You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Kudos to the Mavs for not letting their focus stray during these final two games before the All-Star break, but the defense is clearly already on vacation. First, the Mavs allowed the Kings (sans Tyreke Evans) to put up some competitive offensive numbers, even if they sprinted away during the third quarter by getting a few stops. Then on Thursday night, the Mavs surrendered 110.4 points per 100 possessions to the Suns. Phoenix is, of course, a very good offensive team. Even without Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash has this club clicking with the seventh best offense in the entire league. That said, Dallas is due for a good defensive win. The D has wavered in the last two months or so, and though the Mavs are still defending well enough to win, they’re likely not defending quite well enough for the coaching staff to sleep well at night. Pats on the back for another victory (the 40th this season), but this team needs to come back after the break with a focus on improving its defense to those early-season levels.
Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-18 FG, 3-3 3FG, four rebounds) has never been a kind matchup for the Suns, but this wasn’t just another exploitation of a mismatch. If there were any lingering questions concerning Nowitzki’s health, they were promptly dismissed each and every time Dirk graced the net with his jump shot. This was a far more focused Dallas offense in terms of scoring production (as opposed to the community effort against Sacramento), but even then, five Mavs (Nowitzki, Terry, Marion, Stojakovic, Chandler) scored in double-figures. It’s hard to evaluate this team properly over their last two games given the quality of defenses faced, but there are some great omens in the box score entrails.
Rodrigue Beaubois (nine points, 4-10 FG, 1-4 3FG, two assists, two turnovers) again played around 20 minutes of action, but wasn’t quite as productive this time around. Carlisle threw Beaubois into the starting lineup, which could certainly be interpreted as a positive sign. However, in addition to the conditioning issues which will limit Beaubois in the immediate future (as well as any minute restrictions he may be under), it’s worth keeping an eye on his foul totals. Beaubois was known to get a little foul-happy last season, though his foul troubles were unique occasions rather than part of a trend. So far this season though, Beaubois is averaging 8.1 fouls per 36 minutes. He totaled five on Thursday night while playing less than half the game.
Somehow, Steve Nash (15 points. 6-10 FG, 14 assists, five rebounds, three turnovers) has entered that strange phase in his career where people have a general conception of how good he is and used to be, but generally refuse to acknowledge him due to his team’s perceived irrelevance. Nash is playing as well as ever despite Stoudemire moving on, and truly hasn’t been lauded for that fact enough. He was as irrepressible as ever on Thursday; the impossible passes in traffic, the absurd layups that make Nash seem like a scholar in geometry, and the jumpers that — like that of a certain Maverick — seem to have no business going in. “Freeing Steve Nash” would be great and all, but I’m perfectly content to watch a great player be great, no matter the area code or win percentage.
J.J. Barea missed the game with the flu, so Beaubois and Jason Terry (16 points, 5-12 FG, seven assists, three steals, two turnovers) each took care of the ball when Jason Kidd (six points, 2-8 FG, 12 assists, eight rebounds) rested. The offense overall returned to order, as Kidd transformed back into a primary playmaker, and the Dallas offense calmed down from their turnover-happy performance against Sacramento. The Mavs have always done well offensively by maintaining control, and Thursday night’s 12.5 turnover rate is much more in line with the expectation for this team.
Another great game for the Mavs’ big-man tandem: Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-8 FG, 12 rebounds) resumed his season of offensive import, while Brendan Haywood (seven points, five rebounds, one block) capitalized on the Suns’ poor interior rotations in limited minutes (11). That said, Carlisle elected to go small for significant portions of this game, and utilized both Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (12 points, 6-10 FG, eight rebounds) as the primary big. Against Phoenix, that’s not much of a problem, and Dallas had some success in those configurations, particularly with a Kidd-Terry-Stevenson-Marion-Nowitzki lineup that made a 9-0 sprint late in the third quarter.
A few more detailed looks at the Mavs’ upcoming season are on their way, but in honor of the CelticsBlog-hosted NBA preview circuit, I present to you a first look at the immediate future of the Dallas Mavericks:
Last Year’s Record: 55-27; best in the Southwest, second in the West.
