wright out, who swooped in from the left side of the base line, caught the ball as it was coming down and emphatically dunked the ball as three Boston defenders looked on in frustration.
  • Though it feels silly to point this out every time it happens, some instances are so egregious they must be discussed. On the final Maverick possession of the third quarter, Darren Collison and Dirk ran a high screen and roll with Collison driving left. Collison stopped just past the elbow for a great shot fake, which got his man up in the air and pulled Dirk’s man in his direction. At this point, Dirk was at the top of the key with no one within five feet of him. Collison has to see him and pass him the ball. Instead, he missed a long jumper. That play is why Darren Collison will not be a starting point guard in the NBA. You have to know where your best player is and what his strengths are at all times.
  • In July of 2009 I remember being thrilled at the signing of Shawn Marion (the best free agent signing of the Dirk Nowitzki era). I also remember thinking that there was no way he’d be effective or worth his salary by 2013-2014. Now? Outside of Dirk’s he is the second most important Maverick. Against the Celtics, he put up 11 points and 13 rebounds, five of them offensive. Dallas went 5-3 in his absence, yet one can reasonably wonder how his presence would have changed the two close losses to the Spurs and Thunder. Is he worth $10 million next season? I’m glad I don’t have to assign a monetary value to his contributions because they’ve been nearly priceless the last four years.
  • Watching Avery Bradley play man to man defense is incredible. I’d like to think that every basketball player can be taught to play defense in this fashion but the truth is what Bradley does is a gift. Watching his feet and the angles he takes on ball handlers, it’s clear Bradley is operating on a different defensive plane.
  • Marion’s return meant at least one Maverick would be seeing less floor time. That ended up being Jae Crowder, who had played admirable basketball over the last eight games. That said, Crowder would be best served by being locked in a room all summer with game tape of Shawn Marion and early career Josh Howard. Crowder is an athletic specimen who is also pretty good at basketball. Unfortunately, he doesn’t use his athletic gifts near enough on the offensive end, often content to stand and shoot. Shawn Marion’s simple baseline cut and dunk off of a Mike James pass in the first quarter is a prime example of a basic basketball play that Crowder could make if he learned to better move without the basketball.
  • On Thursday, Andy Tobolowsky at Mavs Moneyball wroteAAC welcomes home one of its best, one of its brightest. The hero, the personality. The only guy who never knew, no matter the circumstances, that the game, the Mavericks, the dream of a ring were over years ago. Jason Terry, the only one of us who turned out to be right.” As the season has marched on, one thing that’s occasionally missing from the Mavericks seems to be confidence. Too often, Dallas tightens up when the game gets close late. Terry gave the Mavericks, and all of us, the belief that they could and would come through in any situation.
  • Elton Brand received his first “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” of the season against the Celtics. As TMG’s own Bryan Gutierrez notes, Carlisle is not above sending a message to his players, as he’s done time and again with literally the entire team. Brand’s had a rough go as of late, and this is hopefully just Carlisle’s way of letting Brand know he demands more. Expect Brand to respond well the next time he gets an opportunity.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.

 

Just Business

Posted by Brian Rubaie on March 20, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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One of the oldest sayings regarding the National Basketball Association is that it is, above all, a business. Fans who forget this lesson by becoming emotionally attached to a particular player are often left with only hurt feelings and outdated jerseys to commemorate the old days.

Many Mavericks fans faced this situation when Tyson Chandler, a popular fan favorite, was allowed to leave town, followed by Mavericks stalwart Jason Terry the following year. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban responded to criticism by arguing that he had an obligation to do what was best for the team, placing its long-term interests ahead of the desire to retain popular players.

There is nothing wrong with Cuban’s principles, as the NBA is indeed a business. Getting tied down to aging stars is bad business and often spells ruin for a franchise. Principles, however, are only as good as they are consistent. The departures of point guards Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher to contenders received an emotionally-charged reaction from Cuban, whose response displayed a degree of emotional hurt rarely revealed publicly by NBA GMs. His reaction, while justified, is unbefitting of the high standards he has led the organization to establish.

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A Matter of Trust, part 2

Posted by David Hopkins on March 19, 2013 under Commentary | 8 Comments to Read

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“Who tests God and does not wager their life? A price will be paid.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Click here for part 1 of my look at management, coaching, and ownership.

If a team has a winning season, give credit to the players and the coach. If a team has twelve winning seasons, give credit to the general manager. Since 1998, when Donnie Nelson first joined the organization, the Mavericks have been one of the most consistently successful franchises in the NBA—eight 50-win seasons, three 60-win seasons (included the franchise record 67 wins in 2007), 12 consecutive playoff appearances, three trips to the conference finals, two trips to the finals, and of course an NBA Finals victory in 2011.

And yet, Donnie Nelson’s contribution is sometimes overlooked. Other names stand out.