Key Losses: Erick Dampier, screen-setter extraordinaire and instantly expiring contract, Eduardo Najera, a signed-and-released Tim Thomas, Matt Carroll, Rodrigue Beaubois’ preseason, and hope for a big name free agent.
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi, Dominique Jones, Alexis Ajinca, Rick Carlisle’s faith in Beaubois, the benefit of a full training camp.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Dirk Nowitzki was re-signed on a bargain deal relative to his current production. Brendan Haywood was inked to a long-term contract that has brought the Mavs a fair bit of criticism, though the partial guarantees written into the deal and the market this summer (not to mention the fact that re-signing Haywood was a flat-out necessity) make his deal fairly palatable. Erick Dampier was traded for Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs shed Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera’s contracts while picking up an interesting young big in Alexis Ajinca. Mark Cuban shelled out $3 million for the chance to select South Florida’s Dominique Jones in the first round of the draft. Ian Mahinmi, a per-minute wonder with plenty of promise, was had for two years and minimal salary commitment.
Yet the biggest moves of Dallas’ off-season were the ones never made. The Mavs’ brass made pitches to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson in an effort to lure them to Dallas via sign-and-trade, but the former two had grander ideas and the latter his eye on a much larger paycheck. Erick Dampier’s instantly-expiring contract was a hell of a trade chip, but it sat unused while the most attractive free agents on the market committed to playing anywhere but Dallas.
The Mavs also made runs at two candidates for their mid-level exception. Al Harrington: miss. Udonis Haslem: miss. Dallas wasn’t sinking any battleships.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there’s no mistaking Jefferson’s talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier’s contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier’s contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Dirk Nowitzki. In an otherwise unremarkable offense, Nowitzki is one of the few unmistakable standouts. He still presents a match-up problem for every player in the league, and even at 32, Nowitzki’s offensive game is as potent as ever. His rebounding rate has dropped a bit. His defense is still lacking, though probably underrated on the whole. But Nowitzki is the player through which all things come and all things go for the Mavs.
Taking care of the ball. The Mavs had the 10th best offense in the league last season, but were ranked 13th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in free throw rate. How? Dallas turns the ball over on just 12.2% of its possessions. Nowitzki is an absurdly efficient go-to scoring option in part because of how deliberately careful he is with the ball. Jason Kidd may pick up quite a few turnovers, but between Nowitzki and a few other high-usage, low-turnover players (Jason Terry, Caron Butler), Dallas puts up plenty of shots without giving up scoring opportunities.
Creating turnovers without fouling. Typically, successful NBA defenses fall into one of two general categories: a more conservative, field goal percentage-limiting style, or a more aggressive scheme based on forcing turnovers. Great defenses can sometimes manage to do both. Dallas manages to do neither, at least to the full extent of each defensive theme. Of the 10 teams that forced the most turnovers last season on a per possession basis (GSW, BOS, CHA, MIL, DET, UTA, OKC, MIA, PHI, and DEN), seven were also among the bottom 10 in opponents’ free throw rate. This is pretty intuitive; the more teams pressure ball-handlers and try to force turnovers, the more likely they are to be whistled for fouls.
Dallas, however, has managed to be fairly successful in creating turnovers (they ranked 11th in the league in that regard last season) without picking up all that many fouls (the Mavs were 3rd in the league in opponents’ free throw rate). It’s a strange balance, but thanks to anticipation on the wings and an overall conservative style (perhaps a bit too conservative at times), Dallas has made it work. Not well enough to do serious damage in the playoffs in the last few years, but well enough to remain in the West’s second tier in spite of other defensive shortcomings.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Shot creation. Nowitzki can manufacture a reasonably good shot attempt against almost any opponent when covered one-on-one, but aside from Dirk, Dallas doesn’t have many players that can create quality shots reliably. Rodrigue Beaubois is likely the team’s second best option in that regard, as Beaubois can use his speed to free himself up for an open look or execute relatively simple drive-and-kick sequences. Otherwise, Jason Terry’s shot-creating abilities looked stifled in last year’s playoffs, and Caron Butler is a decent isolation option…which might make a difference if decent isolation options were considered useful for offensive success.
Jason Kidd is, oddly enough, the question mark. Against San Antonio last season, he wasn’t able to create open looks for the likes of Terry, Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, and the Mavs suffered. One of the reasons why Beaubois seemed so brilliant in that series was his stark contrast to Kidd; while the future Hall-of-Famer claimed to be troubled by illness and a bad back, Beaubois was slicing to the hoop in a way that no other Maverick can. If Kidd can stay healthy for the playoffs and redeem his performance against the Spurs, the Mavs’ offense could be pretty potent. It comes down to Dirk providing another year of solid production, Dallas recognizing the kind of shot-creating star it has in Beaubois, and Kidd finding a way to make the rest of the offense work. Without all three of hopes points coming to fruition, the Maverick offense will struggle at times.
A lack of elite production in any particular category. When people say that the Mavericks lack a team identity, they’re wrong. What they really mean to say is that Dallas isn’t really a top-level team in any particular statistical regard. The Mavs were a solid team in most capacities last season, but with the Lakers looming above and so many other team fighting for the no. 2 seed in the West, just being solid may not be good enough. The Mavericks were neither an elite offense nor an elite defense last year, and that’s troubling, particularly because their primary off-season acquisition was a back-up center that will replace the already steady Erick Dampier. Any improvement that will thrust Dallas into elite company will have to come internally, and that puts a lot of pressure on Rodrigue Beaubois, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win 50 games to extend the Mavs’ current 10-year streak, rest the veterans as much as possible, and make it to the conference finals. Any playoff series would be a step up from last season’s first round exit, but Dallas has enough talent to aim high. Not ‘up, up, away, and through the Lakers’ high, but high enough to be L.A.’s stepping stool on the way to the Finals.
Here are some developmental goals for some of the younger guys:
Rodrigue Beaubois needs to prove that the production from his fantastic rookie season is sustainable, while working to improve his ability to run the offense and defend opposing point guards.
Dominique Jones needs to find a way to crack the Mavs’ wing rotation, which is currently clogged with veteran talent. Jones’ on-ball defense and ability to get deep into the paint could be quite useful, but nothing will be given to Jones. He’ll have to pry every minute he gets from Terry, Butler, Beaubois, and J.J. Barea’s fingers.
Ian Mahinmi needs to continue to work on his face-up game, work the offensive glass as well as he did in the preseason, and focus on improving his ability to defend centers. There aren’t all that many minutes to be had behind Dirk, but if Mahinmi can grow into a capable defensive option in the middle, he could become a Maverick fixture.
Alexis Ajinca needs to outplay Ian Mahinmi and force the Mavs to give him a serious look. He’ll start the season at the back of the center rotation, but if Alexis can outplay Ian in practice and in his limited floor time this season (which won’t be the easiest thing to do considering Mahinmi’s gaudy per-minute numbers), he’ll have a chance to feast on the Mavs’ center minute scraps. Other than that, Ajinca needs to continue honing his hook shot, and improve his defensive positioning.
J.J. Barea needs to be a bit more choosy with his shots in the paint, and really hone in on his coverage of the pick-and-roll. All things considered, he’s not a bad backup, but it’s his D on screens that really gets him in trouble.
5. Do you have a video of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash playing guitar that could take us back to the simpler times, when defensive inadequacies were just a cute little quirk of our beloved Mavs?
Erick Dampier is making his list and checking it twice. Certain to be considered: Miami and Houston. A possible surprise: Atlanta. I’ve heard Utah may be interested as well, but I haven’t the faintest idea if there’s any reciprocation.