Mark Cuban, who purchased the team in 2000, is acknowledged for changing the culture of the franchise. And even though Mark Cuban is a very involved owner, he’s wasn’t the one who brought Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas. It was Donnie Nelson who played an instrumental role in rebuilding the team.

Dirk Nowitzki tirelessly carried his Mavs through each season and every playoff. But one all-star, even a truly great one like Nowitzki, can’t play every position on the court. There have been many great players whose talents were wasted on mediocre franchises—Kevin Garnett with the Timberwolves, Ray Allen with the Bucks, and even arguably LeBron James with the Cavaliers. We point to Nowitzki, because we see him on the court, or to Cuban, because he spends so much time in front of the cameras. But Donnie Nelson put together the teams that made the Mavericks an elite franchise. Credit where credit is due.

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The Four Ingredients

Posted by David Hopkins on March 5, 2013 under Commentary | 9 Comments to Read

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“Victory must now be mine or Galactus shall not fight again.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

Last week I wrote about Dirk Nowitzki, his legacy and his future. Do the past two years represent the sudden decline of Nowitzki? Should fans recalibrate their expectations? Or are these two years statistical outliers with a bum knee to blame? Like most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, there is no denying that the future inevitable departure of Nowitzki has been a concern as fans watch the season unfold. And as much as we’d like to put everything on Nowitkzi’s shoulders, he isn’t the only factor in making the Mavs a great franchise. When looking at the long-term health of this franchise, I would suggest that there are four ingredients.

1. Young talent
2. Reliable veterans
3. An All-Star “Go To” Player
4. Trustworthy management, ownership, and coaching

In the young talent category, the jury is still out. For players born in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the Mavs have: Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison, Jae Crowder, Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, Dominique Jones, O.J. Mayo, Anthony Morrow, and Brandan Wright. Young players aren’t just the replacements for the old team. They are valuable trade assets. They offer the greatest potential for improvement and growth. I believe in O.J. Mayo, and I’d be happy if he signed a long-term contract with the Mavs. The question is money, but I can’t imagine shooting guards are in such high demand that another franchise would overpay for him. Darren Collison? I just don’t know. When you look at his advanced stats, he’s actually slightly better than O.J. Mayo. However, I don’t trust him to run an offense. The rookie class isn’t too bad. Crowder and James are encouraging. This isn’t Cunningham’s year, but who knows how he’ll do once given a chance? Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones are a disappointment. I believe Brandan Wright is a better player than his minutes and stats suggest.

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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 98, Brooklyn Nets 90

Posted by Kirk Henderson on March 1, 2013 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • Though his box score was not particularly impressive, the play of Chris Kaman (eight points, four rebounds) has set the tone for two straight games. Against the Nets he opened both halves with driving lay ups which seemed to catch their defense off guard. Prior to missing games with a concussion, Kaman had gone to his jump shot a bit too frequently, often at the expense of the flow of the Dallas offense. Though he still missed three long jumpers against the Nets, they were taken later in the shot clock and were not contested particularly hard.
  • The clash of play styles was obvious from the opening tip. A glance at the box score wouldn’t reveal this, but the Mavericks pushed the tempo on Brooklyn at every opportunity and the Nets seemed unsure how to cope. This became particularly apparent in the third quarter and the early part of the fourth as the Dallas lead ballooned to 20 points. The remaining influence of former coach Avery Johnson was clearly apparent, as the Nets ran an oddly methodical offense that bogged down into one on one match ups which Brooklyn could not exploit.
  • Easily the most entertaining match up of the game was Elton Brand (eight points, two steals, two blocks) against Andray Blatche (eight points, three assists). For some reason, they started barking at one another early and Brand managed to surprise Blatche early in the second with a catch and shoot from the post and a lay in after a botched steal attempt. Not to be out done, Blatche went back at Brand, using his superior size and athleticism for a driving lay in. It’s taken me nearly a whole season to figure out how Brand gets off a quality look against a larger defender, particularly out of face up situations. He’s always been a bit undersized for his position and has been robbed of most of his vertical leap due to an Achilles injury. When he gets the ball in the post or off of a pick and role, he nearly always sizes up his opponent before rising to shoot. He rarely seems to get blocked mainly because of the length of his arms combined with a slight fade. It seems as if defenders cannot accurately determine where his point of release is. Brand can make a living with that specific shot against second unit defenses for at least two or three more seasons.
  • It was strange to see the Nets not force feed the ball to Brook Lopez (19 points, nine rebounds), particularly in the third where he did not take a single shot attempt. His confidence and skill from the low block is rare in the modern NBA. He’s much stronger and more patient than a casual fan would give him credit for and really has the chance to be a special player if the Nets run an offense more attuned to getting him the ball. Against Dallas, they attempted point guard cross screens which did not work with regularity because it was clear what was coming.
  • When playing in a fast paced offense, turnovers are going to happen. But with Darren Collison (nine points, four turnovers), so many of his turnovers are the kind that he shouldn’t be making at this point in his career. After a Lopez put back basket, Collison attempted to pass ahead to O.J. Mayo. Carlisle has urged the Mavericks to push even off of a made basket, so this was normal. That Collison was unable to see Deron Williams, who stepped in front of the pass for the steal, is maddening. Later in the third, he had a terrible turnover on the screen and roll, attempting to loop a pass over Lopez. Defending after a live ball turnover is exceptionally challenging because the defense has to scramble to get back. The majority of both Collison and O.J. Mayo’s turnovers during the recently losing streak were of the live ball variety.
  • Though Dallas native Deron Williams (24 points) a had turnover plagued evening with seven, his strengths are so readily apparent. He gets to the rim almost at will, particularly when going right. The sort of strength he uses to get off shots is rare in guards, let alone those who handle the ball so well. It often looks like he’s going half speed, but if he were to run a more up tempo offense or if the Nets went to the high screen and roll with Lopez more often, the Nets might have a terrifying offense.
  • The Nets had no answer for Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, eight rebounds), who hit a variety of tough shots over nearly any Nets defender. He finally hit his patented wrong foot fall away over Kris Humphries in he second quarter. Dirk’s attempted this shot (usually off of a spin) three or four times in the last week and while it’s been impossible to stop in years past, Dirk’s leg strength hasn’t been there for him until recently. I hope it becomes a staple in the remaining games.
  • I’ve highly enjoyed the defensive play of Jae Crowder during the last week’s worth of games. Starting Sunday against the Lakers, he defended Kobe as well as anyone this season (that Kobe made a variety of insane shots is besides the point). He continued with decent defense against J.J. Redick, though Redick is the kind of player who causes any NBA rookie fits simply because he is constantly moving and knows how to use his strengths against opposing players. Against the Grizzlies he helped frustrate Mike Conley into a 2 of 13 shooting performance and against the Nets he made a key strip of C.J. Watson as the Nets were attempting to stage a comeback. Early in the season, Carlisle opted to try him on the various small forwards of the NBA and the size he encountered at the position caused him a variety of problems. He’s been much more effective against smaller or weaker guards who can’t deal with his physicality and quick hands. I still think he can turn into a fine defender against NBA small forwards, but asking a rookie to deal with Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony isn’t the easiest of tasks.

Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.

 

Keep Digging

Posted by Jonathan Tjarks on February 27, 2013 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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Jonathan Tjarks writes about basketball and all that it implies at RealGM and SB Nation, and is a guest columnist here at The Two Man Game. Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @JonathanTjarks.

With All-Star Weekend and the trade deadline behind us, the stretch run of the NBA season has officially begun. Now that Rick Carlisle has finally gotten (somewhat) comfortable with a set rotation, the Mavs are unlikely to make any more moves to tweak their roster this season. Nevertheless, there are several D-League players that Dallas could sign tomorrow for short and long term gain. That the Mavs seem reluctant to go that path is a shame, and perhaps a metaphor of sorts for a franchise that has lost its way.

There aren’t any future stars in the D-League, but the level of play is higher than the casual fan recognizes. The D-League All-Star Game, held in Houston during All-Star Weekend, was a veritable “Who’s Who” of former second-round picks and collegiate standouts, many with the ability to be rotation players in the NBA. And in the league’s new economic climate, identifying the minimum-salary talent available to all 30 teams is more important than ever before. In that respect, signing and playing Mike James over someone like Shelvin Mack is a notable misuse of resources.

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The Devil You Know

Posted by Brian Rubaie on under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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February has been kinder to the Dallas Mavericks than any other month this season. While they don’t appear to be playoff-bound, the Mavericks are finally playing playoff-quality team basketball. This month has seen Dallas soundly conquer the postseason-worthy Golden State Warriors, comfortably take care of business against lottery-bound opponents and keep it close in tough losses to the Thunder, Lakers and Hawks. A roster full of veterans and one-year signings hoping to become permanent fixtures in Dallas has summoned a sense of urgency that few other lottery teams can muster.

This determination, combined with improved team defense, a more cohesive roster and Dirk Nowitzki’s return to dominance, has produced a visibly-improved Mavericks squad. The most compelling factor in the recent reversal, however, has come from a far less visible element: the quelling of the turnover woes that haunted Dallas throughout much of their season.

According to data from Basketball-Reference.com, the Mavericks have posted fewer turnovers than their opponent in their past six contests and are -17 overall in the turnover category over the past month. Their season average of 14.0 turnovers per game entering February, a consistent trouble spot in close losses, has been reduced to an impressive 11.4 a night. This improvement has led the Mavericks to become proud owners of the NBA’s fifth lowest turnover percentage, the only advanced measurement on either side of the ball where Dallas currently rates above 14th in the league.

Dallas management will carefully review the roster at season’s end to try to assemble a team that can reproduce the recent run of quality play in order to maximize Dirk’s last few productive years as a Maverick.  If Dallas wants to return to being a contender it should seriously consider how to make the kinds of roster moves that can replicate the team’s newly developed responsibility with the basketball.

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