Josh Howard, on why the Wizards “took a gamble” on him for the coming season, and how the Wizards stack up with Howard’s former teams in terms of talent (via HoopsHype): “[The Wizards] see a natural-born leader. They got a guy that loves to win games, loves to play, has a total enjoyment for the game… I appreciate that they gave me the chance and I will take advantage of it...Oh, talent-wise the sky is the limit for this team. It’s a young team. Blatche, McGee, Nick Young, No. 1 pick John Wall and a host of other guys. These guys have tremendous upside. If we stay focused and stay dedicated to the game, the sky is the limit for them. I think that’s one other reason they brought me in here – to be a leader. I think I can take those guys on the right path.”
Here, you can cast your vote for the top Mavs of all time at each traditional position, but the race has long been decided: Steve Nash, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Dirk Nowitzki, and Roy Tarpley should win-out easily. There are other good candidates — Michael Finley, Derek Harper, and Jason Kidd among them, but those five were clear favorites from the tip. (EDIT: I stand corrected. Finley has surged to take the lead at SG. I love Fin, and I’m still shocked.)
For a journey down the other path, Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider, a fellow contributor at Hardwood Paroxysm, and one of the invaluable minds at HoopData, has identified the five worst statistical tenures for players of each and every team. Dallas’ bottom five: Devean George (’07-’09), Scott Lloyd (’81-’83), Darrell Armstrong (’05-’06), Bill Wennington (’86-’90), and Elston Turner (’82-’84). My initial reaction: isn’t there any way we could come up with a harsher distinction than “worst Maverick ever” for George? My secondary reaction: Armstrong doesn’t deserve to be on this list at all, if for no other reason than the role he played in the Mavs’ comeback, overtime win against the Toronto Raptors in February of 2006.
According to a report by Sport97, Jessie Begarin, a Guadaloupean and participant in Rodrigue Beaubois’ camp, was invited to tryout with the Texas Legends and his since been invited to Mavericks training camp. If this report is indeed true, you could be looking at a future Legend (capital L, y’all). (via DOH at Mavs Moneyball) EDIT: According to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com, the Mavs/Legends don’t have any plans for Begarin after all.
Akis Yerocostas conducted an interesting exercise at his blog, Pick and Scroll, in which he launched a hypothetical expansion draft. I was consulted as an unofficial representative of the Mavs, in order to choose which players to “protect” for the purposes of the draft. See who I selected and who he ended up drafting here.
Tim Thomas, on his wife’s health (via Earl K. Sneed): “She’s healthy, she’s getting better. I don’t want people to think that she’s on her deathbed. I just want everybody to know we’re doing fine. She’s doing better. Who knows, if she gets better then maybe I’ll give it another try.”
This commercial for NBA 2k11 has nothing to do with the Mavs whatsoever, but is glorious nonetheless. Plus, the 2k series makes a mean game, to boot.
Rodrigue Beaubois goes shopping…at the MavGear headquarters.
Gatorade’s “Replay” gives teams that participated in controversial games a chance at a redo. Dwyane Wade (along with Dwight Howard) served as a a coach for the event, which pitted two Chicago schools against each other for a rematch of a hotly contested game from a decade ago. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com had a chance to catch up with Wade on the possibility of replaying one of his more controversial finishes:
“NBA.com: Have you ever had a game that you wanted to replay?
DW: Every game I’ve lost.
NBA.com: But you’ve contributed to some that other people would like to replay, too.
DW: Yeah, I’m sure. So it’s a wash [laughing].
NBA.com: So it’s OK with you if the Dallas Mavericks want to replay Game 5 of the 2006 Finals in 2016?
DW: Uh, that would have to be something I’d have to think about.”
Rick Carlisle on the Mavs’ depth and flexibility this season (via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com): “We feel like we have great flexibility with the club. You know, one of the reasons you have training camp is to compete for those positions, compete for minutes. And again, I just think that our ability to use different lineups, use different combinations, is going to be a big key for us. We’re going to be able to go 10-, 12-deep. I have no question about that.”
Rick Carlisle, in evaluating his seasons as the Mavericks’ coach and what the team needs to do this season to be more successful (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘[The last two seasons are] both failures,’ [Carlisle] said. ‘One we got to the second round so maybe it’s viewed as more successful. But we were a better team this past year. We just got beat in the first round. Our mission is to stay the course and keep working on the things we have to work on – defense and getting better at home. That’s the difference between ultimate success and perceived shades of success.”
Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA thinks the Mavs have the best shot of challenging the Lakers in the West: “With Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler (who looked like a new man at times during Team USA’s gold medal run), the Mavericks have the size to compete with the Lakers’ length in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Add in the fact that this might be Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki’s last real shot at a championship and consider that Kobe’s buddy, Caron Butler, will get the benefit of a full training camp under Rick Carlisle’s system and you have a seven-game series battle on your hands.”
Whether wide-eyed, confident, or completely brash, all rookies share in their need to learn. Each first-year player earns a ticket into the big leagues by way of their physical skills, but from there, no rook is excused from the pursuit of basketball betterment. Needless to say, it’s a gradual process of refinement, familiarity, and growth, and each player moves at their own pace.
That said, don’t mistake player development for a solo endeavor. Even though nothing (and no one) can force a given player to put in quality time on the practice court or in the film room, professional athletes are blessed with coaches, trainers, and the most sacred of all, mentors.
The relationship between mentor and protégé is often assumed. Because Jason Kidd is experienced, Rodrigue Beaubois is not, and the two happen to play similar positions, Kidd must be his mentor. Kidd must take him aside to teach him the tricks of the trade, to coach him up on reads, to impart invaluable wisdom on how to succeed as a creator in the NBA. That could very well be the case, but the fact that we assume it to be is a bit problematic. Additionally, the fact that we treat these mentor-protégé relationships with any congruency whatsoever is pretty ridiculous. Just as each player has his own path, he too has his own choice in mentor.
“With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn’t really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I’d be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, “Slow down! You’re faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!” He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads — when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.”
But sometimes it all works out. Sometimes a grouping is just too obvious to not work, and Mavs fans should hope that to be the case with Jason Terry and Dominique Jones.
Jones is putting in some pre-camp work with Terry and Rick Carlisle, with a specific emphasis on getting into game shape and refining Jones’ shot. Carlisle and his staff have the development of players like Jones in their collective job description, but for JET to work with Dominique is a little something extra. It’s a neat match. Terry and Jones may approach the game in completely different ways, but that’s part of what makes JET an excellent mentor candidate. Terry can help to work on Jones’ weaknesses as a player. He can teach Jones how to create space for himself against taller opponents. He can teach Jones the value of jumper repetition. He can teach Jones how to navigate the rough waters that all “combo guards” are forced to sail.
Maybe nothing ever comes out of this, and Jones’ current work is classified as a nice, one-time clinic with a Mavs vet. Still, these workouts have the potential to create a fairly interesting relationship between a rookie with a lot to learn and a successful player with plenty to teach.
Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com used offensive and defensive ratings to determine team offensive performance relative to the league average. From there, he determined which players (with a 15,000 career minutes qualifier) have played in the best offenses throughout their careers. Steve Nash topped the list. Dirk Nowitzki came in at ninth. Those rankings may not mean much to the role players on the list (Raja Bell, for instance, is eighth) but for stars like Nash and Dirk? It’s a testament to just how incredible they are as offensive centerpieces, both together and apart.
Kelly Dywer’s positional rankings continue, with Jason Terry coming in as no. 20 among shooting guards while Rodrigue Beaubois trails him slightly at no. 25. Pretty fair. Dwyer concedes to a conservative ranking on Beaubois in fear of a minutes mirage, and rightfully so. Plus, as Beaubois gets more and more playing time and is featured more and more prominently in the Mavs’ offense, he’ll face a series of increasingly difficult tests. We should all be pretty excited to see how Beaubois responds.
Dwyer has also begun his small forward rankings, but there’s no sign of Shawn Marion in the first intallment.
Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk on Caron Butler giving back: “Caron Butler this summer did his annual ‘Bike Brigade’ in his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, where he gave away hundreds of bicycles to area youth. He hosts annual back-to-school drives like he did in Washington DC last year, he has hosted numerous charity basketball games, he went to Johannesburg, South Africa, to conduct free basketball clinics. I could probably fill up the Internet with Butler’s charity endeavors. He’s quick to tell you that he does all this because he wants to, because he wants to give back to the community. He’s sincere and he cares. He isn’t organizing and attending events for the publicity or to save some money come April 15. And he said there are a lot of players out there like him. ‘I think there are other guys out there doing it,’ Butler told PBT last week. ‘This is something I’ve been doing since day one, since I got into the league. I probably just had a camera crew out after four or five years of doing it… after a while people just started paying more attention to what I was doing and understand that what I did was from my heart and I was passionate about it. That wasn’t just a once a year thing, this was something I was committed to year in and year out. And I do believe there are other guys out there like that.’”
Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.
Mostly thanks to Bill Simmons, NBA junkies now have a new rumor du jour: a Dirk Nowitzki-Steve Nash reunion on the Phoenix Suns, in which the two former MVP pals could coexist in something of a basketball nirvana. Nash was never really given the full opportunity to explore his game while with the Mavericks, but now that each player has seen the full extent of their basketball talents, a reunion would be absolutely fantastic for NBA fans.
Not so much for Mavs fans, but that’s just the way it goes. Player movement, even of the hypothetical variety, has to leave somebody out in the cold. So sorry, MFFLs, but in alternate reality #184612823412734, Dirk goes the way of Nash and leaves the Mavs high and dry. Condolences.
Look, I understand the appeal. I really do. We all love to explore realms of fantasy, whether they exist solely in free agent rumors, in movies or video games, or in poorly-written, contrived vampire novels. But they’re enjoyable precisely because they’re unlikely, and that’s the thing everyone needs to keep in mind before they even consider discussing a Nash-Nowitzki reunion. It would take an incredible series of twists and turns for the mere option to even be on the table, and given Nowitzki’s import to Dallas and Phoenix’s extended playoff run, neither team would be particularly interested in accommodating the process. That’s especially important on the Suns’ side, as not only would Phoenix have to abandon the prospect of re-signing Amar’e Stoudemire in order to make a pass at Dirk, but they’d have to shed some pretty significant salary (in addition to Nowitzki agreeing to a suboptimal deal) by trading away quality players for nothing.
It’s fun, but this is all no better than the most ridiculous rumor mongering. There isn’t even the illusion of reported interest from either party aside from the obvious (the obvious being that Dirk wants to sign a new contract and I’m sure the Suns wouldn’t mind having him around), and the fact that this rumor is getting so much play is more a tribute to how fun the Nash-Nowitzki pairing could be rather than a representation of even a remote likelihood. Maybe this is the bias of a Dallas-centric writer talking, but I see all the possible landing spots for Dirk — the Suns, the Knicks, the Nets, etc. — being so unlikely, that there are essentially two outcomes: he stays with the Mavs or he doesn’t. Grouping all of those destinations together is the only way their chances even cause a blip on our radar, as the probability that Nowitzki re-signs with the Mavs is so, incredibly high.
Again, Dirk is an unrestricted free agent, so we all need to respect the possibility of him bolting this summer, even if it seems unlikely. That said, having a friend in Phoenix really doesn’t make this outcome very plausible. Feel free to daydream of Nash-Dirk pick-and-rolls, but the reality is that the beauty of their pairing will have to be confined to the All-Star game.
In the same update, Eddie Sefko also notes that Nick Calathes, one of the Mavs’ second rounders last year, will play professionally in Greece again next season and thus is not allowed to compete with Dallas in summer league.
Kelly Dwyer assembled a list of the top playoff performers this season, with Dirk getting his due at #6: “Had the Mavericks played a little longer, with Dirk no doubt approximating his averages of 26.7 points per game on 55 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds and just 1.7 turnovers a contest, Nowitzki would probably be duking it out with Pau and Rondo at the top. As it is, the Mavs were out in the first round, and though Dirk had some chances to aid his Mavericks down the stretch of a few of their losses to San Antonio, the biggest reason they were in those losses to begin with was because of Nowitzki’s superb play.”
Tom Ziller and Bethlehem Shoals compiled a number of free agency outcomes, most of which involve Dirk staying a Mav, but two that involve Nowitzki signing with the Knicks (one alongside LeBron, the other alongside Joe Johnson). It’s more exploratory than predictive, but one line should stick out to Mavs fans: “LeBron’s not coming Dallas, no matter how catchy its Autotune-d siren song; it’s Dirk and little else.” The last phrase is something that most MFFLs have noted following Dallas’ loss in the first round of the playoffs, but the argument is somehow flipped when the topic of free agency comes up. I agree that Dallas has the most complete team for a star that wants to contend immediately (supposing they retain both Dirk and Brendan Haywood, of course), but the logical shift is still very interesting. Even LeBron wouldn’t solve all of the Mavs problems.
Steve Nash’s top 10 career assists, with #10 coming while he was in a Maverick uniform. Plenty of gems in the bunch, but disappointingly unrepresentative of Steve’s entire career. It’s not just a Mavs thing, either; Nash’s first few years with the Suns seem a tad neglected as well. Then again, all of the assists chosen are awesome, so what’s the use in complaining? (Link via Ball Don’t Lie)
Mark Cuban, when asked by Howard Beck of the New York Times if being willing to go above and beyond as an owner (in terms of spending) can be beneficial in the NBA: “Yes. Not because he/she can spend more on players, or even facilities, but rather because of the opportunity to invest in analytics and other nontraditional means that give a team an edge. Other nontraditional means could be something like a free-throw shooting coach. Right now, I think the Mavs are the only team with a full-time free-throw coach, because of the expense. I think we are the only team with a full-time team psychologist. Those are things that don’t show up on rosters but are very expensive and can impact a team significantly.”
Andrew McNeil of 48 Minutes of Hell on the fate of the series and the rivalry: “It’s not far-fetched to think that this could be the last time the Spurs and Mavericks meet as rivals. If the Spurs win tonight, no one knows what Mark Cuban might do to his roster. And the possibility that these two franchises might not meet in the playoffs in the near future is a very real possibility.So enjoy it. Enjoy the passion of both fan bases and the (hopefully) respectful hatred directed at one another. Enjoy the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki, no matter how much you may like to insult him. And if the Mavericks win tonight? Well, we’ll do it all over again on Thursday night.”
A few lasting images from Game 4, courtesy of Kyle Weidie (normally of Truth About It) writing at Hardwood Paroxysm, as well as a Mark Cuban GIF that I hope I don’t need to re-use here later tonight, and this memorable line: “If Dallas was looking for Butler to be a maverick from his past inept wizardry, they should look somewhere else.”
Gregg Popovich finds the presumption of pep talks with these two teams to be a bit ridiculous (via Art Garcia writing for Sekou Smith’s Hangtime Blog): “These guys are grown. The Mavs guys are grown. Jason and Dirk don’t need speeches. Timmy and Manu and Tony, they don’t need speeches. We’d probably put them to sleep if we said, ‘Now guys, this is a big game. Guys, it’s going to be loud.’ That’s a little silly to do with grown men.”
Caron Butler still views his trade to Dallas as a “blessing,” even after going down 1-3 to the Spurs and being benched for the entirety of Game 3′s second half. Michael Lee of the Washington Post: Butler said Pollin’s widow, Irene, called to inform him a week before the trade that the organization planned to move him and Antawn Jamison and would place them in good situations. ‘They could’ve just sent me anywhere, but obviously, Mr. Pollin was still working and it’s a blessing. The Pollin family really took care of me. But, you know, Washington was really home for me. Coming to a new city and having to invent yourself all over again, it’s mind-boggling to think about that on the fly, but at the same time I understand the nature of the business. Players get recycled in this game all the time.’”
Eight teams have come back from a 1-3 deficit to win a playoff series.